TechRepublic’s Karen Roby spoke with Pat Kinsel, CEO of Notarize, about COVID-19 contactless experiences and digital notarization in the real estate industry. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Karen Roby: When we talk about contactless experiences, will they stick?

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Patrick Kinsel: I certainly think so. I mean, I absolutely hope some parts of my life go back to normal. I’d love to see friends and family and enjoy life. But there’s a great quote, which is that a pandemic is a portal into the future, and that it forces you to imagine your world anew. There’s a great philosopher who said that ages ago. And I think that’s certainly true today. So many industries have been forced to re-imagine how they work, how they serve their clients, how they meet regulatory requirements. And we’ve been on the front lines, seeing the auto industry, the housing industry, the legal services, I can go on and on, really being forced to change the way they work. And yet they’re finding that it’s a better process, right? Oftentimes the internet creates amazing efficiencies, better customer experience, more convenience. The challenge is the work to get there. And so COVID-19 has forced a lot of companies to do that work, to reimagine the way that they run their organizations. And they’re finding it’s a much better paradigm.

Karen Roby: Pat, when you think back, when the pandemic first hit, talk about how you all as a company had to pivot. And I’m certain the demand for your services certainly increased.

Patrick Kinsel: We do online notarization. So we allow any person to connect online and get a document notarized 24 hours a day, 365 days a year in less than 30 seconds. And we serve a lot of industries on top of that platform. So mortgage lenders, title companies, retirement companies, I could go on and on and on the types of people on our platform. We were inundated with demand. I mean, I can’t even explain, a hundred times, a thousand times the volume. It was just growing and growing and growing, the people that wanted to use our service. We were on the phone talking to federal agencies, to the GSCs, to title underwriters about policies and rules, and really trying to figure out how to go digital. Maybe we were approved in one market, but not another, or maybe it required special permission to use our product. And we were on the phone, basically renegotiating all of these policies so people could go digital.

What was great is we had done years of work traveling the country, passing legislation,and really leading a charge to create rules with the Mortgage Bankers Association and others. So there was a great framework in place. People were able to take this framework and essentially just say, “Go.” As a company though, I think it’s important to remember we sell software and a service. We have notaries online to serve you 24/7, 365. And so we were really forced to figure out how to scale. And what we decided was to open the platform and to really hand our tools over to everyone. Previously it was our own notary team that would serve clients. We now have large companies and their people are on our platform, and we’ve opened it up to independent notaries to run their own businesses on our platform. We’ve really figured out how to make the product self-service. And it’s just opened up a lot more innovation across our customers and various industries as they think about serving their clients online differently.

Karen Roby: How difficult was it for many companies to make the change and to quickly get up to speed when it comes to being more digital?

Patrick Kinsel: I think it’s important to remember that in the housing industry, in particular, in addition to there being a pandemic, and in addition to the inability to be in person, there was record volume. Mortgage interest rates fell, volume went through the roof. So, people were being forced to do more work and to do it in a different context. Specifically in that industry, the panic, the stress, was very, very high. We really worked with a lot of our partners to figure out the easiest path forward for people to do this, to get going, to serve their customers, to keep their businesses running. Some companies, yes, they were in a better position than others. They had done the work.

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I think from a trends perspective, what’s so interesting that we’re seeing though, is so much of the focus on digital tools, companies like Slack, Zoom and others, are really focused on internal operations. So how do you better communicate with your teams? How do you better track work? Those companies just are sort of able to turn on a switch and go. Really where we play, and I think where there’s a whole new push of innovation, is outside the organization, that intersection with the customer. I think if you’re been asked to go into a DMV or a bank or a title company to do something, it’s for a good reason.

They have a regulatory requirement or some other process that requires you meet face-to-face to drop off an ID, to sign the document, to prove who you are. And those are the things that companies have been forced, I think, to reimagine. And most people were at square one. There were very few people that had figured those things out because so much of that is so new. And we’ve been really thrilled to work with a bunch of great companies to figure that out and to meet all the requirements, to keep business running. I think that’s really the marriage of both worlds, the companies that have the internal communication collaboration and now the external trust and automation when they’re interacting with their customers.

Karen Roby: Pat, you mentioned earlier about regulations and with lawmakers and where we stand with a lot of that. Has the time that we’ve been through now, has that helped to accelerate some of the things that you’ve been working toward and pushing for?

Patrick Kinsel: Infinitely better. And I think there’s countless industries that are at the intersection of regulation, government and technology that are in a better place than they were. And going back to that concept of a portal, we’ve all been forced to actually move into the future and see what it looks like. And guess what? It still works, right? For us, going into the pandemic, we had passed about 23 or 24 laws across the country. That’s now well into the 30s. There’s been a bunch of federal agencies like the SEC, the IRS and others that have come out and clarified rules. And that’s really allowed industries to move forward and to start to scale these programs.

Most of these changes are permanent. And if they’re not permanent, there’s huge support from the Mortgage Bankers Association, the National Association of Realtors, the American Land Title Association. I can kind of go on and on. That’s just real estate. You can look to the retirement industry, financial services, private wealth. They’re all pushing for digital transformation and for these regulatory changes to be permanent. So it’s been proven effective. Like, guess what? People can still access the services that they need, and they can do it online in a more efficient way. I think those are the lasting benefits of COVID, which has been a terrible year for a lot of people, but some of this change really represents real progress.