Interview | Jess Caire (PEXA) | Technological innovation and the legal landscape - The PEXA case study

On behalf of The Legal Forecast, Milan Gandhi was lucky to sit down with Jess Caire, a long time supporter of our community of legal innovators and someone who has experienced, first hand, the effects of technological innovation on the legal profession throughout her career, first as a conveyancer and business owner (Jess bought her first business at the age of 25!), and, more recently as a Market Specialist at Property Exchange Australia (PEXA).

1. How has a failure or an apparent failure set you up for later success?  Do you have a ‘favour failure’ of yours?

One of my biggest flaws is the insanely high expectations I set of myself. I used to see failure as meaning that I wasn’t any good, which would put me in a bit of a shame spiral. I also used to see vulnerability as a weakness. As a result, the times I had to admit failure I used to feel pretty vulnerable, so I tried to avoid failing at all cost. My time as a business owner helped change that perception and view failures as opportunities for growth. This has led me down a path of discovery and reflection – which in turn led me to success. I’ve applied this same lens to my personal life, and in my current role at PEXA.A few years ago, I had a pretty serious accident, which resulted in the failure of an important goal I set for myself. I didn’t allow myself the space initially to embrace the vulnerability that accompanied this experience. The experience made me reflect and challenge my definition of failure and also accept that vulnerability. In fact, most of my growth, professionally and personally, has come out of having to build resilience, digging deep when things get tough or uncomfortable, having determination and courage when it would be easier not to. I now choose to look at any failure as opportunities.

2. Is there a quote that you live by or think of often?

"One isn’t necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, orhonest" - Maya AngelouI love this quote because it reminds me that courage and determination don't discriminate – we all have it in us, we just have to unlock it, and by doing so we impact the world around us.

3. We understand that you are uniquely passionate about your work, have significant experience as a conveyancer (prior to coming to PEXA), and last year served as the Vice President of the Australian Institute of Conveyances (SA Division). How and why did you come to conveyancing?

By sheer accident really, I spent a couple of years overseas travelling straight after I finished high school, and when I came back to reality, I had to do something! I was always interested in the legal profession, but perhaps didn’t have the belief in myself that I could really make it. So, I took small steps and it was really about lining up my strengths with a profession that embraced them. Conveyancing is about being organised, outstanding relationship building, time management and a commitment to ongoing professional development – all things that aligned with my skill set and values.I was young and naïve when I bought my first business (25) and to be honest, the lack of fear that sometimes comes with youth is a good thing – I had no option but to succeed!

4. What convinced you to join PEXA, and what is your day to day role as Market Specialist?

In my business I chose to be an early adopter of PEXA – for two reasons, one because it was obvious to see that this is where the industry needed to head, and I wanted to embrace digitisation where I could to create efficiencies within my business. PEXA was a catalyst for my business embracing all forms of technology. Secondly, it was the passion of the people who work for PEXA. They care and are as invested as you are in your transition.You can see that in everything they do, internally and externally, they are genuine and authentic, values which I hold with high regard. When I sold my business and relocated to Brisbane and the opportunity to join PEXA arrived, I didn’t hesitate as I passionately felt from my experience that the industry needs to embrace this change and wanted to continue to empower our members to transition their businesses. The PEXA story is unrivalled and to be part of such a journey is something for which I am truly grateful.

As a Market Specialist at PEXA, my role is to work with the market and aid in the adoption of PEXA into their operations. As a previous business owner, I have unique insights on the challenges our members face in implementing change management and the very real benefits digitisation can bring. I also feed these unique insights to our team at PEXA where we are always evaluating, reviewing and implementing enhancements to improve the PEXA experience. Part of being a Market Specialist is working with peak bodies and stakeholders, not unlike TLF, to ensure that members are empowered and educated as the industry transitions. We want to make sure that we are always accessible to help wherever we can.No two days are the same at PEXA, and it is an exhilarating ride!

5. Jess, for those who don’t know, what is PEXA (Property Exchange Australia)? Why should early career lawyers and law students care?

PEXA is revolutionising the property industry – in essence, we are digitising a process that has been done manually and in paper for over 150 years. The platform removes the need to attend a physical settlement and removes paper, and bank cheques, bringing parties together to meet and exchange information online. Consider the digitisation of the stock exchange all those years ago removing the need for trading floors and paper share certificates, we are doing the same to the conveyancing industry.

Early career lawyers and law students should care. It will impact their learnings or perhaps it will be the norm for them, like the internet is to my kids! It is good for everyone to know the history of our property law system and the evolution and transition – I like to do things efficiently, so from a law student point of view, I would want to learn about the platform at university and then set about utilising it in practice. Early career lawyers and students wouldn’t see PEXA as a revolutionary concept, I would in fact see them considering it as a necessity to remove the administration component of the property law transaction so they can focus on their clients’ needs and deliver the professional outcomes they have studied hard to master. I also think it is important that the consumers’ needs are considered – consumers demand digital. It’s how they shop, it’s how they engage – it’s a logical step that they are offered a digital property settlement.

6. Why was an online property exchange network needed? What was the old system and what were its deficiencies?

The risks to the consumer in the paper world are significant.

According to a PwC report, 25% of paper property settlements are delayed. Some of these delays are due to something as simple as misspelling a name on a document, and clients are completely unaware, until it happens to them, that this could impact their transaction.Unfortunately, a consumer’s property settlement is then tainted with financial loss and unnecessary stress, with one in five having to source alternative accommodation. These instances are something PEXA significantly reduces.

I would also add that e-Conveyancing is client friendly, once they understand the benefits such as reducing the risk of delays, not having to queue at the bank for a physical cheque, that they can receive funds from settlement within minutes of settlement depending on their financial institution and that they have the ability to track their settlement using a secure app, they’re completely onboard.

Speaking as an ex-Conveyancer, all I can say is that the old system hadn’t evolved fast enough. We were still lining up to exchange documents for cheques and then lodging them in at the Land Registry and waiting for an entire manual process to occur, but the funds had exchanged hands. Internally the time spent on phones booking settlements, the paper work, the endless administration chores that this system removes means you can focus on being the best professional you can be.

I also think the requirements that ARNECC have implemented regarding ID standards and documentation has required the industry to lift to a new level of consumer protection. In the way people live and work we are seeing less face-to-face interactions, so we need to have certainty around who we are dealing with in this significant transaction.

7. Do you consider PEXA to be an example of ‘disruptive innovation?

Yes, in the sense that it changes an established process. I think PEXA is an example of required innovation or an enabler to ensure our property industry is able to deliver exceptional service to the consumer and meet their demands. E-Conveyancing moves the 150 year old paper lodgement and settlement process online – the last asset class in Australia to turn digital.

It’s happening everywhere we look e.g. Uber, Deliveroo, Domain etc. The consumer is searching for their future home online, it makes sense that they would settle online.Change can be scary for people and the word ‘disruption’ only enhances that fear – we are, after all, creatures of habit. At PEXA our members can be assured that we focus wholeheartedly on our member experience – and ensure that they are supported in the way they wish, empathy is required to acknowledge that change can be hard, and we put ourselves in our members shoes.

8. Before e-conveyancing/an online property exchange network, what was the biggest innovation to affect conveyancers and property lawyers?

To be honest, probably the removal of duplicate CT’s. Some states, like QLD for example, made this bold move decades ago, whereas SA and Vic have only done it recently. This really changed the thought process – and prior to that the way Transfer documents were stamped. You used to line up at the Revenue Office in your state, take a ticket, and wait in queue and have the document assessed by a person, and then have to hand over a cheque. Each state at different times then made an online system and there was outcry (in SA anyways). People thought ‘how could this possibly work or save me time’… think about that – people actually thought getting a cheque and taking a ticket and lining up while one person manually assesses your Transfer, was going to be more efficient than being able to stamp through a portal. Again, it is human nature to resist – but the industry did it anyway, and today you would be hard pressed to find someone who misses those days!

9. Do you believe that conveyancing and property law are particularly conservative areas, or has there been an opening to change in recent times?

It comes down to the individuals within organisations and their openness to consider the change. The decision makers in the firms obviously need to be able to look at the value proposition and then commit to implementing the change internally. I think lawyers are often generalised as traditionalist and conservative, but I see it more as an industry of great pride – pride in the history of the profession, but also risk adverse, and that is as a consumer what you want your lawyer to be! I recently attended the QLS Awards, and I can tell you the energy and enthusiasm of those in the profession is uplifting – and you can see the amount of lawyers (young and old) and law students who are passionately embracing innovation in their day to day lives.

10. Is it challenging for PEXA that different Australian states/jurisdiction have different property laws? How does PEXA deal with this?

It is reflective of the pride of the profession in each jurisdiction. We ensure that we are aware of the differences, and also respectful of how we engage with each member in other states.

One of the things that we are interested in at The Legal Forecast is the psychology and mindset of change. We understand that this is something that your role touches upon often.

11. Why, in your view, do people resist change or technologies such as PEXA? Can you provide us with any examples of where you have come across individuals resistant to change?

Humans fear change, and although I consider myself open and embrace change, I must admit that I felt a niggle of resistance when I initially implemented e-Conveyancing. When I explored it more, it was significantly easier and less time consuming than my change anxiety had told me it would be.

All the things that make a property lawyer a specialist aren’t removed because you use PEXA. PEXA just changes how you create a document, settle and move money. It doesn’t take away from your knowledge as an expert when it comes to contract negotiation, drafting special conditions etc. It is an enabler for you to focus on those things.

We have so many great stories of people who were resistant and then adopted – more often than not the ones who resist the loudest are now our biggest advocates! A great story recently was from a colleague of mine who had a member who told her she would retire before adopting PEXA.Well she finally embraced this change and now thrives in the PEXA world – and openly advocates for PEXA!

12. What is the best way to respond to resistance to change?

Empathy. Humans want to be heard and understood. When you approach change with empathy and understanding of their position you are able to build a relationship of trust and belonging.

And now for a legal forecast…

13. Jess, what do you foresee as being the next significant stage of innovation in the property law/conveyancing world? In other words, what does the future hold?

I can only speculate but there are some cool things happening out there, I see firms who are creating all sorts of benefits for their clients through developer portals for reporting. Digital contracting, that end to end digital property experience – or utopia as I would call it!I think that the focus is shifting from what is good for the firm, to what is good for our clients – how we can we meet their needs, and this is truly innovative because as consumers demand more, those firms that can differentiate through valuable offerings will always succeed.