PropTech – How Best To Engage?
Keeping up with all the technological changes, or attempts at change, in our industry can seem like a full-time job. The number of ‘PropTech’ companies looking at the home-buying process appears to be rising exponentially and it seems like only a matter of time before the conveyancing sector has to deal with a real ‘disruptive technology’ that could significantly shake up our marketplace.
At the moment, it’s possible to be sceptical about the success such firms and propositions might have. While many appear to have plenty of money, what they often lack is a true understanding of the conveyancing process and the part that conveyancers play in it.
Whilst I wouldn’t say the CA is inundated with requests to meet and chat with PropTech firms/entrepreneurs, we do regularly receive requests to input into these businesses, and to provide information on the process. Taking up such offers, of course comes with a number of worries and potential commercial dangers for our membership – in helping these firms are we simply becoming the proverbial ‘turkeys voting for Christmas’?
Let’s be honest, the home-moving process and the growing amount of time it takes to complete a purchase is likely to be seen by many PropTech firms as ripe for a ‘disruptive’ influence. While the conveyancer currently sits at the heart of that process, providing the necessary advice to clients and steering them through, PropTech propositions could attempt to deliver a much more ‘self-service’ approach to conveyancing, which purports to ‘do away’ with the need for a conveyancer.
These types of technologies already exist of course but they are controlled by the conveyancer – future attempts at streamlining the process via the use of technology might be a much more consumer-based model. We need not look far to see how disruptors, such as Uber or AirBnB, for example, have taken significant market share in their chosen sectors, have provided something of a ‘warning from history’ for conveyancing.
Of course, there is no law against the conveyancing industry itself harnassing the power of PropTech in order to deliver our own market-leading tech offering, which will speed up the process, but still keep the conveyancer at the heart of it. Many of the CA’s members are already developing their own PropTech propositions but, unlike the big banks for instance who have a massive share of their own market and have used FinTech to retain market share and cut costs, even the largest conveyancer’s market share is less than 5% and therefore the ‘influencing capabilities’ of single firms is much more diminished.
Which of course leads us to acting as a collective in all of this and working together to influence the development of PropTech to benefit the conveyancing industry as a whole, and to ensure the consumer has a positive home-moving experience with the right advice at the right time. Just the CA’s membership on its own is, after all, responsible for 30% of all conveyancing transactions in England and Wales, which is a significant market share that can be used to influence others who may not be within the membership group.
At our recent Policy & Strategy Board (PSB) meeting we discussed this very issue and how the CA might engage with those PropTech firms who come looking for our expertise, how we might sort the wheat from the PropTech chaff, how we might outline what we want to see from propositions and what they need to deliver in order to be considered worthy of our resource and input. Let’s not forget that the vast majority of these contacts are ‘fishing exercises’ detailing propositions that (statistically at least) are likely to fail, and fail very early on in their existence.
To that end, the CA has to keep a strong watching brief on this market and be careful of which baskets we put our eggs in. The advice from the PSB focused on being very clear about what the CA will, and will not, do, and to give those who come looking for our input very clear guidelines on what PropTech we believe is necessary in order to improve the home buying process. The likelihood is that if a proposition doesn’t meet these guidelines then we will not engage with it.
Overall, the clear message is that we cannot ignore what is going on in the PropTech market; far from it, we need to be fully engaged and cognoscenti in order to prime our membership for any ground-breaking developments, and to influence these potential disruptors to ensure the conveyancing market gets what it wants out of these inevitable changes.