The Society of Will Writers Annual Conference 2021 has now been and gone and it’s time to recap what was an extremely successful 24th running of the event.
This year’s conference was the first in-person event hosted by the Society in over a year and a half and served for many in attendance as an opportunity to finally meet with people face to face again. It was great to see so many members learning, networking, and enjoying their time together and all of us here at the Society are looking forward to more of the same in the future. With over 130 delegates checking in on day 1 our initial estimates for attendance figures were completely blown out of the water and in the end, the conference felt like an event ran during what we might have once considered to be more “normal” times.
Overall, the event ran smoothly from start to finish once again thanks to the excellent staff at The Hilton East Midlands Airport, who, in such unprecedented times could not have done any more for us and made us feel as welcome as ever. It’s so refreshing to host an event where the facilities are top notch, and where the staff take care of everything you ask, with nothing ever being too much trouble. After a 2-year break, it felt like we’d ran the last conference a week before with how prepared they were, and we cannot thank them enough for all their hard work.
With that said, let’s get onto the roundup. I hope you’re sitting comfortably because there’s a lot to cover!
Day 1 – Talks
Day 1 consists of talks from industry experts and leaders, and we certainly brought out the big guns this year.
Kicking off with the breakfast slot, we had Steve Blofield, founder of Redwood Wills and Trusts and Chairperson for the South Wiltshire and Hampshire SWW Regional Group. We always try to vary our breakfast slot content and this year Steve gave delegates a presentation on producing an estate planning report for their clients’ benefit. Accompanied by handouts and worksheets for delegates to take away and utilise, this was a very well-attended session which many found of benefit.
Following registration, I took to the stage myself to give the annual update from the Society, and with only half an hour to cram as much in as possible from the 2-years between conferences, I’d clearly set myself quite the challenge. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to be able to reflect on all the good work that our members and partners have been doing, as well as highlighting some of the new projects and initiatives we have coming up over the next year such as improved client satisfaction surveys, industry case studies and a new dual-delivery programme for The College of Will Writing. More on these over the coming months!
I then handed over to Antony Brinkman, Chairman of the SWW Professional Standards Board (PSB) for a brief update on completed projects, such as the Member’s Handbook and complaints functions, as well as upcoming projects such as the Best Practice Handbook and membership grade clarifications. The PSB do a lot of great work behind the scenes and an opportunity to show some of this off was welcomed by all.
Antony then moved onto his next presentation titled Professional Services: Knowledge vs. Skills in which he demonstrated how estate planning is a professional service, whereby knowledge and skills often overlap. As such, it often presents problems such as operating from false data, the placebo effect and comfort zones. Each problem demonstrated was accompanied by examples from real-world experience, as well as solutions to overcome and ensure the each will writer is able to get the very best out of their client and provide the very best service to suit.
Rounding off the morning session we hosted Matthew Hill, Chief Executive of The Legal Services Board (LSB). Matthew had been lined up to speak at the since-cancelled 2020 event, so we jumped at an opportunity to invite him back for 2021. Giving insight into the LSB’s work on shaping the future of legal services, this presentation was no doubt highly anticipated by all in attendance. After a short presentation on the areas the LSB are looking into, such as consumer redress, technology and diversity, Matthew opened the floor to questions from delegates and I can honestly say I’ve never seen as many hands fly up so fast at a Society conference! Expertly handled, as you’d expect, delegates went off to lunch with a much better understanding of the LSB’s work, and a reassurance that they’re communicating and working together with the Society and its members going forwards.
Starting off the afternoon’s session we had Siobhan Rattigan-Smith who gave an update on the changes to the Trust Registration Service. This was another highly anticipated presentation as the changes impact all estate planners involved in trusts produced past, present and future. An immensely complex subject full of rules and exemptions, Siobhan’s clear explanations of these left delegates feeling much more at ease than before they went in. The Society will be publishing more information on the TRS going forwards, as well as providing talks to regional groups and other content.
Finishing the day we invited Jacob Meagher, barrister, and Lecturer of Law at the University of Brighton. It’s always worthwhile having a speaker at conference give a talk on the more practical side of estate planning, and Jacob’s talk on When Wills go Wrong: The Aftermath of Drafting went down a treat. Drawing from his own experiences and cases, Jacob’s talk covered the Caveat in depth, including its problems and impact, as well as forfeiture clauses and costs. A great way to round off the day leaving delegates with heads full of even more knowledge than ever before.
A quick close to the day’s proceedings followed, with thanks given to the speakers, exhibitors, delegates, as well as Society and venue staff before preparations for that evening’s private dinner began.
Day 1 – Private Dinner
It must be said that anyone who has never attended the Monday night dinner at conference is missing out. Every year we use this as an opportunity to unwind, enjoy good food and company, as well as entertainment which this year came in the form of illusions by Bradley Duncan and the casino tables making a return, as well as caricatures by Chris Taylor who turned out to be that popular, he stayed up until 12:30am, a full 90 minutes after the dinner ended to draw everyone in the queue! Sandwiched in the middle of what is a very serious and hardworking couple of days, an opportunity to have fun with other members, speakers and exhibitors is something I highly recommend giving a try in future.
Day 2 – Workshops
Choosing who to lead the workshops on day 2 can often be a challenge. Day 1 sometimes comes across as the main event, when often, the workshops provide ample knowledge and provide an opportunity to really get stuck into a particular topic with a speaker on a more personal level thanks to the smaller group sizes. We really put a lot of thought into this year’s workshops and the line-up achieved our highest ever day 2 attendance, with some delegates even booking for just day 2 alone.
This year’s workshops were led by Adam Johnson of Heritage Will Writing, Seb Shakh of WillSuite and Paula Finch of NBM Business Growth, all of whom are conference regulars and have delivered talks in the past, and we were thrilled to have them back once again.
Adam has been delivering online training courses through the College of Will Writing over the last year and has been incredibly popular amongst members. His workshop this year focused on Pensions and Death, providing planning points for estate planners to consider. He even stayed behind to deliver an extra separate session once the workshops had finished, now that’s dedication!
Seb has been providing software to the Society and its members in the form of Sure Will Writer – Professional Will Suite since 2017. A man who loves his tech, his workshop went over the impact of technology on will writing, looking at digital assets and blockchain technology, as well as the darker side of things such as deepfake technology. A truly insightful look into what the future might hold for our industry.
Paula is no stranger to working with Society members and has been delivering courses for the college for a couple of years now. Her workshop this year titled Fans, Wills and Success covered how applying the techniques used by some of the world’s most successful sporting clubs to your own estate planning business can create your own fan club, leading to greater success. Delegates went away thinking about who their avatar is, a key theme through much of Paula’s training. Conference also launched Paula’s new course, a 12-week programme for businesses at all stages of growth wanting to really delve into the fan club model. Contact [email protected] for more details.
Conference simply couldn’t happen without the support of the companies who come to exhibit. This year we were delighted to bring a host of companies, some new, some familiar, and judging by the buzz in the foyer there’s not a single delegate who didn’t do business with somebody. Thank you to all the 2021 exhibitors for your support and attendance.
For more information about this year’s exhibitors, check out the links below, or have a read of SWW Conference Insight, our dedicated e-magazine featuring articles and promos from exhibitors.
- Skipton Building Society
- Finders International
- Marsh Commercial
- SWW Trust Corporation
- The National Will Archive
- The National Will Register
- The Estate Planners Toolkit
- Lime Solicitors
Wrapping things up
If you haven’t done so already, we’d appreciate feedback on this year’s conference which you give us by filling out the form here and returning it to [email protected]. Responses can be anonymous if you wish and all feedback received will help us organise next year’s conference, for which planning is already underway. Next year will be the 25th running of the conference and we’ll certainly be doing something special for it so keep an eye on our socials, newsletter, and conference page for details over the coming months.
It’s quite clear then that conference is truly never not on our minds, which you’d perhaps expect what with it being the biggest the most well-attended event in the Society’s calendar. As soon as one finishes, we get to work on the next, but it’s easy to forget just how much work goes into planning and running the event and once again the SWW team pulled out all the stops to make this year’s a resounding success. Whether it’s organising the venue, booking speakers and exhibitors, producing marketing material, or even working the registration desk on the day, each member of the team has played their own part in supporting the event and I for one am extremely grateful for all their hard work.
It’s been a tough year and a half for us all in many respects, and it’s felt at times like the conference might not happen, so to get there and see all the hard work pay off resulting in a very successful event, clearly demonstrated by just how well received it was by all in attendance makes me feel a great deal of hope for the future. The resilience demonstrated by Society members, partners, and the team here at head office is something to behold, and I can’t wait to see what next year holds for us. Hopefully it’ll be a bit easier than this one!
Thank you to all those who came to conference, for listening, engaging, and having fun with us over the course of the 2 days, and for your information your CPD certificates will be issued over the next few days (there’s quite a lot to do!) If you didn’t make it this year you certainly missed out, but I thank you for reading this roundup, and I hope to see you at the 2022 SWW Conference instead.
Until next year!