Search Acumen’s Andrew Lloyd looks back on 15 years in conveyancing and searches

The acceleration in technological developments is set to change conveyancing even more than it has over the last fifteen years, are the thoughts of Search Acumen’s Managing Director, Andrew Lloyd as he looks back on his time in conveyancing searches.

At this time of year back in 2001, Andrew was just getting his feet under the table as Operations Manager at SearchFlow. Now at Search Acumen, he says the profession is poised to change ever faster.

Speaking to Today’s Conveyancer, Andrew said: “This week it’s fifteen years I’ve been involved in searches. It seems like a lot longer than that when you look back on how much things have changed over that period. I’ve learned a lot going from my 30s into my 40s, and it’s been fascinating.

“I came from engineering originally, as a Geotechnical Engineer by training out of University. I went to work at a consulting firm in that field and was first exposed to the technology coming into industry in the 1990s when email first came in alongside spreadsheets, computer aided design for ground modelling and drawing.

“I got into that, so I retrained in IT and design and jumped career in 2001. I met with Mark and came onboard at SearchFlow as Operations Manager just as we were starting. I was there as we went from having almost no customers, right through to us growing it up to the huge market share it now has.

“My engineering background makes project management much easier. One of the strengths we had was we built good technology. Then it was converting offline lawyers into online. We’d turn up at these solicitors’ offices and they’d still have dial-up when broadband had been around for a good while, so it made for some interesting conversations.”

Andrew believes the web-enabled connectivity of an increasing number of home appliances, the so-called Internet of Things, could well start creeping into law as cloud computing has already.

He continued: “Conveyancing has changed quicker and quicker, and there are still a lot of opportunities for conveyancers to make more use of technology as the demographic of consumers they work with changes, and homebuyers change.

“Those consumers don’t even know what a fax is, let alone having used one. They’ll use social media and may even think email is a bit old hat. It’s fascinating seeing how it’s changed, what you can do online with all this cloud based stuff compared with where we started from. In a technology business it’s meant you really can’t afford to stand still.

“What we built back in 2001 is so far away from what I do now at Search Acumen, and what’d take 40 years to shift can change in ten now, and soon will every five years. The early adopters, the people willing to embrace change are the ones that will succeed going forward – nothing stands still for long.”

However Andrew doesn’t believe all the mooted change to be useful, with the potential privatisation of Land Registry not something he’d be pleased to see.

Andrew said: “In all the years I’ve been involved in housing, there’s always been something going on, from the dreaded Home Information Packs, the crash in 2008 and 2009, then the Open Government standards and the access to local authority data.

“Now there’s the privatisation of Land Registry. We don’t think it’s a good idea here, and it’s been interesting to see the Competition and Markets Authority don’t think it’s a good idea either, but there’s always going to be things moving forward, and to my mind that presents opportunities for the right people.

“Looking forward I think the push towards cloud based technology is going to continue, and we’re going to have more of that. In ten to fifteen years it’s all going to get much cheaper and faster with smart technology and the Internet of Things. Everyone has smartphones now but they’ll have smart fridges, smart microwaves, there’ll be no end to it. Before long we’ll have driverless cars as well, and there’ll be no worries about drink driving.

“I see it in my children; it’s all second nature to them. As they become adults and move into the workplace, it’s important us older and more established types don’t lose sight of that.”

Andrew also sees the way firms are able to innovate being a big driver in the industry, with small firms able to change tack much quicker. However he doesn’t see bigger technology firms necessarily as dinosaurs.

“One reason Andy and Mark and I enjoy Search Acumen, we could go back to being that annoyingly rapidly changing small business and the people that could be affected by change were us three, the shareholders. We could take more risk, be more aggressive as you weren’t protecting investors. Organisations have to face a number of competing businesses and much of the innovation starts with smaller firms with fewer ties, and the bigger ones pick up the successful ones and absorb them as that’s how they acquire innovation. For us, we like being able to manage the culture here.”

Andrew also believes that despite the changes that could be in the pipeline over the coming decades, the conveyancer will be around for a good while yet.

He continued: “It’s not a simple service, it’s not like getting car insurance every 12 months. People move home infrequently, every seven years is the average, so to retain the knowledge and understanding for most people is tricky as if you don’t do it very often, your memory doesn’t retain it. So whether the general consumer will be able to do it, even with online help is isn’t likely, although there will always be smart individuals who make their own way, and access for those will become greater.

“However I don’t see a future where people do conveyancing themselves. Two thirds of sales have a mortgage associated, and those need professionals for protection requirements. So a professional third party will be involved in some way. I’m not sure consumers have the appetite to do much more: moving house is hard enough as it is.

“One of the things where the industry does need to go forward is communication between professionals and consumers. Consumers are becoming more savvy about a good quality customer experience and expect more.

“You compare with buying from the likes of Amazon. The firms themselves are top quality, but conveyancing is not there yet. The lack of communication between conveyancer and client shows they’re behind the times with what consumers expect because of their experience in other industries.

“Their expectations have moved on. Conveyancers can feel hen pecked by their clients a lot of the time, but they don’t want to be spending client money on just keeping them informed, as time is money. But using a modern CRM and automation to keep clients up to date without having to spend time and money from their experienced staff, they’d get fewer phone calls and they’d gain productivity.

“You hear from many that they feel like their clients are chasing them all the time, but if you understand your consumer, they want that info, so rather than trying to do it in a traditional manner, you can drop them an automated tweet to let them know.

“It might not work for all, but the vast majority can get a text update. That’s not a one size fits all: you have to target it to the right market sector that fits you. That’s what we do, create a technology and service and an idea of what will work and match it to a sector that will apply that service level.

“If you want cheap as chips, then neither us nor my old operation was the right place to go but we want to create value for money. The cost might look like it’s a little more, although there’s not much in it, but you’ll spend less time chasing the searches as we’ll do it. Things like the billing are managed, so you save money by using a slightly better service, but get time back. And conveyancers can take the same approach.”

 

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