The bigger picture - Dr Angelo Venardos' vision of STEP

Saturday, 01 February 2014
Dr Angelo Venardos has recently been elected to STEP’s Board. Here he speaks to Hannah Downie about his involvement in the Society and his ideas for its growth

Dr Angelo Venardos is always looking forward; whether it’s in terms of his own professional development, his company’s expansion, or the development of STEP. ‘I’m a great believer in lifelong learning,’ he says. ‘Every ten years I will study for an extra course. Some people must look at my qualifications and think I am a full-time student!’ Further education, he explains, is for everyone: ‘I encourage experienced practitioners to study for the STEP Diploma, as well as those just starting out in their career.’

Angelo has worked in Sydney, Brisbane, Hong Kong, and has been a permanent resident of Singapore for the past 13 years. After his relocation from Hong Kong, he found himself in need of a new professional development challenge. He was already a member of the Hong Kong Trustees’ Association, and he felt that joining STEP was the next logical move. He started studying for STEP’s Diploma, which was then administered by distance learning: ‘At the time there were only three of us who had completed the STEP Diploma, and we all worked in the same office!’

As well as his own professional development, Angelo has the expansion of his company foremost in his mind. He is the founder and CEO of Heritage Trust Group, which has 60 professional staff, and has recently further developed the company’s capabilities by opening a new office in the BVI (the company currently operates from Singapore and Hong Kong). Angelo explains that STEP has been instrumental in the company’s growth, helping to strengthen its client offering: ‘Through STEP we’ve been exposed to the global picture of trust providers. The company’s standards have been raised, whether in soft or technical skills; our overall competencies have been enhanced by STEP training.’

Growing with STEP

Angelo joined STEP in December 2000. He was Chair of STEP Singapore from 2009 to 2011, elected to Council in 2011, and, at the end of 2013, elected to STEP’s Board. His path from new member, to Branch Chair, to Council member and now Board member has equipped him with a huge amount of experience and an understanding of how the Society works. Angelo’s journey through STEP at all the various levels has also given him ideas about how the Society could grow. ‘I spent six years on the Singapore Branch Committee, and during that time I got to understand what members wanted; what the key issues were.’ When Angelo joined Council, he started to learn what was important at the regional level: ‘On Council I represent members based in south-east Asia. When I first joined, their concerns were mainly to do with the localisation of education delivery. We addressed those issues and now we’ve got a certificate programme that is delivered in Singapore: the Certificate for Financial Services.’

Of course, Angelo admits, not every member of STEP will be able, or want, to commit the time and energy that is required at Council and Board level. ‘At branch level, you find that there might be a chance to get to Council, but not everyone wants to get to that level. The upper echelons are thinned out by who has the time and the interest,’ but, he says, ‘You’re learning so much at every level,’ an invaluable benefit that makes the commitment worthwhile.

The more involved Angelo became with STEP, the more he got back: ‘By being actively involved and participating in STEP, you’re getting something out of it, but equally you’ve got to give something back. The giving back is the hard bit because, as a society of volunteers, not everyone has the time.’

Angelo believes STEP’s continuing engagement with members’ interests will help shape its direction, particularly with regard to its educational offering and special interest groups. ‘The business model is changing. Our surveys and feedback from members tell us that members want greater depth and greater quality of delivery,’ Angelo explains. ‘One of the key questions that I always get asked is: “Do I get value for my money?”’

His outlook on being a STEP member is clear: cultivating a member’s interest will result in greater satisfaction for the member, boost their capabilities at work, and provide STEP with a valuable and engaged member. ‘If you have an interest in a particular area, you should join a Special Interest Group, be it Business Families, Contentious Trusts and Estates, Philanthropy, Mental Capacity, etc. You will get even more out of your membership by channelling your interests through your local branch or the various committees or SIGs,’ he says. Angelo believes that STEP’s ability to meet the needs of its members will be what allows the Society to retain relevance and continue to evolve: ‘Understanding what our membership wants and subsequently delivering that will ensure STEP’s success.’

Helping STEP reach its potential

It is the work being undertaken at grassroots level that is piquing Angelo’s interest. For example, Shariah law is being discussed by STEP members in Jersey and Dubai; in fact, the Jersey branch has established its own Shariah law group. Angelo suggests that, if common issues and interests can be identified throughout the regions, there may perhaps be sufficient interest to create a new SIG. ‘Grassroots are identifying their areas of interest so it’s up to us to go back to the Board and all other relevant committees to suggest how we could foster these interests. I think that the new SIG model could be how we generate interest in, and growth for, the Society.’

Angelo is very enthusiastic about STEP’s SIG offering. His experience with SIGs comes from multiple perspectives: he is a member of the Business Families SIG, and also a key player in his own family business. His daughter works for Heritage Trust Group as Head of Legal Compliance in the Hong Kong office. ‘Through my own eyes I’m seeing how the core issues of the Business Families SIG play out. I have encouraged my daughter’s own career development within the company according to her own career aspirations.’

Expanding east

Angelo also believes STEP should consider entering new jurisdictions, though in a highly strategic way, reflecting the need to focus and prioritise. The incontrovertible expansion of China and India as global hubs for business has convinced him that they should be considered by STEP. Angelo is based in Singapore and Hong Kong, and witnesses the flow of business from overseas to China and India. ‘The world has found that Singapore is the gateway to India, just as Hong Kong is the gateway to China for business. While the wealth-management industry attracted the money to Singapore and Hong Kong in the first instance, they’ve also attracted parallel trading opportunities,’ he explains.

‘The challenge for us, as a Society that already exists in over 80 jurisdictions, is that we have not really established ourselves in the two largest economies in the world.’ Angelo explains that this is due to myriad difficulties, including language, cultural, legal and financial challenges, which make reaching potential members in China and India problematic. Given these challenges, Angelo believes having a strategic plan for India and China is of the utmost importance. ‘We need to have a real, clear and defined plan,’ he says. ‘We can be guided by people on the ground. These markets aren’t easy but there is demand for estate planning and philanthropy.’ For Angelo, the future of STEP involves expansion into these Asian centres: ‘Irrespective of how you measure it or want to rank it, it’s clear that’s where the wealth will be.’

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Dr Angelo Venardos

Dr Angelo Venardos TEP is CEO, Heritage Trust Group, Singapore.

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