There is a lot of talk about “modernisation” in the news at present and how that chimes with job retention, better working conditions, pay increases, and the like.
This is not a debate that is just confined to public sector workers; it is one that many industries are having and has been perhaps brought into sharper focus by the post-pandemic environment we now have, and particularly in light of economic factors, specifically the increase in the cost of living.
Conveyancing is one such area where there has historically been a degree of push-back from some stakeholders, particularly when it comes to the use of technology, what new systems and processes are able to achieve, how digital developments might advance and improve our time to completion, coupled with human resources, the current need for greater levels of recruitment, and also the pay and conditions for those working in our market.
There is a genuine fear amongst some that, for example, the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and digital data collection might replace large numbers of employees or put their firms out of business to be replaced by those able to invest in the most advanced technology and systems, able to run with very few staff, adopting a high-tech approach to conveyancing.
My own view is somewhat different, and it sees technology and AI, for example, as a game-changer for firms, however not in terms of replacing them, but actually enhancing their offering, and essentially getting them to the point where they are carrying out the job of a conveyancer not a data collector or a glorified updater of cases for all interested parties.
To my mind, this is about using the technology available to enable conveyancers to do the parts of the job they are actually trained to do. So, as mentioned, the conveyancing job shouldn’t be about collating data – which, as we know, can currently take an inordinate amount of time – but it should be about securing easily accessible data quickly, reviewing that data, understanding what it will mean to the customer, and advising them of their options.
I can’t think of a clearer example of what we should be using technology to avoid than a recent story I’m sure you read about an estate agent who felt the need to both fly to Spain and back in order to secure a signature from a vendor client and then drove to Newcastle from the South of England in order to deliver the documentation.
Now, of course, this is being heralded as going above and beyond as the case apparently had 48 hours to complete, but I can’t help reading of the lengths those working in our industry are having to go to, and wonder if we are actually living in 2022 or if we’ve somehow regressed back to the mid-1980s.
It wasn’t a conveyancer but I’m sure this will ring true for many stakeholder firms. The case above seems to exist in a vacuum where the likes of Digital ID verification and Qualified Electronic Signatures (QES) don’t exist; where email doesn’t exist? Again, time is of the essence, but when your best option appears to be travelling thousands of miles by air and road, then something is not right.
There are clearly other benefits to be had here. Not least the fact Digital ID and QES will create stronger, more fraud-resilient conveyancers and estate agents. Where its use will effectively mean that consumers interact with the house purchase/remortgage process as they do with so many other parts of their life, where technology allows them to do a whole host of things/sign up for a myriad of services and secure a huge array of products, all online.
Again, this won’t be the bad news that some stakeholders think it will be for their firms and their conveyancing employees. Their roles will become more technical rather than being the fulcrum of a communication circle, spinning round and having to endlessly communicate with those in the process/chain about where that process/chain sits.
Instead, they will, as mentioned, review all the data and it will be AI which will communicate to the consumer, ensuring conveyancers do not have to spend all their time on telephone calls or answering emails to concerned individuals.
15 years ago I was able to programme my case management workflow to update all parties when an action was undertaken, explaining what had been done, what was next and when I would chase – technology has far superseded this online case tracking so the homemover can now see real-time progress of the whole chain. So why are the deluge of emails still coming? Many conveyancers and estate agents are still under the misapprehension that integrating with these services will cost them a packet but with the FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable) data being delivered now and the standard format APIs, conveyancers can simply plug these enhancements into their service offering.
But, to get to that point we will need to discard a fear of modernisation and technology – thankfully, large numbers of firms are already at that point, but when you work in a sector like ours, where you are so reliant on others and where there can be some suspicions about the ‘competition’, there will need to be a mindset change from some.
It means not being fearful of the provision of upfront information and it means engaging with the progress already made and the availability of technology. Thanks to the Technology Subgroup of the Home Buying & Selling Group, for example, stakeholder CRM platforms will be able to engage with other suppliers through APIs rather than the costly integrations we have become used to. In other words, this is a level-playing field where the provision of data is fair for all – another reason not to be fearful.
Overall, we are at the cusp of significant change and technology is leading the way. Far from destroying stakeholders it will enhance them, and therefore the sooner we can grasp the advantages it brings, the stronger position we will all be in.
Beth Rudolf is Director of Delivery at the Conveyancing Association (CA)