Conveyancing is one of the last industries in the property ecosystem to be impacted by digital disruption. But don’t worry, it’s coming! Rather than being afraid of it, however, we can take comfort from the fact that so many industries adjacent to us – real estate and finance especially – have been through it before us and learn from their experiences. But even though our bigger brothers may be ahead of us on the adoption curve, we still need to adapt it to the issues and processes specific to conveyancing.
So here are some of the biggest tech and social trends that are fundamentally changing how conveyancing is going to be conducted in Australia.
Customer expectations of good service have fundamentally changed over the past 10 years, and they continue to evolve. More than just corporate placations and cookie-cutter standards, clients today want service that is personalised, immediate, and recognises their needs – even if they don’t know what those needs actually are! You can blame big data for this. It’s understanding of our preferences based on literally millions of activities and the ability to serve information that is both useful and timely regardless of the time of day or what platform we are in and predict what we are going to need next. This has made it hard for mere human processes to keep up. In such an environment, traditional communication methods of email and telephone are both too slow, prone to misunderstanding and inferior no matter how much you like the person at the other end. They’re an important compliment to great service in the new world, but on their own, they just don’t cut it.
Big Data, Automation and AI
Everywhere we go and everything we do these days leaves a vapour trail of data behind us. It’s produced with every interaction we have with our mobile phones, on our desktops, and even just walking captures data about where we’ve been. And then there are the email lists we sign up for, the online shopping we do and the social media activity we engage with. The bigger the datasets, the bigger the picture about who we are and our personal preferences, allowing our interactions to become more and more personalised.
Big data is the fuel that drives automation and AI, and it is removing much of the manual work out of conveyancing, allowing more processes to be automated and reducing the amount of repetitive work done by humans. In conveyancing, this means client data being automatically pulled into forms rather than retyping, digital signatures being requested and recognised, information automatically moving to the next stage and documentation being ‘preflight checked’ by bots rather than humans. The end result is faster transactions with fewer errors and rework.
The Corporatisation of Real Estate
The irony of Australia’s residential real estate industry is that it is the country’s single biggest asset class and favourite way to invest, yet we’re largely a cottage industry managed and run by small businesses. There’s nothing wrong with that, but in coming years, it is likely to start to change with the growth of build to rent, resulting in more multi-family housing being owned by large corporates, especially superannuation funds.
The financial and mental cost of running a business – and the sheer weight of needing to manage so much in terms of technology, security, automation and service centres – also means mergers and acquisitions are likely to become more common as we see fewer but larger businesses emerge. This trend is especially likely to impact conveyancing with our legacy of small three or so-person operators. Expect to see bigger conveyancing businesses that are more streamlined, tech-supported and with teams with more specific job descriptions that are narrow and deep rather than broad generalist conveyancing.
Scaling and End-to-End Processes
One of the most stressful parts of the conveyancing process for buyers and sellers is understanding the stage of the transaction, how far there is still to go and what kind of information needs to be compiled in order to clear the next hurdle. Tech systems that deliver end-to-end transaction management reduce this stress considerably by allowing clients to see at a glance what stage their purchase or sale is at and what else needs to be completed.
Delivering this clarity to clients also has major benefits to conveyancers. There are fewer daily interruptions from people wanting to check in and understand “where we’re at”, less chasing of clients to provide vital information without which settlement can be delayed (creating even more stress) and a clearer understanding for conveyancers of the project management required across a team, and where bottlenecks or additional resources may be required.
In addition, giving both real estate agents and buyers and sellers visibility of the conveyancing process improves market education resulting in a better understanding of the work that conveyancers do and the value we add.
Cyber Security and Risk Management
The irony is that there is more payment security in purchasing a pizza online than there is in buying a million-dollar property. It should be no surprise, therefore, that every week there is another tale of property transactions being intercepted by scammers stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars in the form of deposits, payments and bonds.
Cyber fraud is now at an industrial scale, with thieves no longer just lone hackers sitting in a bedroom, but warehouses of scammers globally hunting deliberately for targets. Real estate, with its high value transactions and traditionally low security practices makes us extremely vulnerable. Sharing bank account details, contracts and identification documentation over email are all common ways that we expose ourselves on a daily basis and in the new world of cyber threat, it’s not a case of if we get hacked, but when, especially given it can happen as easily as clicking on a link when we’re tired or not concentrating.
Cyber secure transaction spaces are the way forward. Only those invited can access these password-protected and locked virtual rooms, but once inside, documents and identification can be shared, and payments made securely. Secure conveyancing rooms can also be connected to systems like Pexa, allowing the settlement to be securely lodged at the end, de-risking the entire process and helping both conveyancers and their clients feel a lot less stress.