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Government urged to enable digital mortgage process

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Malavika Santhebennur 9 minute read

A coalition of associations has called on government to make permanent the temporary rules that allow lenders to process a mortgage digitally.

The Australian Banking Association (ABA), the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Institute of Company Directors, the Council of Small Business Organisations, the Financial Services Council, the Real Estate Institute of NSW and the Australian Property Institute have joined to call on government to enable mortgages to be processed digitally.

The associations have argued that the temporary introduction of measures introduced in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic such as electronic mortgages, witnessing a document over video call and signing documents electronically should be made permanent to save time, money and hassle for Australian customers.

The coalition of associations are writing to each member of the national cabinet to make these changes permanent.

The associations are calling for the following changes, which they believe will be for the benefit of consumers:

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  • Allow deeds to be created and signed electronically.
  • Accept electronic signatures rather than paper signatures for a broader range of legal and business documents, including guarantees, statutory declarations, and trust deeds.
  • Allow witnessing of documents to happen via audio-visual means with use of an electronic signature. Witnessing should not be required for deeds.
  • Processing a mortgage digitally.

ABA CEO Anna Bligh said the coronavirus pandemic has fast-tracked measures across the economy to a paperless, contactless, digital way of conducting business. She added that consumers would be the “big winners” if the changes were made permanent.

Earlier this year, many lenders changed their home loan policies to allow virtual appointments and enable remote verification of identity (VOI) after the federal and state governments imposed social distancing measures in March to curb the spread of COVID-19. 

Legal frameworks were temporarily updated to enable these changes. It is these rules that the associations would like to see made permanent.

Ms Bligh and the heads of other associations are now calling on governments to ensure these changes are permanent.

“We’re calling on both federal and state governments to make these changes permanent in order to keep the ease, keep the lower cost, and reduce the hassle of transactions that rely on wet signatures and paper documents,” Ms Bligh said.

“Federal and state governments are to be congratulated for moving swiftly during COVID-19 to use their emergency powers to facilitate these e-transactions. It’s now time to make these changes permanent to make transactions easier, keep the cost lower and reduce the hassle of transactions,

Commenting on the call for these changes, Real Estate Institute of NSW CEO Tim McKibbin said: “The pre-COVID-19 legislative restraints imposed on signing, witnessing and/or lodging some documents electronically is unjustified.”

“The fundamental question to be asked is: what problem does the legislative controls address? I am unable to identify a circumstance where the consumer is better protected with hard copy documents and wet signatures than in the electronic environment,” he said.

Australian Property Institute CEO Amelia Hodge called for a reduction in red tape, and growth and activity in the property sector.

“We’ve all accelerated implementation of digital solutions during the COVID-19 crisis, so let’s bring that same approach to buying a home, permanently,” she said.

DocuSign’s vice president of Asia Pacific, Brad Newton, said eSignatures are more secure than wet signatures and offer greater protection and accessibility for customers.

“When combined with multifactor authentication, identity management and embedded signing experiences, the technology offers additional safeguards from fraud and identity theft, particularly for vulnerable communities,” Mr Newton said.

“We’ve seen countless examples where the availability of eSignature has mitigated the risk of end customers experiencing financial loss or missed opportunities due to circumstances of location that are beyond their control, and this is not isolated to the COVID-19 period.”

The Australian Registrars’ National Electronic Conveyancing Council (ARNECC) recently advised that its proposed amendment to the VOI regime requiring brokers and lenders to first apply the VOI standard prior to utilising reasonable steps will no longer form part of the updated rules.

ARNECC had also previously stated that from 3 August, it would require the identity verifier and the person being identified to both be physically present at the face-to-face, in-person interview.

However, this implementation date will no longer apply.

Find out more about how COVID-19 has brought about digital mortgages and whether they are here to stay in the July edition of The Adviser magazine - out next week!

[Related: We need to tackle VOI standardisation: Connective]

Government urged to enable digital mortgage process
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Malavika Santhebennur

Malavika Santhebennur

Malavika Santhebennur is the features editor on the mortgages titles at Momentum Media.

Before joining the team in 2019, Malavika held roles with Money Management and Benchmark Media. She has been writing about financial services for the past six years.

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