A conveyancer has contacted Estate Agent Today suggesting that the Simplify Group IT data crisis could be the death knell for the company and the referral fee system.
The conveyancer has asked for anonymity but is an expert in the field and has been spurred to put pen to paper as a result of the IT crash at Simplify, affecting Premier Property Lawyers, JS Law, DC Law and Advantage Property Lawyers.
Two months on there still appears a lack of clarity over the cause and extent of the data breach, which many believe was the result of a ransomware attack; the police are known to have been notified of the issue. Many transactions remain stalled, and customers are still waiting to hear if their data was put at risk.
Social media in particular have been buzzing with the issue, right up to and throughout the Christmas period.
For example, in a tweet tagging both Premier Property Lawyers and Purplebricks - the agency thought to be worst affected by the IT crash - one social media post states: “If you value your sleep and your mental health remove these people from your life as soon as possible.”
Another tweet, specifically to Premier Property Lawyers, asks: “Have criminals got our data? Can you let us know exactly how much of our data has been exposed on the dark web? Should I setup fraud monitoring? Should I let my bank know? Should I let the land registry know?.” There appears to have been no response from the company.
The conveyancer who contacted EAT writes:
The ‘Security Incident’ that took place last in November has highlighted a number of issues that some of the Simplify Group of firms were having to deal with before it took place. Could the fact that those issues have been highlighted, particularly on Facebook, sound the death knell for them individually or the group as a whole?
When the problem was first exposed, a certain amount of sympathy poured out, because “it could have happened to any business.” However, as time moved on that sympathy (except perhaps for the individual conveyancers themselves) wore thin. Mainly due to a lack of clear communication from the group’s hierarchy and possibly their regulator, the Council for Licensed Conveyancers. If there is one thing that customers of any type do not like when service levels drop significantly, it is lack of clear communication, and maybe an apology from at least one of the head honchos, who are nowhere to be seen.
Turning to the issues I referred to above, the main one of course was providing a service that many thought was below a standard that should be provided by a firm engaged in supplying professional conveyancing services, and the Facebook group has provided a number of examples of this.
Most of the firms in the group are generally referred to as, volume conveyancers, sheds, or factory conveyancers and none of those terms conjure up an image of superior service. Many of the firms receive new instructions purely because they pay a healthy referral fee to panel managers and estate agents, or have some other kind of business relationship with certain estate agents. The transparency and size of those referral fees has been questioned many times over in the last few weeks.
As a conveyancer myself, I am well aware that many estate agents do not always want to recommend certain firms, but are told they must do so by their employers, for commercial and financial reasons. Surely this has to stop, or those agents need to be held accountable?
Two obvious questions that have now arisen are, has irreversible damage been carried out to the Simplify brand, or have they learnt some lessons, and will they (can they) change for the better?
Personally, I would like to see these firms improve and survive, because they provide an online experience that many home buyers and sellers are looking for, and they bring a competitive element to the conveyancing marketplace.
Finally, and in order to keep this article as fair as possible, I must make it clear that I am well aware that there are plenty of other, smaller, more traditional high street law firms that also fall short often in the delivery of their services and that may be a discussion that also needs having , sooner rather than later. But for now, the spotlight is firmly on Simplify.
Some of the specific criticisms of Simplify were put to the group by Estate Agent Today during the working days between Christmas and New Year.
We received this statement yesterday, January 3:
“Following continuous effort across our teams, we have made huge progress in returning our conveyancing operations to what is now close to business as usual capacity, with almost all conveyancing colleagues operational and progressing cases as normal. Our recent focus has been on exchanging and completing hundreds of cases every day, and at the same time prioritising urgent actions on cases expected to complete in the new year.
“We have been actively communicating in detail with our clients and introducers to ensure that we are able to progress their cases as quickly as possible. These communications and discussions have often involved senior Simplify executives, and Simplify continues to do everything possible to minimise any impact on our customers and prioritise their needs.
“We understand the uncertainty and disruption that our clients and others may have experienced during this difficult period for our business. In the New Year we look forward to restoring confidence in our services with both customers and partner firms. Like any business, we will of course seek to understand how we can best learn lessons from this experience, but Simplify remains a robust business with strong leadership and a bright future ahead of it.”