Making digital certificates ‘interoperable’

As true competition in econveyancing draws closer, the attention of policy makers is beginning to turn from the importance of interoperability to the efficiency of digital certificates.

Interoperability will allow everyone involved in conveyancing – consumers, conveyancers, lawyers, and financial institutions – the ability to choose which electronic lodgement network, or ELN, they want to use.

In short, interoperability gives a practitioner who is connected to one ELN the ability to engage in an econveyancing transaction with another practitioner or financial institution connected to another system.

Recent ministerial support for econveyancing has reaffirmed the goal of achieving interoperability by the end of 2021, and many are looking at what comes next.

So far, the focus on this journey to interoperability has been largely on technical and legislative delivery, while barriers to competition for practitioners, namely in the form of switching costs, have received less attention. One area that needs more focus as we get closer to interoperability is the issue of digital signing certificates, and how these certificates can be used on different electronic lodgement networks.

Practitioners are now raising a number of issues including:

  • A digital certificate that is paid for and used on one network, is not capable of use on another network; a different certificate needs to be obtained.
  • Maintaining multiple certificates means juggling multiple passwords, dongles and expiry dates, which defeats the purpose of econveyancing delivering an easy and simple settlement process.
  • The need to complete a new network certificate application process each time is a barrier to switching or trying new ELNs.

Currently, most digital certificates are ‘closed’, meaning they only work on one platform, that being PEXA. In a sense, although the different ELNO platforms may be able to interoperate, the commonly used digital certificates can’t.

That needs to change.

Practitioners need a seamless experience that allows them to have their identity verified once and then the freedom to switch their digital certificate from one ELNO to another, at no cost or time-delay to them.

The good news is that key industry stakeholders have been working together in various forums since late 2018 to consider how all this could work. State governments and the Australian Registrars’ National Electronic Conveyancing Council (ARNECC) have all agreed on a process that will deliver interoperability.

All the regulatory changes should be in place by the end of this year to allow test transactions to be completed, so all stakeholders can be confident the settlement process will be successful when using different systems.

Interoperability will bring the benefits of genuine competition to electronic transactions such as innovation, efficiencies and choice. Full implementation is inching closer and closer.

As ARNECC assesses the changes required for interoperability, it should also ensure subscribers have a seamless experience and the right to take their digital certificate with them between networks at no extra cost.

Sympli will be making a submission to ARNECC to ensure that, while they are focused on interoperability, they don’t forget about the ability for practitioners to switch between ELNOs using their digital certificate.

The aim is to change the current regulation governing ELNO’s under ARNECC’s Model Operating Requirements (the MOR).

ARNECC is currently taking submissions on changes to the MOR until 11 August 2021.

If you’d like to learn more, help break the current monopoly and ensure there is real choice for consumers, visit ARNECC’s website and make a submission.

Kassandra Humphries is the Product Experience Manager at Sympli Australia Pty Ltd. QLS Proctor does not endorse any specific econveyancing platform, but has chosen to publish this article to stimulate discussion on this significant topic.

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