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May 2020 | Technology

Steve Goodall: The time value of money

Steve Goodall is CEO of ULS Technology

That time is money is not a new concept. As I write this column in mid-April, however, it seems bleakly that time is now money lost. We are in the middle of lockdown. 

That this will end, though, is inevitable. Our national response to this pandemic has proven that mankind will do whatever it takes to survive and protect life, including at its own economic cost. 

In the housing market, this economic impact is keenly felt by the many cash-driven businesses in the value chain.

From estate agents to brokers, and from conveyancers to valuers, many businesses are dependent on transactions, and the speed of those transactions, to thrive.

Putting the economy on hold has been necessary to preserve lives, but it has massive consequences that will affect us all for years to come.

But – and it’s a really big but – the total life change that has occurred as a result of lockdown offers as much opportunity as it does challenge.   

Millions of us have begun working from home, meetings are being held remotely, and broadband is now considered a more fundamental infrastructure than the rail network. 

Talking among colleagues and friends, it’s apparent that working from home is also helping many of us to be more efficient. 

Less time spent on the commute is more time either at our desks or spent on life-improving things like sleep, outdoor exercise and time with our families. The added benefit of cleaner air is another reason to be cheerful.

While it has been a consequence of lockdown and coronavirus, something none of us would have wished, this uptick in efficiency within firms of all sorts can and should be harnessed as the positive change that it is.   

Before the upheaval caused by coronavirus, economic productivity was fairly flat; economists speculated endlessly as to why our output per head was effectively falling in real terms. 

The productivity puzzle has not been solved by this dramatic shift in the way we work, and in fact many economists are predicting huge falls in output globally as the inevitable fallout from suspending so much of the economy. 

Nevertheless, this pandemic has at the very least shown us another way to improve efficiency and save money, at a time when all businesses are sorely in need of that. 

Working from home would not have been possible at the scale it is today even just 15 years ago.

The progress made in digital communications, security and transactions in that time has been enormous – the effect of lockdown on an economy not able to power up remotely is virtually unthinkable.

A corollary of lockdown and this transition to working from home has been the enormous and urgent impetus to develop technology and online solutions that support distance working, particularly for those as yet unused to it.   

The law is one sector that has, traditionally, been less willing to embrace the possibilities of what technology might offer. 

The need for wet signatures on contracts and other documents has remained stubbornly in place, for example, even as digital signatures became increasingly common and more secure. 

That reluctance to digitalise at scale has quickly disappeared, and it is largely down to the impetus created by our current public health challenge.

This willingness to embrace technology and digital alternatives to older methods provides a reason for optimism at a time when we are all feeling in need of it.   

DigitalMove is just one example of how a digital process can benefit all of those engaging with it. The system has now seen 10,000 housing transactions enacted through it. 

Having crunched the data, we can reveal that on average, each case took 20% less time to complete than transactions not carried out through the DigitalMove system. 

Not only does that improve customer experience, it takes out a tangible cost for all firms involved.

If time is indeed money, then having a fifth of your time back offers a significant commercial opportunity. 

At a time when all businesses, no matter how well capitalised, understand more clearly than ever that cash is king, it is clear that a 20% time reduction also offers a saving through cash flow that is 20% faster. It is delivering real value to the entire chain of users.

Yes, consumers get a better home moving experience, but DigitalMove is also delivering better business to those firms using it in a very real way, by delivering cash to them more quickly.   

I sincerely hope that by the time this column is published we all have more clarity on the future and know when we can visit friends and family.

In the meantime, I think it is safe to say that one thing for the future is already clear: how we work is forever going to be changed. Changed, I think, for the better.