Conveyancing In A Digitalised World
By Simon Farthing, Commercial and Marketing Director, LexisNexis Enterprise Solutions
The CLC may have challenged the industry to make conveyancing a fully electronic process by 2030, but COVID-19 has become the catalyst for digitalisation that no one could have ever predicted. Just based on the last few weeks alone, there can be no doubt that a digital approach to conveyancing – and indeed for almost everything else – is the future.
This said, change has been already been rife in the conveyancing sector over the last decade. A fair amount of consolidation has taken place, reducing the number of conveyancers to just over 3000 in the UK.
Customer driven change
Arguably the biggest catalyst for change prior to Covid-19 was the increasing expectation of the consumer. In an on-demand society we are now used to doing pretty much anything we need to online, when we want to. The thought of receiving a vast reem of documents through the post, filling them in, sending them back and then booking a face to face meeting with a lawyer to sign paperwork, for many consumers feels like a step back in time. They are demanding interactive online engagement, fewer staged touchpoints, more efficiency from the process, different and even more current forms of communication, and overall a smoother journey as they navigate a process that for most customers, is a stressful one.
Technology can facilitate a superior customer experience, and recently we are seeing a marked shift in mindset among conveyancers in embracing IT more holistically at the enterprise level. For example, Simplify and O’Neill Patient, have underpinned their business with technologies that help to streamline processes, but also deliver the capability to make incremental improvements for the future.
Lack of common industry-wide IT infrastructure
There is yet a bigger barrier that prevents the conveyancing sector from taking advantage of the technology to meet consumer demands. There is no common IT infrastructure backbone to support the conveyancing process, end to end. To illustrate, there are case management software providers, due diligence software providers, Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) submissions that can be done online, applications that can be submitted to the HM Land Registry via the electronic document registration service (e-DRS) and so on. But there isn’t that golden thread that runs through these various technologies, online services and systems to make the conveyancing process seamless.
Clearly, there’s work to be done and the industry as a whole needs to come together to achieve the above. This isn’t something that a technology or service provider can drive alone and needs government backing.
A good starting point
In the meantime, conveyancing firms can still make significant strides in the way they deliver service. This unforeseen period of lull is potentially a good time for this kind of introspection. Clearly there is nothing that any conveyancer can do to address a lockdown on the market, but they can be planning for a successful butterfly re-entry to the world when the cocoon opens.
And no, it does not require firms to throw out current systems and technologies and completely overhaul their processes. It merely requires investigation into the current way of working, identifying the areas of weaknesses and gaps and then addressing them to make systematic improvements to streamline processes and operations through automation.
The ‘beginning’ is a good place to start – right when a customer makes contact to obtain a quote. In a granular fashion, map the typical client journey and processes to evaluate the progression of a conveyancing transaction across its lifecycle – the touchpoints, the technologies used, the common glitches and so on. For instance, an easy win lies in making the conveyancing process online and digital so that both the firm and customer can interact with an application and its processes when they want, how they want and from whatever device they want, including PC, smartphone, mobile apps, and online portals.
At the same time, removing repetitive demands for standard information such as contact details with electronic ID verification processes, offering online/digital welcome packs, and using digital signatures to do away with wet ink signatures are easy wins. Likewise, introducing the ability to communicate with customers through online chats, video calls, and app-based messaging to strategically place human intervention in the process so that to deliver the most value, eliminating unnecessary open-ended questions that are notorious for holding up applications, and so on are worth exploring. The list is endless.
All this cumulatively can help eliminate steps that delay the progression of applications across the various phases of a transaction and make the process intuitive and easy to follow, for conveyancers, third parties and the customers.
Digitisation of data an imperative
Intrinsic to this approach must be the digitisation of data. It is fast becoming an operational imperative. HM Land Registry is already moving towards a fully digital model and it’s only a matter of time that data schemes and standards are set with agreed fields and metatags to facilitate data flows across multiple systems. Digitised data can deliver business insights to allow informed decision making and business operation. For example, firms could monitor quality standards, that typically are considered difficult to quantify. Most importantly, conveyancers will be able to take advantage of a whole range of new and emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, biometrics and blockchain to enable them to evolve business models and launch highly specialised and innovative services.
Current systems and services consumed are full of valuable data. A powerful case management system is built to tap into this knowledge. Think about the data that is currently held, what the software application can do with that data, and what processes could be trigged by the system. For example, knowing that a search is about to go out of date doesn’t require a human to order a new one. Knowing that an enquiry remains outstanding doesn’t need a conveyancer to check it. This is an ideal time to engage with your service provider and see what they can do to help you emerge stronger. In fact, this is something we are actively doing with our clients – enabling them to better leverage the resources they already have.
While the conveyancing sector is experiencing challenging times today, there can be no doubt though that this is temporary. We are a resilient breed and the tide will turn – and when it does, conveyancers must be well-poised for that upturn. Current circumstances are unprecedented, but we have seen the success stories that have come from prior recessions and down turns, today is the time to think about how you will become one of the next success stories.