In this thought leadership article, Videosign CEO Steven Tallant looks at electronic signatures and conveyancing and whether the time is nigh for the industry to embrace digital innovations.
Big digital changes are in progress in the conveyancing sector, and it’s time for professionals in all areas of the industry to adapt or get ready to be left behind.
Earlier this year, the Land Registry issued new guidance confirming the signature types accepted for use by the conveyancing industry, including witnessed electronic signatures.
It was another example of the growing acceptance of electronic signatures in the UK, a trend kickstarted in 2019, when the Law Commission confirmed the legal validity of documents signed digitally.
The Land Registry guidance provided a glimpse of the direction of travel for conveyancing, and it’s clear to me that any business in the industry needs to embrace the technology now to maintain a competitive edge - especially in our current fast-moving housing market.
I have no doubt that electronic signatures would have become the norm in time, but the pandemic has accelerated this trend.
Changes to the way we live and work in the last 18 months mean use of electronic signatures is at an all-time high.
When the Covid pandemic struck, most businesses put interim measures in place to deal with the immediate issues of remote working for what was expected to be a short-lived interlude.
Nearly two years on, there is still uncertainty about when workers will return to offices, if at all - and yet many businesses are still muddling through with their hastily-assembled quick fixes for remote working.
But the measures that we introduced to facilitate social distancing also bring additional benefits including convenience, efficiency and even the reduced travel-related pollution.
We have seen no slowdown in the use of electronic signatures since lockdown restrictions were lifted. This technology is here to stay and will pay dividends for businesses that embrace it.
Although the lockdowns are over, there’s still plenty of uncertainty about the return to the office. Remote working looks likely to continue in some form for the foreseeable future (forever in many cases), which means businesses now need to put long-term solutions in place for keeping their operations running.
I expect many businesses to permanently adopt a hybrid model mixing office-based and remote working, while many will abandon offices completely.
Whatever happens, office-based workers are unlikely to fully return to pre-pandemic norms and business leaders need to embrace a new way of working.
Businesses should now be thinking about ensuring that they have robust systems in place ready to deal with future Covid-related disruption, especially as we head into winter.
Safety concerns and improved work-life balance mean that many workers will be very happy to remain at home, while many businesses will benefit from the opportunity to make savings by downsizing their office space.
Meanwhile many consumers are discovering the benefits of meeting and transacting business remotely, with the need to travel for simple tasks such as signing documents now eliminated.
Let’s take a moment to think about this from the customer’s point of view.
Anyone who has ever bought a property will know the stress, the frustration and the sense of anticipation that can be involved.
There are so many reasons that it can be a stressful experience, but one is the paperwork. Waiting for documents in the post. Unpicking the meaning in legal language. Escaping from work to go to a solicitor’s office for the sake of the quick task of signing papers.
Robust digital systems have the potential to eliminate this stressful and time-consuming aspect of the transaction.
The wait for mail eliminated. Contracts explained via video meeting. Signatures made from anywhere.
Alongside an improved experience for customers, there are benefits for estate agents and conveyancers too in the form of heightened efficiency (ultimately bringing the ability to increase turnover through a higher completion rate), and stronger protection against fraud and contract disputes.
One thing that has become clear to me in recent months is that many businesses are exposed to fraud, data security breaches and contract disputes due to makeshift arrangements for conducting transactions remotely.
At Videosign, we have been working hard to evolve a platform that brings unrivalled levels of security combined with improved workflows and customer service.
We recently launched a new biometric tool designed to tackle identity fraud by allowing users to perform a live facial-recognition scan during a video call to confirm an identity at the point of signature of contracts or other legal documents.
The launch of this tool means conveyancers can confirm someone’s identity, talk them through the important details of a document, and then make a recording of an electronic signature being made and witnessed.
It may all sound a bit technical, but what it means in practice is that customers get a more efficient and less stressful experience, and all parties sleep better at night knowing that the contracts that have been exchanged come with an unprecedented level of detail and security.
As use of electronic signatures continues to increase, estate agents using online signatures need to know that they are protected from fraud and identity disputes.
That’s why it is so important to invest in the right technology and take the time now to think critically about whether initial emergency solutions are the most effective way of operating, and put plans in place to continue trading if new Covid variants lead to a return to social distancing.
The businesses that will thrive as we emerge from the pandemic are the ones that offer the best digital experience to their customers. Can your business say that?
*Steven Tallant is chief executive of Videosign