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E-conveyancing will not fly

17 June 2004

Bob Browning's argument relies on his belief that a digital signature is so inherently complex to implement and administer that transaction costs will skyrocket. For instance he thinks that the installation of the software alone is beyond the capability of most computer users.

He uses as an example the failure of the Secure Electronic Transactions (SET) system implemented by Visa and MasterCard six years ago. In this system:

  • Certificates were going to be put on the chip on our bank cards.
  • All computers would be made with built-in smart card readers.
  • In the meantime there were smart-card readers that could be put in the floppy drive of older computers which would be so cheap that the banks would give them away.
  • All the e-commerce software was going to be enhanced to support SET.
  • Venture capitalists funded software companies by the dozen.
  • A web site was set up.
  • Bankers would tell me that it was 'definitely going to happen'.


In support of his thesis he launches into a discourse on "human being's in-built capacity for self deception". In this jaundiced view he maintains that most senior people have a fairly shaky understanding of the technology while the more technical staff see it as a CV-enhancing opportunity. He is probably quite right but then one hundred years ago the Spectator ran an article on "Is there a future for the horseless carriage?".

Fundamentally, technology has already changed the mechanics of conveyancing and property transfers. The following list is not inclusive but it is worth mulling over:
  • Automated document filling, remember the days of four different coloured papers with carbon paper separating them?
  • Internet searches of the deeds office.
  • SMS texting.
  • Matter tracking via the Internet.
  • Performance monitoring.
  • Internet bond applications.

Full article on Textor

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