"We want to expand our conveyancing network into more areas across the country and into more bespoke areas of property law."
We spoke to Adam Forshaw, managing director of ONP, about how the firm is handling the Covid-19 pandemic, what will happen after the stamp duty holiday ends, and why conveyancers get such a bad rap.
FR: ONP is a big name in the conveyancing world, how did you get there, why is that and what are your plans for 2020 and beyond?
ONP has been conveyancing since the 1980s, we started like everyone else as a small local high street firm and have now grown into one of the largest conveyancing firms in the country, servicing clients nationally. What has enabled us to grow is our tech-focused approach that we have continually invested in, as well as investment in our people, in order to drive efficiencies through the business and maintain high levels of customer service.
The journey we’re on at ONP is one of growth, but it’s accelerated growth thanks to the investment we had into the business last year. Our acquisition of London-based law firm Cavendish Legal Group in February of this year, is a clear example of that ambition and points the way in terms of our plans to acquire more legal firms going forward. We want to expand our conveyancing network into more areas across the country and into more bespoke areas of property law.
FR: How did you handle Covid lockdown, and what has it meant for your business?
Because of the advanced technology and systems we have in place, not only was it easy for colleagues to work remotely, but we were also able to supervise remotely and monitor activity so that customers and brokers could retain confidence that our colleagues are working at the same level as before.
When lockdown happened, we had full efficiency straightaway and are pleased to report no operational impact. During the second lockdown, it will be business as usual for ONP.
FR: How are you investing in technology to improve the customer experience?
Over the years I think it’s fair to say that ONP has been a trailblazer and led the way in technological innovations that are now industry standard, such as the integrated platforms that enable our system to talk to broker systems and panel managers through an API.
The need to only key things once has dramatically reduced errors in data entry and improved efficiency and customer service for the broker, who can get answers back to their clients more quickly.
Thanks again to the investment we’ve had, we have now launched the pilot of our one-stop app that puts clients in control and enables them to progress their conveyancing cases directly from a mobile device. This will be a welcome development for the increasing number of people who are well-used to making purchases or doing business on their smart phones and tablets.
FR: What do you make of the SDLT changes and what’s to come at the end of March?
This was a really positive move from the Government to kickstart the housing market, and looking at how it’s driven housing transactions, it’s certainly achieved that.
But after Christmas, as we get closer to the end of March deadline, it’s going to be a very busy time for everyone to cope with the demand to meet that deadline.
It is certainly going to focus the mind on the need for collaboration and all those involved in the purchasing process will need to pull together. There are a lot of unknowns of course, nobody’s quite sure what’s going to happen if they don’t complete in time, will the buyers pull out? How many deals will be halted as a result? Brokers can play a really important role along with us to help manage expectations.
We’re planning ahead and are going to be doing all we can to help those purchases go through on time. It’s going to rely on everyone really working together to try to make it happen for the home buyer.
FR: Why do conveyancers get such a bad rap?
I think there are two main reasons.
Firstly, there is a lack of understanding about what the conveyancer is there to do. We often get asked to negotiate fixtures and fittings or advise on surveys but that isn’t in our remit. Where we get involved is to record the fixtures and fittings that form part of the sale after negotiation and to comment on the legal aspects raised in a survey, like road adoption or mining searches. In the main our job is to protect the client that instructs us and point out everything we discover about the property title that they need to know.
The second reason is communication, which is a frustration in the market place and has always been. Whilst we do pride ourselves on being effective communicators when calls or emails come in, we can often be dealing with multiple parties on each case be it the client, estate agent, mortgage broker, other sides solicitors etc. This can make for very busy days, but I do think that communication needs to improve in the industry. We are making great strides with technology to support this and bring improvements which will benefit all involved in the process.