Making electronic witnessing a reality in conveyancing

By updating Practice Guide 8, HMLR is now allowing electronic signing and witnessing solutions to be used to sign deeds and other HMLR documents. The aim of the updated Practice Guide is to make more processes digital and to reduce the administrative burden on conveyancers. 

Recent developments in the field of conveyancing make a strong business case for electronic witnessing. Imposed lockdowns threatened business continuity and required firms to adapt to remote working. The stamp duty holidays, combined with customers’ changing behaviour, dramatically increased transaction volumes, pressuring conveyancing firms to find ways to improve productivity while maintaining profit margins.

In this article, Yoti’s tech team sheds light on the development process and technology of electronic witnessing.

Alttaf Hussain, Head of Tech at Yoti Sign, led the team who worked on bringing the Yoti eWitnessing Solution to market.

“For us, product development process usually starts from regulatory and legal due diligence to ensure products we develop can be legally used.

“After reviewing the initial guidance, we mapped the requirements for eWitnessing, to real world use cases”.

Technology that solves problems 

There are around 4,000 conveyancing firms in the UK and all of them require to get their documents witnessed.

Conveyancers are faced with document signing and witnessing processes that are too time consuming and admin-intensive as well as inconvenient for the customers. Making the execution of deeds digital, could have a significant impact on productivity across the entire sector. Most of the law firms, have already implemented electronic signing technology, meaning electronic witnessing can be easily adopted by them.

The development process of electronic witnessing

“In the initial development stages, product and user experience teams design prototypes which are then consulted either with regulatory body or clients”

Hussain said.

Prototypes are graphical demonstrations of how the feature might look and which steps the process will include. For example, a prototype would show which steps a witness will be presented with to enter a passcode and access a document in order to sign it.

Yoti develops software products by following an agile methodology. The full product development process is broken into short iterations. The aim is to deliver a tangible element of the feature at the end of each iteration. The agile process requires creating a feedback loop between the development team and the end user.

One such feature that is now a pillar of Yoti’s eWitnessing was introduced by James Lancaster, a sales manager who specialised in the legal sector.

“During a meeting I had with one of the law firms, it was highlighted that clients often exchange sensitive and confidential information with each other that requires restricting. We then quickly realised that it would be absolutely necessary to restrict a witness from viewing the document’s full content. We designed and developed a limited document view feature which hides the content of the document from the witness”,

Lancaster said. The agile approach to developing eWitnessing helped Yoti team to deliver this solution to the market quicker.

The secure, the compliant and the effective

So what are the key features that make eWitnessing compliant and effective?

Electronic witnessing embedded with an electronic signing platform should have multi-factor authentication. Sending a document to the email inbox, to which only the signer has access, is the first layer of security.

Another one is One Time Passcode. It is a six-digit code sent to the personal mobile number of the signer and witness. The code expires within 10 minutes.

The limited document view, referenced earlier, is only provided by Yoti. The technology recognises when a witness has entered the document and therefore joined the process, but will block the content until the signing page, where the signer and witness have joint access.

After the completion of the document, unlike the signer and sender, the witness doesn’t receive a copy.

E-sign providers use encryption to securely exchange documents between the sender and signer. The documents are encrypted in transit (when exchanged between the sender and signer) and at rest (when stored in the data centre).

What makes e-signing legally binding is an audit trail. E-sign technology tracks each step the signer and sender are taking. The following attributes are recorded: email address, opening email, signing date, IP address, time when OTP is entered and sent, mobile number, the time when document is completed.

Future of eWitnessing 

Growing adoption of eWitnessing serves as a confirmation that making the witnessing process digital was needed and well received by the market. When it comes to Alttaf’s team, they are working on further improvements of their eWitnessing solution. The next version will be expanded by the ability to locate a signer and witness using geofence technology to ensure users are always in close proximity.

 

Join How electronic witnessing can revolutionise conveyancers’ work on Tuesday, October 12th 2021, 12:00pm to find out how you can implement an  HMLR compliant solution in your conveyancing practice today

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