"Despite some critique to the contrary, technology exists to make things easier for advisers and clients but is inherently linked to an effective business process"
We spoke to Matt Ratliff, CTO of Sort Group, about how technology is continuing to transform the conveyancing market and how the industry managed the challenge of the recent stamp duty deadline.
FR: As CTO of Sort Group, what does a typical day look like for you?
Sort Group has a very proactive culture, so all the directors are involved in the day to day running of the business. For me, this usually means splitting my time between; the development team designing and building software solutions for our various brands and partners; the IT team supporting our internal customers and teams with IT solutions, helpdesk, security and hardware issues; and of course the management team supporting new opportunities for partnerships, responding to external queries and looking ahead to next year and where we want our business to be. We are a business of many parts and roles and, at some level, the technical team and I provide services and support to everyone in the business.
FR: How is technology continuing to transform the conveyancing market and what new tech features would you like to see introduced?
All businesses are now coming to terms with a new “normal” which involves far more online engagement with clients and service providers so that business can be handled remotely and is not put at risk by disrupted work patterns and travel restrictions. Given that this is now established, there are numerous opportunities to take this further by ensuring that businesses have a reliable standard within which to collaborate. Once a client is engaged in a digital journey, how do we reliably share information securely with all parties involved in the transaction? How can we ensure the client is not asked to complete the same tedious fact find each time? How can we complete more of our transactions quickly online and legally whilst still protecting against fraud? Individual system providers do not have the magic bullet to answer all of these questions but with technology providers working together to establish common standards for house or customer “passports”, technology frameworks seeking to lower the barrier to market integration and HMLR digitising more and more services and endorsing digital signatures on deeds and e-witnessing, we are moving into a landscape where entire property transactions being online will become the norm rather than the exception.
FR: What are some of the challenges the industry is facing and how have Sort Group overcome them tech-wise?
We have all experienced a massive shift in work patterns and culture over the last year and half. As an industry, it was suddenly unrealistic to rely on face to face meetings, availability of physical products and services or the ability to plan anything weeks in advance. Whilst most firms, including Sort Group, have been quick to ensure that their employees have the ability to work remotely, it is nevertheless challenging to ensure they are able to work at full capacity and every part of the industry needs to be flexible to a changing environment. We have invested heavily in collaboration tools and virtual services for our teams to ensure that there is little difference working from home as there is to be in the office. We have also worked closely with our customers and suppliers to ensure that information and updates flow as effectively as possible. With the boom in property cases following the lockdowns, and triggered by the stamp duty tax break, we have had to work very closely with all of our providers to manage our capacity levels to maintain service quality and ensure our suppliers are not overwhelmed. Like all businesses we have been working flat out to ensure that our customers receive the best possible service whilst still trying to push our products forward with the introduction of more online and automated processing, as well as new strategic partnerships, which has allowed our group to grow throughout the pandemic.
FR: How does technology improve the conveyancing journey for advisers and clients?
Despite some critique to the contrary, technology exists to make things easier for advisers and clients but is inherently linked to an effective business process and model that understands good client outcomes. For example, technology is ideal to allow greater access and flexibility around data, enabling the client and adviser to share information and documents, complete complex or time-consuming activities quickly and with as much “waste” taken out as possible. Unfortunately, a lot of money can be wasted if you do not know what you are trying to achieve. When it comes to engineering a solution it is not what the system should do that matters, it is what outcome is needed and how to reach that point in the most effective way. At Sort Group we always ask why before we ask how or what since it is human nature to try and find a solution to a problem rather than re-engineering the question to achieve a better overall outcome. More specifically, technology offers us the chance to work more cohesively and share information and progress real-time. This should reduce the need for wasted effort chasing updates and ensure everyone involved, including the client, has a transparent view on the case status thus reducing unnecessary communication and allowing all parties to know where time is being wasted.
FR: If you could see one headline about the financial services this year, what would it be?
“Peace breaks out! Customers thank industry for working so hard to meet deadlines”.
We all know how hard things have been and how busy everyone is but everyone in the industry has a duty of care to protect each other and the industry. Being honest and supportive of your colleagues is the only way to ensure the industry thrives and that customers have a clear understanding of what is happening and what to expect. After all, without customers, where would any of us be?