How will pandemic lessons shape the future of conveyancing?
InfoTrack’s Bronwyn Townsend and Osprey Approach’s Amy Bruce consider the behavioural changes and alternative processes that have been adopted by the conveyancing industry since March 2020. They share their views on whether these changes should be embedded into everyday practices, and if so how.
The past 18 months have presented unique challenges for conveyancing departments. The SDLT holiday coupled with national lockdowns due to the pandemic has meant conveyancers have seen unprecedented transaction volumes, while also adapting to the challenges of home working and the restrictions imposed during lockdowns.
The latest HMRC figures reveal UK residential transactions in March 2021 were up 102% compared to those in March 2020. The 2020 to 2021 financial year also saw the highest number of transactions completed during a fiscal year in the last decade, leaving many conveyancers working late into the night and at weekends to complete transactions before the SDLT holiday deadline on June 30th 2021.
Within this climate, some firms have struggled to survive while others have prospered. We must reflect on the lessons learned to prepare the property market for future success.
What have we learned?
Few would be surprised by findings that the impact of COVID has affected the way consumers perceive buying a property and their expectations of the processes involved. Firms are reviewing their existing processes to find better ways to serve customers in a digital world, while attracting and retaining talent as employees look for more flexible and hybrid working solutions.
Conveyancers have faced immense pressure during the last 18 months, but there are some silver linings that have emerged which will help shape and progress the property industry for the future. Changes that reduce the time, stress, and effort for consumers to buy and sell property. Changes that assist conveyancers; enabling them to provide a more efficient and client-centered service, without the legacy of arduous processes that impact profitability and job satisfaction.
1. Lean processes help with adaptability
Being adaptable has been non-negotiable for most businesses during 2020. With staff working from home, communicating solely via video conferencing facilities was challenging initially, but as we adjusted to the new routines it was firms who were able to adapt quickest which maintained business continuity. Open communication channels with staff and clients, utilising the right tech, and creating hybrid-working routines proved most effective.
The important lesson in adaptability is that those who have effective and efficient core operations in place can adjust more quickly to ensure business as usual. Digital conveyancing is the way forward, with more firms taking steps to remove laborious processes that have become ingrained over the years. Leaner, more effective operations leveraging automation, cloud practice management, and digital client onboarding solutions are all top priority in 2021.
Firms must review which processes aren’t serving them well and remove resource-heavy processes that prevent them from running an adaptable business.
2. Imperfection aids progression
Few individuals had a home working solution during the first lockdown. However, the impact of the restrictions meant that there was little choice but to embrace alternative work solutions. Gradually, through trial and error, businesses adapted and found alternative ways to continue in the ‘new normal’ – whilst quickly realising the true benefits to the new ways of working.
The outcome learned here is that doing something imperfectly is better than not doing anything at all. Uncertainty can prevent you from taking the first steps towards your digital transformation journey to becoming a more agile business, and often getting started is the hardest part. However, small changes you make now will ultimately impact your firms’ goals long term.
3. Change management is the key challenge for digital transformation
United by the same uncertain and unpredictable situation when the pandemic first hit, none of us could have foreseen the impact on our lives. So, when a national lockdown was announced we found ourselves all in it together – making navigating the challenges easier to handle. This is an important lesson to bear in mind when considering implementing new technology solutions to futureproof your firm. Taking everyone on the journey with you will help manage the changes across your firm and allow staff to fully understand, adapt, and navigate new processes and systems - from digital onboarding to eSignatures.
4. Working longer hours isn’t the answer to managing an increased workload
Burnout for lawyers has increasingly become a concern throughout the sector as workloads during 2021 grew exponentially, adding to the pressures being faced by conveyancers. While the short-term solution was to work overtime to stay afloat, this isn’t a successful long-term strategy to managing ever-increasing demands. Transaction volumes became so high that some firms were forced to turn away new work, simply because they’d reached capacity. The systems and processes they had in place weren’t sufficient to enable them to successfully scale-up, resulting in missed business opportunities.
In contrast, firms with an effective digital core already embedded in their business models saw increases in business and revenue and, despite reduced staff members, were able to continue to serve clients and take on new instructions. Firms must ensure the systems they have in place can serve them effectively, not only now, but also in the future, to enable continued growth and adaptability and to meet future challenges and goals.
5. Connection is the key to a future-proofed firm
The importance of connection was highlighted during the lockdowns, when isolation rules meant we could no longer physically connect with our loved ones. Business reflected the same, and finding alternative ways to engage with colleagues, staff, and clients became a core focus. For a future-proofed firm connection goes far beyond human interactions. Connected data, systems, processes, and technology are vital for a truly agile firm. Centralising and standardising data, document storage, case management, phone systems, and client portals ensures firms can operate effectively, remaining adaptable and flexible.
Conveyancers focussed on connecting and centralising data, practice and case management systems, and client onboarding tools enabled them to seamlessly collaborate with colleagues and clients no matter their location.
It’s important conveyancers dedicate time to reflect
Daily workload can warrant a distraction, particularly when experiencing an unprecedented event, but it’s more important than ever to take a step back, pause, and take time to reflect. Consider the successes, failures and challenges your firm has had to face during the last 18 months and ask yourself: What are your goals for the future, and have they changed? Are your current systems and processes aiding your progression towards achieving your goals, or are they holding you back? Has the new landscape and environment affected your priorities, and if so, how?
The future of conveyancing
Firms continuing with traditional, manual processes will inevitably be left behind, while their competition succeeds. It’s why the emphasis on processes and systems that support your firm’s progression is imperative, propelling you beyond merely surviving today.
Technology enables optimisation, allowing firms to be truly adaptable and navigate unforeseen challenges head-on. Firms yet to make digital transformation a business priority must consider looking at the technology and software solutions available to them to ensure they can continue to operate to a high standard and remain competitive.
Upon reflection of the last 18 months, consider what technology solutions your firm could adopt, how you can use technology to streamline your business, attract and retain talent, win and build new relationships with clients and run an efficient, secure operation that offers quality, cost-effective services.