Inaugural Roundtable confirms changing market

Last month marked the first ever Today’s Conveyancer Roundtable, setting out to gain a professional insight into the views and opinions of key figures within the sector.

Held at InfoTrack’s London Headquarters, the team couldn’t wait to engage with attendees from across the industry and explore the issues which they felt most challenged by.

Attendees:

Chris Harris – Practical Vision Network

Gerry McFall – Lawyer Checker

Harvey Harding – PM Law

Craig Taylor – Leap Legal Software

Paul Norris – Gordons Property Lawyers

Nadine Blacklock – Pure Property Law

Kevin Smith – DC Law/JS Law

Scott Bozinis – CEO InfoTrack

Peter Ambrose – The Partnership

Graham Farrant – HM Land Registry

Eugene Nelson – Trinity

Paula Dorman – HM Land Registry (comms officer)

David Bridge – Metamorph/BPL

Simon Wagner – Martin Kaye

This article will provide an in-depth run down of the roundtable, highlighting the key points made by attendees as well as topics discussed.

No time was wasted in getting to grips with the most prominent issues; right at the start of the event, attendees were asked that they thought were the pressing challenges faced by the conveyancing sector as a whole.

Kevin of DC Law and JS Law questioned how the industry could continually “give more for less.”

Peter highlighted margin erosion caused by panel managers as a key concern, whilst David stated that the risks being transferred to conveyancers were also a growing challenge.

Along the same lines were the issues raised by Nadine and Paul, who mentioned the cost of compliance and the risk of email interception respectively.

Highlighting the growing prominence of technology within society, Chris begun by stating that despite the growing role of technology within society, the sector has not failed to keep up. This was a concern echoed by all attendees who voiced their own views on what could be done to change this throughout the course of the day.

Getting things started was Chief Land Registrar and HM Land Registry’s Chief Executive Graham Farrant, who described to attendees just how rapidly the organisation had developed over the past few years. Whilst he stated that 85% of work carried out is automated through the portal, he stated that there are certain applications where automation would not be appropriate, for example because of their complexity or the need to obtain and check paper files.

Graham then went on to state that Land Registry has started to work with customers to look at changes to its electronic Document Registration Service which would allow customers to enter more data directly rather than just uploading scanned copies of deeds and documents. This would allow Land Registry to use that data rather than retyping it. It would also allow Land Registry to guide customers through what is needed to complete registration, such as ensuring identity panels are completed correctly on an AP1 and ensuring all evidence is lodged, such as a power of attorney. Because requisitions are a key hurdle in the process and can lead to significant delays, Graham stated that these kinds of developments could help reduce requisitions and therefore save time and money both HMLR and customers.

Graham also stated that the Registry, would be looking to publish more sets of data for free, something which is likely to benefit smaller and medium sized businesses. The Land Registry hold a rich variety of publishable data and publishing it for free enables new services to be built by public or private partners. These initiatives can improve the conveyancing process for all.

Looking forward, Graham talked through HM Land Registry’s ongoing research and development project, Digital Street. HMLR has the opportunity to be at the forefront of innovation by exploring how land registration and conveyancing could be made easier and how data and technology could revolutionise the process. He explained how they worked with residential and commercial conveyancers, lenders, citizens, personal search companies, PropTech and start-ups, estate agents and regulators to identify pain points in the home buying process and come up with ideas to revolutionise the process. With industry, they tested some of these ideas by building an indication of what could be possible with a digital register. Graham went on to explain how the learning from Digital Street will inform HMLR’s current digital services, both now and in their future development. Digital Street is a way of contributing towards a property industry where people will buy, rent, sell, finance, build and manage the property with ease.

In time, he stated that implementing changes through digital transformation would, in turn, reduce costs – a saving which could then be passed on to users.

Drawing on Graham’s talk, Chris commented on the direction of technology within the sector, questioning whether the focus should be on the present danger of risk rather than on registered land.

Next, David discussed being removed from the Virgin Panel. He stated that they had been rejected because HMLR said they were not registered in time, highlighting that there must be resource delegated to chase these things through. Whilst this comes at a cost he said that it is, sadly, the only way.

“As a result, they now must chase the previous lenders and a couple of lawyers to manage the relationship with the lender, trying to get hold of stakeholders. This, however, is very difficult and resource intensive.

“Eventually this can lead to an aggressive approach so that people realise what is at risk here.”

By aggressive, it was stated that they will take it as far as they can in the organisations that they are chasing via formal complaints, and will literally pester.

The question as to why lenders aren’t doing this was then raised, particularly as they do not realise the impact that it has.

David continued: “Whilst it is not top of their priority list, it is ours. This is where you threaten legal action. They have had situations in the past where there is a commercial impact and they will make it very clear that they will be holding them to account to the commercial loss faced.”

The awareness of the representative bodies was then considered in terms of lender responsibility.

“They have made representations within the society of conveyancers and the Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC). The CLC provide great dialogue and they are very empathetic but in all honesty, they can be a bit toothless in sorting out the lenders.”

The conclusion as to why the open register is needed boiled down to transparency, something which is  seen as highly important for the current government.

An example was then discussed involving a fraudster who was able to access all the information from the register and pretend to be someone else; this is why the question of visibility was brought up in the first place. Instead of just stating the name and address of the person, attendees took the view that more information be stored so that it is harder to for a fraudster to pose as a consumer.

This led to another key point of discussion – how does someone prove they are who they say they are?

Where the digital process is concerned, the group felt that there is a need to make sure that the digital alternative is at least as safe as the current process and preferably safer. It was discussed that the majority of conveyancers have been hit by fraud or at least had a near miss.

From this, the key question was whether it was mainly due to people purporting to be someone they are not. It was highlighted that in terms of the industry as a whole, there is a need to be aware that emailing is not a secure method of communication.

A debate was then raised regarding the possibility of transferring money straight from the consumer to the bank, and then onto another bank. This is largely because their security tends to be a lot stronger than that of any law firm.

However, it was then highlighted that this had been spoken about at a previous conference, with the conclusion being that even if it occurred with the banks the instruction, it would still have to come from the solicitor, and they would therefore be taking the same responsibility.

Clarity of data was also discussed, with attendees stating that trying to find out the number  of homes sold is hard to identify. Whilst information on the number of properties transacted is usually reported, these are usually in terms of commercial and residential. As such, it can be hard to differentiate between property and homes.

Another topical issue – Local Land Charges – was also discussed.

From July to December this year HM Land Registry will be providing the first phase of a digital Local Land Charges (LLC) service. They will be migrating the LLC data from 26 local authorities to a central, digital register, owned by HMLR. 13 local authorities have so far confirmed they will definitely be migrating.

Graham stated that the new digital LLC register that HMLR has built will hold all the information about LLC searches as each local authority migrates their data. The first five local authorities will have migrated by the beginning of July.

The official LLC search product from HMLR’s digital register will be instantly available in an easy to read format, at a standard cost of £15 and come with a state-backed guarantee. This will help to make the house-buying process simpler, faster and cheaper. Graham stressed that this wouldn’t affect Land Registry fees in the long term.

HMLR will make customers aware of each local authority’s migration via a marketing campaign.

Next, Scott moved on to discuss InfoTrack’s conveyancing services platform, which can be used as a standalone website, or integrated with a case management system. When used as an integrated system, InfoTrack enables users to have both the buyers name and the sellers names, the matter details and more automatically populated throughout the process, rather than having to retype this in multiple times.

Scott said: “For example, in just three clicks you can do your bankruptcy check without having to log onto the Land Registry website, or re-enter the client’s details.”

He went on to state that they have built the digital version of the SDLT and AP1 forms and incorporated this into InfoTrack via a direct connection to the Government bodies (HMLR and HMRC), enabling users to further reduce administration with many fields automatically populated and typical HMLR and SDLT fees are calculated automatically

It then allows users to import the required supporting documents, which, as it is all brought through from the client’s case management system, making the post-completion process more streamlined.  Peter Ambrose expressed his support for how this system has made things easier for him.

Scott then elaborated on how the system works for professionals stating that the system is disbursement based (with no subscription fees) and how users only pay for what they purchase. Scott highlighted how true efficiencies can be gained when compared with the time taken by users going direct to Local Authorities for searches, HMLR for registers and HMRC for SDLT – amongst other sites – especially when integrated with Case Management Systems.

InfoTrack have grown to over 1000 active law firms using the platform.

Next, they moved on to discuss the InfoTrack paper – Home Moving in the Age of the Consumer – which looks at the shift in consumer behaviour, and the reduced reliance on using a local service provider.

Peter made it clear that always using a local lawyer makes little sense, as people are in search of receiving a good service at a competitive price.

Referral fees were also brought up, and the proposal put forward by the Solicitors Regulation Authority to remove them.

Four to five years ago, it was highlighted that firms were paying up to £2 million pounds – the current amount is now a fraction of that. The market has changed.

The discussion then moved onto educating the consumer, with the predominant view being that people are not educated enough in knowing the role of conveyancers in the house buying process. Sadly, it was argued that they do not appreciate the legal advice.

Harvey mentioned that educating through video could be key, with a need for conveyancers to be the ones who demonstrate the information. It was discussed that the estate agents cannot explain everything in detail, and the Law Society have not attempted to do this. However, whether consumers would actually read this information is a different issue, and one that suggests video would work well.

Also highlighted as a way to assist consumers in selecting a service was accreditations, and their relevance within the industry. A recent study from the Solicitors Regulation Authority indicated that consumers place greater emphasis on reputation rather than price when choosing a legal service provider, a factor which suggests that professionals should in turn look at ways to demonstrate the quality of their service. Craig mentioned the LEAP Best Practice Standard, stating how accreditations like this, combined with regular independent audits, can be a useful tool from a consumer perspective as well as mitigating risk and being an indicator of trust among other firms.

The talks then moved on to portals, and the online systems which follow the progress of the consumer’s journey and are designed to improve transparency. This is not, however, always the case. Scott suggested a system which allows a customer to enter their information and request a call back – at which point, the conveyancer would be aware of their personal circumstances and reduce delays.

Others, such as Kevin, described the way in which they used the portal system, stating that they use the information gathered from calls to help identify where people are having difficulty. In turn, this can help them improve their processes on a long term basis.

There was also some discussion surrounding consumer understanding, and how this could positively impact both the transaction itself as well as the lives of conveyancers. The general tone of the room seemed to suggest a feeling of change toward the underlying purpose of conveyancing; rather than a process to provide a prospective home mover with clear information, there has been a shift towards professionals covering their own back.

Chris drew attention to way that conveyancers communicate with clients, and the importance this has in terms of the overall success of the process. Harvey reminded attendees that it can always be useful to gain opinions from those outside the industry to help with plain English accreditation.

Following final thoughts from Chris, this brought the Roundtable, and a very insightful and interesting day, to a close.

If you’re interested in attending one of our future Roundtables, please contact [email protected].

 

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