The NSW mandate is on its way, so what are the risks and rewards of e-conveyancing?
29 May 2019
An overview of the Risks&Rewards Seminar in Sydney
Technology is changing the face of the legal industry at a rapid rate, positively disrupting the way practices are managed and the way those practices deliver services to clients. As we move into the future, getting on the front foot with legal technology could be the key to navigating regulatory compliance and standing out in a marketplace where client expectations are continuously changing.
Adapting to change is never easy, especially for an industry largely centred on traditional customs and practises. This is clearly apparent in the field of conveyancing where, from 1 July 2019, the NSW Office of the Registrar General will mandate that all mainstream conveyancing dealings must be lodged electronically. The InfoTrack Risks and Rewards of e-conveyancing seminar held in Sydney on the 23rd of May, helped to navigate the shift towards online. The seminar brought together practitioners, state government and legal technology innovators to share their insights on how the conveyancing industry can rise to the mandate demands and beat the challenges.
Tackling today’s cybersecurity threats
Aside from improving efficiency, communication and profit margins, legal technology can also be credited with helping conveyancers combat increasingly sophisticated cybersecurity threats In 2018, over $107 million in losses resulting from cyber fraud was reported to Australian government agencies. Opening the seminar, InfoTrack CEO, John Ahern, explained that cyberattacks have moved beyond simply hacking bank account details. He said, “hackers know our processes and they can speak like a lawyer and a conveyancer”.
Lee Bailie, General Manager of Product and Innovation at InfoTrack also commented that the risk profile of the industry is changing because hackers are managing to corrupt and manipulate systems, which means property fraud is a big concern in the conveyancing industry.
“50 percent of people we spoke with had some sort of cybercrime in their business in the last twelve months, but only 30 percent reported it because they weren’t sure who to go to”.
“It’s about how businesses can take protective measures”, said Bailie.
To deliver on such protective measures, InfoTrack has introduced the Securexchange platform. Bailie explained that the platform was built on the three pillars of security, transparency and guarantee. Using encryption and multifactor authentication, Securexchange offers a safe way to share sensitive documents and financial information between parties, leading to a transaction. Additionally, because stakeholders and account details are verified by Securexchange, deposit funds are always guaranteed.
A better value proposition
While new platforms in the conveyancing space are providing more secure environments for stakeholders to communicate and transact, digital transformation is about much more than offering protection from cyber criminals.
Speaking at the seminar, NSW Registrar General, Jeremy Cox, said e-conveyancing brings many benefits for solicitors and lawyers including: eliminating the risk of human error, time savings of around 25 percent, not having to physically attend settlement and faster availability of sale proceeds. Unsurprisingly, Cox says e-conveyancing is important because it allows conveyancers to make a better proposition for clients.
“The status quo always comes to an end and there many reasons why change has to happen, it’s how we deal with change that really matters.”
“We have a great opportunity to set this reform up for success”, said Cox.
Encouraging competition and regulating against risk
While e-conveyancing reform, so far, has been driven by one Electronic Lodgement Network Operator (ELNO), PEXA, Cox commented that increased market competition should be encouraged so people can lodge their dealings with an ELNO of their choice. He said it’s also important future ELNOs are held accountable for their activities through a robust regulatory framework, preventing risks such as competing with conveyancers directly.
Introducing Australia’s newest ELNO, Sympli, CEO David Wills said the platform has been designed to simplify the e-settlements process with customisable features and a focus on integration with existing practice management systems. Wills explained that there could be huge time savings for lawyers and conveyancers who can work the way they want to work without providing extensive training to staff. Meanwhile, using the practice management system as the single source of truth, offers peace of mind.
Getting ahead of the curve
The question remains, why is now a good time for lawyers and conveyancers to get onboard with e-conveyancing – aside from the imminent mandate?
Joining a panel discussion, Emanuel Oros, Partner at Sparke Helmore Lawyers said, “The uncertainty of the election is behind us and people can start planning and moving forward…. Over the next twelve months, we’ll see more transactions coming through.” Oros also pointed out that increased infrastructure projects, such as the new Sydney airport, are likely to drive the market because development often takes place around key transport hubs.
Sydney-based Property Conveyance Mentor, Peta Stewart, said businesses should focus on development during slow periods in preparation for when the property market rises. This means demonstrating they can meet clients’ needs by getting online, bringing in new practices and policies and having a digital presence, among other things.
Clients are always looking for the next best thing, according to Oros. He said, as a service provider, it’s important lawyers and conveyancers drive efficiency for clients, which flows from their own internal efficiencies, such as fast communication and turnaround times.
A strategic approach to finding the right tech solutions
“We are at the start of a journey”, said Oros. In his view, there will soon be more choice for lawyers and conveyancers who will be able to find many great ways to conduct settlements electronically. Already, InfoTrack’s SettleIT platform is an enabler for the wider e-conveyancing industry, connecting lawyers and conveyancers with a team of settlement agents who can handle the administrative elements of e-settlements on their behalf.
Lawyers and conveyancers should look for technology solutions that work best for their firms and clients. Alexander Wheeler, Senior Associate at DWF, said “change is inevitable, so we need to make a strategic business decision about how we approach the issues for the better… We need to be prepared, but need to ensure we do it in the right way”.
The pace of change is fast and there’s no doubt the upcoming mandate on 1 July will put extra pressure on practitioners who are yet to adapt to an increasingly digitised environment. There’s every reason to embrace the opportunities ahead, while adapting to technology could help firms better engage with their clients in a modern market. InfoTrack’s John Ahern says, “The number one thing hackers fear is really good people with really good processes”.