SRA conference explores consultation motives – Better information, more choice
The Solicitors Regulation Authority Compliance Conference was held yesterday, highlighting key issues within the industry as well as providing guidance for professionals within it.
Being in attendance at the session focusing on the SRA’s consultation – Looking to the future: better information, more choice, I noted that the focus of much of the advice given was in relation to providing relevant information to help consumers to make an informed decision, with the regulator stressing that improving information is the best way to improve the consumer experience and in terms of both quality and choice.
Following the results of the report by the Competition and Markets Authority, proposals to improve market transparency in a range of legal areas has been hailed as a positive step for firms, providing an opportunity to differentiate themselves from competitors.
Whilst a key counter-argument may relate to the variation in service prices, this may not be as problematic as it seems. For conveyancers, the SRA highlighted that the majority of fees within the industry were fixed (78%), meaning that presenting these particular figures online shouldn’t hinder them in any way.
Although variable fees – as their name indicates – will vary from firm to firm, the need to publish them should not be seen as a burden. As the SRA highlights, it should be seen as an opportunity to justify the cost, whatever that may be.
In order for a client to make an informed decision, the SRA stressed that this will not solely be dependent on price, especially when they have been published for all to see. Instead, consumers will focus on the quality that firms promise to provide as well as the description of the service, and how well it meets their needs. In this respect, price comparison sites may not provide a ‘full picture’ for clients, as whilst they provide information on price, they could act as a barrier to consumers seeing the value for the money and what the prices mean in terms of the service they will get. We, therefore, need to find a way of encouraging consumers to look at the information as a whole to better understand the kind of service that they can expect to receive.
Whilst increasing competition could be a side effect of the consultation, should the suggestions be enforced, the SRA also made clear at yesterday’s conference that should be considered an opportunity for firms.
Currently, just 22% of consumers will shop around before choosing their conveyancer. Recommendations from estate agents or friends will often be welcomed because of the barriers to making an informed decision. As a result, consumers may not always receive a service that’s quite right for them.
By improving access to information, the SRA stress that this will encourage people to shop around and in turn, naturally lead to increased opportunities.
Although the benefits to improving transparency are clear, the regulator stated that in order to make the most out of them, information needs to be presented in the right way.
In order to boost interest in their services, conveyancers need to consider the questions that consumers will be asking and providing information which answers these questions in the clearest possible way.
As set out by the SRA, this is about providing a complete picture of the service being provided, as opposed to simply focussing on prices or reviews.
In turn, this will help firms to dispel the cold and faceless stereotype, make legal services more accessible, provide consumers with a clearer indication as to the service that they can expect and reduce the possibility of problems emerging later down the line.
In order to ensure consistency across the market and give additional guidance, the SRA will also be providing templates for firms on price publication.
The SRA’s consultation will close on 20 December. Make sure that you share your view.