Here, I chat with Dan Salmons, Coadjute's CEO, for his thoughts on where the company has come from, the importance of blockchain in agency and where the firm is aiming to go in the next five years.
Coadjute appears to be taking the property world by storm lately - but where did it all begin for the company? What is the background?
Our journey began in 2018 when our three founders led a major blockchain trial for the Land Registry, called Digital Street. This marked the first time a government department had conducted a major project to consider the use of blockchain, and it was a huge success.
The trial sparked global interest, so Coadjute invited banks, land registries, estate agents and lawyers around the world to take part in an experiment to see what would happen if the property market were digitally connected more broadly.
I was Director of Innovation at NatWest at the time, and was intrigued, so decided to take part in a more in-depth trial of a UK network, connecting some of the bank’s customers with UK estate agents and conveyancers via their software platforms. It worked brilliantly, and I was so impressed I joined the company.
Fast forward to July 2021 and we launched the Coadjute Network, positioning the UK as a world leader in the digitisation of its property market. We got under way with our first live property deal on the network, a house in Kent, for the very first time enabling estate agents and conveyancers to share data securely in real-time over an open network.
What does Coadjute offer and what is the company's ultimate goal?
Coadjute aims to connect the people in the UK housing market, enabling every party in a property transaction to share data and track live progress, from beginning to end.
By using blockchain technology we can verify every party involved, encrypt and timestamp all the data in transit, and provide live information from other systems with certainty, accuracy and security. Importantly, we never store it centrally ourselves, and don’t even need to see the data. We also don’t ask people to use a new platform, it all works from their existing software. We just do the connection.
We believe that improving communication between parties and their systems – quicker, more accurate, more secure – is key to improving the property process. We want to spell an end to the constant chasing for information, the missed calls or delayed emails, and the unnecessary admin and security risk of linking emails to files. They all add up to a lot of extra work, and inevitably delays and gaps in the process when there is miscommunication or a disconnect.
We also want to open the door to new digital services - such as sharing digital identity so customers don’t have to repeat it - which haven’t been easy or possible before because there’s been no secure network everyone can connect to for a service.
Ultimately, we hope our network will enable a future where every property transaction is a truly collaborative experience, with all parties involved working together to achieve the same goal with access to the same data on their own databases – a golden thread of truth.
Some agents, even now, have an uneasy relationship with technology - and might be put off by the idea of blockchain, especially given its associations with cryptocurrency. What would you say to reassure them?
It is only right that estate agents are prudent, but actually blockchain is a very broad technology and the sort that mostly gets talked about is very different to what we are using here.
The Coadjute network is based on enterprise DLT (Distributed Ledger Technology), which was originally designed for banking and capital markets, and used globally for settlement and international trade. It is a bank-grade, high-security, high-privacy version of blockchain.
Enterprise DLT is already used at scale in other applications. For example, the 100 top banks in Italy settle hundreds of millions of dollars or Euros every night on exactly the same type of blockchain that we use to move data and assets. It’s fast, secure, and best of all, doesn’t involve putting all your data in someone else’s database.
You've been raising significant sums in recent fundraising rounds - what will these be put towards?
The earlier funding rounds were to enable us to pilot the network, and then build it at industrial scale, leading to the launch last July. Following the launch, we had huge interest from institutional investors globally, and the recent raise powers the national rollout of the platform. That includes investing in marketing, expanding the team who work with our partners and customers, and developing a number of new features for the network that our software partners and end customers are really excited about.
Do you believe blockchain is the solution to a smoother home buying and selling journey?
The property transaction process is a complex one with a lot of parties involved in the lifecycle including estate agents, mortgage brokers, conveyancers, and banks - all using a variety of different technologies and processes to get the job done.
This is a real problem for efficiency, and it’s easy to think the answer must be to throw it all away and impose some new centralised system or process and make everyone use it. That used to be the only approach, and invariably failed as people don’t want to have to adopt new systems or processes, and certainly don’t want someone hoarding all their data.
The joy of a decentralised technology like ours is it can work with existing systems, rather than replacing them. It allows us to make what we people use today interoperable, rather than replacing it. I genuinely think it is what the property market has been waiting for, and why this sort of connectivity hasn’t been possible before.
Coadjute are the headline partner again for the ESTAS 2022 - should estate agents, conveyancers and other property professionals be celebrated and appreciated more?
The ESTAS are a great way to recognise the expertise and professionalism of the property market. Buying and selling a home is one of the most important milestones in people’s lives and although the process today is complex, it only works as well as it does because a lot of people work very hard to ensure it does.
The Coadjute team certainly appreciate the essential work that property experts do and that is why we are honoured to be a headline partner of ESTAS 2022. The ESTAS are a great way to turn the spotlight on the industry’s unsung heroes.
If there is one thing Coadjute could change about the industry tomorrow, what would it be and why?
I would love to see email become a thing of the past when it comes to buying and selling homes.
When you think about it, it is surprising that we have to send confidential documents and details related to house purchases over public email. Emails are inherently insecure, plus they are not linked to the record on your system so things can get mislaid.
At best, there is a lot of extra admin every time a document does arrive via email, checking reference numbers, finding the associated item on your system, and uploading information.
In a few years’ time, when we all take it for granted that thanks to Coadjute all messages and documents come securely into your system and sit with the right records, I think we will look back and be a bit astonished what we put up with.
What are the company's predictions for 2022 and beyond?
By the end of the year, our national rollout will be well under way and thousands of people will be using Coadjute and enjoying the benefits. Users will quite quickly start to see a reduction in the administrative effort, and also in the time it takes. Best of all, they will see an improvement in the experience for buyers and sellers, with more transparency over what is happening and less hassle in sharing information.
From my experience rolling out contactless cards in the UK, I know these sorts of market-wide changes don’t happen overnight. What does happen quite quickly though is that it goes from being hard to imagine – “we’ve waited so long, is this possible?” - to being the most normal thing in the world – “this is obvious, why did it take so long?”
That really is my dream for Coadjute, that it is quietly running in the background, connecting all the systems so that the property people using them can do what they do best. It may be quicker, easier and more secure, but I will be delighted if home movers barely even notice it is there, and just get a better experience.
Most of us don’t think much about how amazing it is that Mastercard connects an airport shop to your bank in a split second. If Coadjute can do the same for all the many parties in the property market, I will be delighted.
Terrific insight, Dan - thanks so much.
Until next time...
*Nat Daniels is CEO of Angels Media, publishers of Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today. Follow him on Twitter @NatDaniels.