Given that one of the Conveyancing Association’s major workstreams – you might argue it’s our prevailing workstream – is how we can speed up the home buying and selling process, then this seemed a good session to be on.
Particularly, to get a view on how lenders see the current situation and what technology could be used in order to speed it up, and, importantly, make the whole thing far less stressful for consumers, who often can’t believe just how long it takes, what it requires and takes out of them, and why it doesn’t resemble so many other transactions in their lives.
The conference looked at a number of technology enablers which could, and perhaps should, be used to deliver a smoother journey.
These included as you might expect: digital ID and verifying a customer electronically, use of e-signatures, using Open Banking to verify income, open and smart data to help pre-verify the customer and the property, Optical Character Recognition, which can automatically scan and extract data, Robotic Process Automation, which automates people-intensive and/ or complex processes, and Blockchain to prove, trace or speed up securing evidence of asset ownership.
Attendees were then polled on what they thought would make the biggest difference for customers.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given this was predominantly a lender-focused audience, the two most popular were Open Banking and Smart Data.
No doubt fuelled by its growing use within the lending community to assess a client’s ability to afford the mortgage far more quickly and earlier in the process.
Yet, what was interesting was not so much the client data, of which it seems lenders are getting lots through the likes of Open Banking, but the data they don’t have which pertains to the property itself.
A similar approach to property-based data to produce a much earlier assessment of whether it is suitable to lend on would be most welcome by lenders.
Not so far behind Open Banking and Smart Data, and perhaps more interesting for a wider property market stakeholder perspective, were digital ID and e-signatures.
One source of truth
Anyone active in this process will know the resource currently involved in verifying a customer’s ID, and the somewhat crazy thing is we all do it, at every step of the way, whether we’re the agent, adviser, lender, conveyancer, developer, you name it.
We talk a lot about having one source of truth, but this would make such a difference if we could all rely on one source when assessing whether the person in front of us is actually who they say they are.
Similarly, consumers are no doubt baffled by our sector’s archaic need to have wet signatures on documents, especially when they will be providing e-signatures across so many other aspects of their personal and professional lives.
The good news is that, as can be clearly seen, those enablers already exist and, if utilised, could undoubtedly speed up the whole process and make it far more consumer and trade-friendly.
But, while in some areas, we’re getting there, in others we’re not.
Perception of barriers
Attendees at the conference were asked, why might that be? What barriers are in place to stop us getting to this brave new world?
The top two responses were ‘cost,’ and ‘the time change takes,’ with ‘firms’ risk aversion about unknown consequences,’ being not so far behind.
This is an interesting take because, while of course there would be upfront costs, the long-term benefits of having a much more seamless, technology-driven purchase process, particularly in terms of cutting down the time to completion, are there for all to see.
For advisers you, can write more business, spend less time on cases, and get paid far quicker with a souped-up process.
Similarly, the time it takes to change can be recouped by the time it can save. Once in place, that time saving is repeated again and again.
And, finally, what are the unknown consequences? When your average housing transaction takes 26 weeks from marketing to completion, what do you have to lose in adopting technology in these areas? It’s highly unlikely to add any more time to the process.
Grasping the nettle has therefore never been so beneficial or within the entire industry’s hands. There really are no excuses any more and as a trade body we will certainly continue to push all stakeholders in this direction.