The history of STEP in Switzerland

July 2018

Dr Johanna Niegel
Dr Roderik JP Strobl

Dr Johanna Niegel TEP, Chair of STEP Vaduz Centre and Deputy Chair of STEP Verein, and Roderik JP Strobl TEP, Chair of STEP Zurich Centre and Chair of STEP Verein, look back on the last ten years for STEP Verein, and the last 25 years for STEP Zurich & Vaduz, the challenges met and those still on the horizon.

“With over 16,000 members spread throughout all of the world's major trust and estate jurisdictions I am well aware of the tremendous responsibility which rests on the shoulders of those who volunteer...”  STEP Founder, George Tasker (1937 to 2013)

George Tasker was the founder of STEP in 1991 and its first Chairman. On 4 July 1991, the inaugural meeting was held in Baker Street in London, where the first National STEP Council, comprising 21 members, was appointed and, later that month, STEP registered as a private limited company. The first STEP Council meeting took place in September 1991.

STEP grew quickly: the first branches were established in England and Wales and then in the rest of the United Kingdom.

By 2000, it had developed into a full-scale worldwide professional association, offering a range of qualifications and services for its growing membership including conferences; seminars and lectures; publications and websites. It also worked with governments and regulatory authorities all over the world to examine the likely impact of any proposed changes, providing technical advice and support and responding to consultations.

It is, however, a lesser-known fact that the first international branches were established in Switzerland long before STEP expanded to Continental Europe, Canada, the Caribbean and beyond: STEP Geneva was formed in 1992 and registered a year later in 1993. That year also saw the formation of the Swiss-German and Liechtenstein Branch which, until 2008, housed the current Zurich and Vaduz (Liechtenstein) Centres. Consequently, these first international branches of STEP turn 25 years in 2018. 

After the establishment of STEP Geneva and the Swiss-German and Liechtenstein Branch, the society developed quickly in Switzerland and Liechtenstein. In 2001, the Basel Branch was founded, followed by the Lugano Centre in 2006, Lucerne/Zug Centre in 2009, and STEP Lausanne in 2010. The Vaduz Centre was registered on the Liechtenstein Public Register on 29 October 2010.

Ten years ago, on 17 September 2008, another milestone development took place with the registration of STEP Verein in Berne, Switzerland, which today still unites three Swiss Centres: Zurich, Lugano and Luzern/Zug, with the Liechtenstein Vaduz Centre. Another important anniversary to celebrate in 2018.

On 31 August 2016, the integration of STEP in Switzerland and Liechtenstein was yet again deepened with the creation of the Swiss & Liechtenstein STEP Federation, which houses all of the above Centres of STEP Verein as well as Geneva, Basel, and Lausanne as full members. While each branch retains its independence and sovereignty on a local level, it has now become possible to not only unite efforts in one single platform, but also to provide one point of contact for national and international bodies.

This latter step was an essential development in the history of a leading global professional organisation such as STEP to assist those advising families across generations to maintain the highest standards in serving their clients, and to further the objectives of the worldwide STEP organisation.

The almost 1,500 Swiss and Liechtenstein STEP members, amounting to approximately 8 per cent of the 20,000 membership worldwide, work in the professional areas of law and tax and are representatives of banks and trust companies.

STEP membership is, however, only open to proven practitioners with a corresponding training and experience. Admission can be gained via the successful passing of exams or via longstanding practice or specialist academic training. STEP members are thus required to maintain as well as develop their high level of specialist knowledge through continuous training and education after their admission. In this respect, STEP offers its members a regular programme of professional workshops, conferences, seminars and presentations held by national as well as international speakers.

The Swiss & Liechtenstein STEP Federation holds an Annual Alpine Conference in Interlaken each year with the purpose to educate and inform all professionals working in the Swiss and Liechtenstein regions financial services industry. The regional centres and branches, in addition to the Alpine Conference and the diploma programmes offered by STEP Worldwide through Central Law Training (CLT), provide local, tailored educational programmes to their members.

It is reassuring to know that the STEP success story continues on a global level with a growing membership of 20,000 across 95 countries as the leading lawyers and professionals come together to uphold best practice and heighten industry standards in an ever-changing environment. 

Under today’s circumstances, mastering the waves of change can only be addressed through teaming up the most suitable professionals in order to meet up to the regulatory predominance in the financial industry. STEP has ensured that its members get prime specialist education. In the future, this will be the benchmark STEP will have to continue to meet.

These remarkable developments and anniversaries in the history of STEP called for extensive celebrations. On 22 June 2018, STEP Verein invited members to the Fattoria Moncucchetto in Lugano to celebrate its 10th year anniversary.

The 25th anniversary of the former Swiss-German and Liechtenstein Branch was celebrated a few days later on 26 June 2018 at the Au Premier in Zurich, with a champagne reception and a panel discussion of the Chairmen and Chairwomen 1993 to 2018. These events proved to be hugely successful, in particular as they bridged the past and the future of STEP; not only in Switzerland and Liechtenstein, but also on a worldwide level. Of particular interest was the discussion of the Chairmen and how they mastered their challenges. There is no doubt challenges will come again, but, equally, that they shall be overcome.