A giant leap

In an historic development that could spell a faster and more efficient conveyancing processes, the South African Deeds Office has registered its first electronically signed property transfer.

The property of Zelda Lendon (68) was registered in the Bloemfontein Deeds Office early in July with the Power of Attorney to Transfer Property electronically signed by both the client and the conveyancer. The electronic signing was completed using one of the country’s leading digital signature platforms, Lexis® Sign, which is underpinned by the Electronic Communications and Transactions (ECT) Act and also meets international standards for digital signatures.

Although the documents still had to be lodged manually, the process marked a giant leap forward in the Bloemfontein Deeds Office’s ongoing quest for innovation that improves deeds registration. With only nine deeds offices in the country, the global move towards digital signatures could help to overcome some of the efficiency, cost and logistics challenges experienced in the conveyancing field.

Conveyancing attorney, Gerda Janse van Rensburg, from innovative firm, Neumann van Rooyen Attorneys in Welkom, took this ground-breaking step to use electronic signatures on documents registered in the highly regulated Deeds Office.

She said: “This will hopefully evolve into a complete electronic property registration and mortgaging system in the near future. It will drastically improve property registration turnaround times benefitting Sellers, Purchasers, Estate Agents and credit providers alike.”

Property owner Lendon agreed that the process was fast and hassle free, saying: “What a painless, efficient and fast process. It made my transaction so much smoother and I am excited to be a part of this initiative.”

The Electronic Communications and Transactions Act Chapter 3 part 1 gives legal recognition to electronic documents and recognises that electronic documents and signatures can serve as the electronic functional equivalent of their paper-based counterparts.

Although the ECT Act does not prescribe what type of technology must be used, examples of electronic signatures include: your typed name at the end of your e-mail, signing with signature tablets used in banks and other retailers and the so-called digital signature, among others.

The ECT Act also creates a special type of electronic signature, known as an “Advanced Electronic Signature” (AES), which is a particularly reliable form of signature. Where a law (such as the Deeds Registries Act) requires a signature, only an AES will be valid. The use of an AES by conveyancer is a legal requirement for the Power of Attorney to Transfer Property.

Ewald Scheepers, Divisional Executive for LexisNexis South Africa’s Business Software Solutions division, which provides the Lexis Sign platform, said: “This technological advancement can fundamentally change the conveyancing industry in South Africa, setting the precedent that electronic documents can be used throughout the conveyancing process with only submission into the deeds office requiring printing.”

He added: “LexisNexis has already enabled thousands of documents and contracts worth more than R30bn to be signed electronically. The Lexis Sign platform allows users to upload any PDF document to be signed and eliminates the need to print, sign, scan and email through a simple, secure entirely web-based platform that does not require additional hardware or devices. It is mobile and speedy, enabling documents to be signed anywhere, any time and on any device.”

Lexis Sign is one of a slew of innovative solutions from LexisNexis that have transformed the conveyancing profession over the past 40 years. LexisNexis has entrenched itself as a leader in the conveyancing sector, with pioneering solutions for all players in the property industry, including Lexis WinDeed, Lexis Agent IQ, Lexis Prop IQ, Lexis Connect, Lexis DocAssembly and Lexis Convey.

Scheepers said digital signing of conveyancing documents could assist with the industry’s future adoption of an Electronic Deeds Registration System, or e-DRS. The Department of Rural Development and Land Reform is working towards the establishment of such a system.

For further information about Lexis Sign, visit www.lexisnexis.co.za/lexissign

Reader Comments:

Louis Meyer 02/08/2018:

I do not understand: How did the electronic signing of one document namely the power of attorney, make the transfer process "fast and hassle free" and the transaction "so much smoother" if the transfer was still manually lodged in the deeds office?

Martin Potgieter 03/08/2018:

Warning signs.  Is this not one of the first steps in a process to eventually take conveyancing work away from Conveyancers? I am all for technological innovation but have an uneasy feeling in my gut....

Allen West 03/08/2018:

Unfortunately this was done in contravention of the following directive: RCR 50/2006 Section 12 of Electronic Communication and Transaction Act No. 25 of 2002

May electronically generated signatures be accepted for any act of registration to be registered in a deeds registry?

The Act specifically excludes an agreement for the alienation of land and long term lease agreements, but does not refer to powers of attorney’s consents, antenuptial contracts, etc. Resolution: Only originally signed documentation is permissible.

Pieter Coetzee 03/08/2018:

@Louis, thank you for the comment. The attorneys who acted as conveyancer in this matter are based in Welkom with registration happening in Bloemfontein. They are therefore reliant on lodging attorneys and couriers for their transactions. They are confident that they receive great efficiencies from using electronic documents.

Pieter Coetzee 03/08/2018:

@Martin, thank you for your comment. We believe that this is a very important step in making the Conveyancers' work easier. In our opinion the responsibilities the Conveyancer remains paramount and merely going digital wouldn't change that fact.

Dudley Lee 08/08/2018:

I must admit that I agree with Louis and Allen. I think the registered deed may well prove to be invalid. My distinct impression is that this was done to save a few pennies.... I also fail to see how much smoother the process could have been. But let us leave it at that.

Magnus Leibbrandt 10/08/2018:

I do not comprehend LexisNexis' excitement about the above? May I suggest you consider a truly electronic lodgement AND registration process as employed in countries such as New Zeeland and Canada. You will quickly note the vast difference between that and what you try to portray in this article to be a giant leap towards such a system.

The Department has tested similar pdf lodgements decades ago, in fact any firm can lodge a similar, electronically signed pdf deed on Monday. Rather use your increased fees to promote, in cooperation with conveyancers, legislation to allow for an EDRS, and perhaps also to find out how many deeds offices SA really has. Opportunistic marketing stunt though!

Pieter Coetzee 14/08/2018:

@Allen, @Dudley and @Magnus, thank you for your comments. Mark Heyink's has written an article that addresses your concerns and provides further context. You can find the article at    https://www.tech4law.co.za/news-in-brief/54-local/2857-a-small-step-in-electronic-signature-a-giant-leap-for-electronic-deeds-registration

John Hendriks 16/08/2018:

Innovation will ultimately lead to redundancy. At the moment better conveyancing is distinguished by the ability to deal with work around problem areas. If the process is watered down to an extent that the client does not need conveyancers our trade is gone. The irony of it all is that the whole drive towards changing the processes and attempts to tap into the conveyancing domain (as per recent court applications) are done by non-conveyancers who only see final products and have no in depth knowledge of the reason for the conveyancing practice as it stands. The cause might also our own fault not projecting our worth into the property industry. Just my 2 cents worth...

maryke 17/08/2018:

In my humble opinion the article is misleading as a digitally or electronicaly signed document that is lodged does not make the process of transfer suddenly ALL inclusive and a FIRST to be as aledged - I have many a client who reads this and at best this has caused my phone ringing to explain what happenned as clients asume fees will immediately be reduced.

Abbey Naidoo 17/08/2018:

I, too, hardly see the euphoria, and cannot but be surprised, at the excitement displayed around this non-event. Those waxing effusive probably mistook this event for the glorious Conveyancing Second Coming - probably understandable given the lack of excitement in an otherwise staid profession. In the real world, however, one swallow does not make a summer.

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