CLC roundtable reveals how the pandemic impacted property tech

The Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC)’s recently published findings from a roundtable discussion highlights how the pandemic forced conveyancing firms to put property tech at the top of their agenda.

Participants to the discussion suggested that the COVID-19 pandemic had accelerated conveyancers’ adoption of technology by five years and led to an increase in fees for the first time in many years.

Also amongst the findings was that the large ranging diversity of conveyancing firms, from small high street practices to large-scale providers, enabled the industry to handle the large increase in transactions caused by the stamp-duty holiday.

Commenting on the incredible stress felt by the sector Andrew Lloyd, managing director of property data company Search Acumen, said:

The industry as a whole is exhausted – the supply chain has been in exactly the same position as conveyancers. Whether it is local authorities who are being asked to provide due diligence information or the other third parties involved in providing signing services, all of it has been stretched to its absolute limit.”

Sally Holdway, Director of Teal Legal also commented that stress played an important part in those deciding to leave the industry. A survey conducted by Teal Legal last Christmas found that 50% of conveyancers wanted to leave the profession.

The roundtable found that fees were on the increase however. Rob Houghton, the chief executive of Reallymoving, which owns The Law Superstore, said the “massively supply-constrained but huge-demand market” translated into an average 44% rise in conveyancing fees at its peak. Although fees have dropped slightly since then, the question is whether that will continue. “A lot of people are saying that they have seen conveyancing fees get to a long‑term, sustainable level,” he noted.

Beth Rudolf, director of delivery at the Conveyancing Association, highlighted the link between fees and technology: “How can you afford technology when you are not making a profit? It has to be a good thing that the market has risen, and that people can be properly resourced. Particularly with transaction times of 18 weeks, your pipeline turn and the cash coming in has been really tricky.”

The participants found that ultimately the market has to move on and there can be no going back to the pre-pandemic approach to technology in particular.

Sally Holdway noted that waiting to see what happens regarding technology adoption is not the most prudent approach, “firms have realised that it can be such a boon to their practice in so many different ways, not just efficiency, but improving risk management, that we are now starting to see a more strategic approach”, she said.

Holdway also observed how enquiries are now coming from the top down, “we get quite a lot of estate agents or panel managers who come to us and say, ‘We are looking at this process as a whole. Can we start to change the chronology of conveyancing to make things go faster, more streamlined and underpinned by technology?’”

John Reynolds, chief operating officer of Coadjute, a blockchain network connecting the software platforms used across the property market, said the conversation on technology has moved on from  being about “customer experience niceties” to “ core business resilience,” with Covid forcing businesses to go entirely online overnight.

This immediate shift from hybrid online and face-to-face work to lockdown and fully online sparked a tremendous amount of digitisation. The pace of services opening up and joining up advanced five years in five months, to the extent that even competing platforms connected up to provide a shared view of a transaction’s data to their users”, he said.

Andrew Lloyd said that the legal sector needs to start viewing technology as a permanent feature with a “permanent commitment to continually reviewing and updating” it, rather than thinking of it as a one-time investment.

As regulators and industry influencers, there has to be an understanding coming out of this period of change to say: ‘Tech investment is permanent. It is a line item on your costs on an annual basis, and you have to, if you do not understand it, hire somebody who does and get on that.’ Otherwise, you will be the small law firm that in five years does not exist”, he added.

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