Industry and government must work closer in order to deliver true e-Conveyancing
Hayley Hellon, Head of Legal Practice at ProConveyancing, has written a guest article discussing why Industry and government must work closer in order to deliver true e-Conveyancing.
How was the first half of the year for you? Extremely stressful, I’m willing to bet. The Chancellor’s stamp duty giveaway coupled with the pent up demand from previous lockdowns entering the market created one of the biggest conveyancing logjams in recent memory.
The numbers were staggering; at the beginning of June there were 131,000 transactions above £250,000 yet to complete before the June 30th deadline. Is it any wonder the industry has a major recruitment and retention problem, when workloads of this magnitude are being placed onto conveyancers.
The major lesson the industry must take from this is that we need to speed up and double down on our efforts to deliver true end-to-end e-conveyancing. As we all know, Chancellors can never resist for long the urge to give new sweeteners and incentives to home buyers. So when the next big giveaway comes along, we could easily find ourselves working evenings and weekends once again, unless major change comes soon.
Why industry innovation isn’t enough
The industry as a whole is taking the task of e-conveyancing innovation seriously. The vast majority of conveyancing firms have made smart investments to automate much of their workflows. Bespoke case management CRM platforms have cut huge amounts of manual work from day-to-day case management.
Meanwhile, clients have never had a smoother experience. Self-serve portals enable them to upload photos of documents and track the status of their transaction. And we’re also now seeing advances in AI being deployed in e-conveyancing, such as facial recognition that enables virtual ID verification.
However, as great as these innovations are, they are all being created piecemeal, and siloed within each firm. This is creating issues with interoperability of data between systems as there are no agreed data standards within the industry. And of course there are still some laggards out there that insist on posting paper documents to other firms, which grinds even the smartest CRM to a juddering halt.
Attempts are being made to address some of these issues industry-wide. The biggest initiative to date is the recent launch of the Buying and Selling Property Information (BASPI), by the trade body the Home Buying and Selling Group (HBSG). This aims to create a “single source of truth” that can be shared among all actors involved in a property transaction, by using a common data set and schema, which is completed when a seller first puts their property on the market.
This is undoubtedly a step in the right direction and shows the industry’s willingness to push for new solutions. However its major undoing is that it’s voluntary, and relies on all actors in a transaction to adopt this in order for it to be successful. So unless critical mass can be achieved – an extremely tall order for any voluntary initiative – its impact will be limited.
The role the government must play
The only way we can solve the problems of information siloing, differing data standards and interoperability, and analogue workflows is through regulations and the centralising of certain processes. This can only be delivered by the industry and government working closely together.
Let’s first look at centralising certain processes in e-conveyancing. There is currently no centralised administrator for title transfers. The Land Registry is just the centralised record holder of titles, with conveyancers pushing and pulling data to and from this database during the title transfer process – it does not administer the entire process.
This has created a blackhole within the current process, with one firm’s closed system interacting with another firm’s closed system. What this means in practice is that a conveyancer’s data processing can only ever be as good as the data processing of the weakest party involved in a transaction.
A central exchange is the quickest and most effective solution to solve this dilemma. It would act as a point of convergence for all actors involved in the conveyancing process, with set data standards that firms must use when pushing and pulling data through the exchange.
Australia provides the gold standard of how to do this. Their extremely successful property exchange network PEXA acts as the centralised exchange via which all communication between practitioners and land registries are conducted during a title transfer.
To make this a reality, updated regulations are a necessity. These regulations would enable the creation of a central administrator as well as define the operating requirements and data standards for all organisations involved in e-conveyancing.
The creation of PEXA in Australia was only made possible by the Electronic Conveyancing National Law. And this law was only made possible following the creation of the Australian Registrars’ National Electronic Conveyancing Council, a joint council of government and industry figures.
Balancing responsibilities between the public and private sector
The framework required to create true end-to-end e-conveyancing can only be achieved through legislation. The government must work with industry to define the data standards and operating model that will facilitate this and by which all organisations involved in the title transfer process will need to abide by.
However, the other major piece of the jigsaw – the centralised administrator of property title exchanges, need not necessarily be the job of the public sector to deliver. PEXA is run by a private company, and very successfully so. Once the government creates the framework for how an online title exchange must operate through new legislation, it could then be left to the private sector to deliver this.
The competition created by this would spur innovation and keep platform fees competitive. Meanwhile, there would be no friction when processing title transfers between firms using different exchanges, as they are all operating under the same data standards and processes.
The framework created by this new legislation would also enable the next generation of e-conveyancing CRMs and case management systems used by conveyancing firms, enabling seamless data flows between title exchanges.
All of this, of course, is no small task. However, the longer we kick the can down the road, the longer and more difficult it will become to make this a reality. So if we’re to avoid future conveyancing logjams, industry and government need to start working a lot closer together and begin executing this.
Written by Hayley Hellon, Head of Legal Practice at ProConveyancing, an online residential conveyancing firm operating in England and Wales that offers high quality, fast and sensibly priced conveyancing to buyers and sellers and industry partners.
Kindly shared by ProConveyancing
Main photo courtesy of Pixabay