Call for Evidence: Harnessing Digital Technology

The Government’s ‘Call for Evidence’ has unsurprisingly sparked a variety of opinions being voiced across the industry.

Aimed at both the public and industry professionals, the Department for Communities and Local Government released the consultation last month to gather views and opinions on how the home moving process could be improved.

We recently hosted a webinar focusing on what the Call for Evidence could mean for conveyancers. You can watch it here.

Broken down into a number of sections, the consultation looks at a range of different areas of the process, highlighting the potential issues within each. At the close of each section, it also poses questions to the reader as well as possible suggestions for reform.

As well as looking at specific aspects of the home moving process, the consultation also looks at factors which could positively impact the whole experience – for both consumers and professionals.

The third section in the consultation, digital technology is already being embraced within the home moving process by a number of organisations and companies. However, its inclusion in the ‘call for evidence’ indicates that the government feels it could be harnessed to a greater extent, both on a transactional level as well as in terms of driving innovation.

  • It is innovation which makes up the first point in this section of the consultation, with the DCLG highlighting the steps which many companies have already taken to utilise technology to improve the consumer experience. However, it drew attention to the lack of development being made on the private sector search and conveyancing side of the process, stating that this too should be made more ‘consumer friendly’.
  • The second point looks at e-conveyancing, with the DCLG acknowledging that some firms have already taken steps to provide consumers with an online service. It questions how existing initiatives in both the public and private sector could further help to initiate this.
  • Provision of data is the third point focussed on, with the DCLG setting out its aims to provide a solid foundation for a conveyancing digital revolution by improving availability and use of property data. Earlier this week, HM Land Registry launched its five-year Business Strategy; this contained plans to improve the quality of its data and support the Government’s transparency agenda, as well as steps toward improving the home moving process through digitisation.
  • The fourth point outlines the wider aim of the Call for Evidence in regard to technology, seeking views on how the Government can best utilise it to facilitate the shift toward digitising the home moving process.

Where technology in the legal sector is concerned, many seem to view its growing use as a positive opportunity for change. A number of reports and studies indicate that the harnessing of innovation is increasing, with these findings being interpreted to reflect the changing in the delivery of legal services, with firms acknowledging this too.
Looking forward, predictions have also been made as to the impact that technology could have on the home-buying process in future. For example, HSBC figures from earlier this year indicated that 93% of UK house hunters are utilising an online channel for property research. In light of this statistic, the bank believes that the transaction process is bound to naturally follow in order to meet the growing demand for online services.

Forecasting these changes was the Head of Mortgages at HSBC, Tracie Pearce. She stated: “The process of buying a home will change beyond recognition in the coming years. The market may not quite be ready for ‘robo advice’ but this type of service will, in time be helpful for the financially astute borrowers who need guidance through just a few steps of the mortgage process. There will still be those borrowers that desire face-to-face advice, or prefer to speak with an adviser over the telephone and lenders should look to provide home buyers with a choice of channels in line with their needs and preferences.”

However, before the technology can be implemented by conveyancers, it must first be embraced – something which some professionals may be reluctant to do.

Commenting on this was Co-Founder of GetMeMoving, Jonathan Palmer, who stated that utilising technology is the key to the sector’s progression.

“I believe the only way for the conveyancing market to progress and adapt is through the use of new technology and to bring everyone together through doing so. The world is moving forward, with technology being at the forefront of any new development or change. Why should this stop at conveyancing? The market is very much still stuck in its archaic ways with ‘the old boys club’ mentality seen across the UK.
“Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of work to be done to change the ‘norm’, however, big changes are coming and it is an exciting time for any forward-thinking company to be a part of.”

Also drawing on the reluctance of some to take advantage of technological change was Doug Crawford. The CEO of My Home Move urged the industry to acknowledge the shift in consumer trends, stating: “It’s clear that general trends in consumer behaviour towards digital online services are being resisted by many in our industry so it’s important that the consultation process reflects the up to date views of clients through specific research into the areas where change is being considered.”

Where the process itself is concerned, a number of industry professionals shared their views on how technology could improve existing issues within conveyancing – particularly those which have been highlighted within the consultation itself.

As well as being one of the key criticisms of the moving process, communication was also outlined as being one of the setbacks that technology could greatly improve. Stating that it could help achieve the shared goal of all professional parties, Jonathan Palmer stated: “Technology is able to bring estate agents, solicitors, mortgage brokers and clients together to communicate for the one goal of getting someone into their dream home, as simply as possible. However, we have only scraped the surface of the level and depth in which tech can be used to do so.”

Whilst greater provision of data has already been highlighted, HMLR’s ongoing digital strategy is worth recognising, particularly in terms of the positive impact it could have on the home moving process. Having set out its plans for a digital overhaul, the Registry aims to build on its developing improvements including online mortgage signatures and its property alert system. Steps such as these indicate that change is happening within the industry and is paving a clear path toward reducing delays and streamlining the process.

Though it’s vital to look toward the benefits that technology could bring in the future, it’s arguably more important to acknowledge the steps already being taken to encourage and implement its use within the home moving process.

Drawing on this point was CEO of When You Move, Simon Bath. He highlighted that along with the country, the property market is also on the brink of a technological revolution, stating that his own connective home moving platform was already using technology to make the home buying and selling process simpler and easier for all parties.

As well as streamlining tools and robotic advisers, utilisation of technologies such as blockchain are already gaining ground within the industry and could also serve as a key indicator as to the direction that conveyancing is heading.

Sharing his views on the bigger picture and encouraging professionals to respond to the consultation was Eddie Goldsmith. The Chairman of the Conveyancing Association stated: “Perhaps, however, we also need to look at this in a far wider/big picture way, and this is wrapped up in progress in technology, particularly the development of a blockchain proposition which would certainly deliver speed and certainty to the process.

“In a way, this is something of a clarion call to members – and all those who choose to respond – to think big on this one. To not be constrained by what’s been done in the past, but to look at the opportunities particularly afforded by new technology and to review what is being achieved in other jurisdictions, and to acknowledge there is a better way and this is our opportunity to achieve it.”

The ‘Call for Evidence’ can be accessed here.