How Covid-19 has accelerated the digital evolution of referencing
27 January 2021
The pandemic has exposed a number of shortcomings in traditional lettings industry processes, not least in referencing, with many agents now demanding more. Simon Tillyer of Vouch shares his view on how referencing has progressed in the past year.
Sometimes it takes a pandemic to make people realise that the systems and processes they've been using for years aren't necessarily the right ones; they just haven't looked to see what else is on the market.
Now, letting agents are starting to look at new ways to do things - at least, that's what we've seen at Vouch over the past 12 months. During this time, we've had to grow our workforce because agents have wanted to change, and change quickly, to no-contact solutions: in our case, a digital referencing service. Our business doubled in terms of manpower in response to what the market wanted and customers needed in 2020.
During lockdown, many agents were furloughed. For possibly the first time, decision makers were answering the phones and taking on tasks that their team would normally undertake for them, giving them a taste of the underlying systems and processes in place at their agencies. They had the chance to see what works, and what doesn't - and that's when they started to look at their current referencing set-up.
The traditional approach to referencing was tested and, in some cases, fell down when the office-based world as we knew it turned to remote work.
Agents were able to quickly shift many of their day-to-day operations online, from viewings to meetings - but a lot of traditional referencing companies rely on call centres and struggled to mobilise their workforce to work from home, or set up systems and hardwear to reliably transfer calls.
Ensuring references can be processed securely while remote working is another key consideration, and a lack of cloud-based internal communication channels for teams to discuss at a distance was likely another factor that tripped up traditional providers - and caused delays.
When agents started to see these delays in referencing, we saw them turn to us for a digital-first solution. Agents who weren't interested in changing providers before realised that the ease of a digital approach made sense, especially to support the other steps in the lettings journey that they'd digitised to work from home.
Many also found themselves with spare time on their hands if they were on furlough. They could look through what other solutions were out there, and had time to get themselves trained up, ready for when the lettings market reopened.
The rapid expansion of our digital referencing service was also underlined by the fact that referencing as a whole has become more important than ever, to ensure that landlords and agents choose the right tenant in the current uncertain circumstances.
This transition of the referencing process from traditional to digital-first shows no signs of abating.
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