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Changing centuries of tradition: notaries and the blockchain

It is hard to think of a profession more steeped in tradition and conservatism than a notary. This is also part of its appeal to reliability: save for some innovations such as computer technology, a notary who was born in 1780 would not notice many changes if they were to be transported to the office of a counterpart born in 1980. But this conservatism also poses a risk if notaries don’t recognize the opportunities that Blockchain can bring to their profession.

First things first: a notary acts as an officially sanctioned intermediary in private and mostly financial matters between individuals or groups of individuals. The say-so of a notary carries legal and moral power, even over state actors or governmental branches.

Mediation and disintermediation

It is in this intermediary role that both the Blockchain’s opportunities and threats for this profession lie. What the Blockchain does is offer a chance for people to exchange, verify and keep records of transactions in an immutable and secure manner. This is called ‘disintermediation’. Why pay a hefty fee to a notary’s office for, say, governing a real estate contract when all the contract’s modularities and properties can be poured into software and secured in a private Blockchain between both parties?

However, this disintermediation also carries opportunities for notaries. For one, the average company, let alone the average consumer is not tech-savvy enough (yet) to realize or achieve the benefits of the Blockchain. Second, when it comes down to the modalities and finer details of transactions and contracts, notaries possess unmatched specialized skills.

Paperless and ISO-certified

By getting training in the possibilities of Blockchain (or have an employee become a specialist), meetings are no longer necessary for mere formalities. Contracts, wills, official declarations and other legally-recognized documentation can use a secured, private Blockchain where all parties upload their information remotely.
In addition, the lack of paper correspondence or laborious actions like printing, signing, scanning, then printing again could be a thing of the past by combining documents in the Blockchain with e-signature technology. This technology is already here, by the way, and is ISO-certified(1). In turn, this would free up considerable time for the notary to spend on quality face-time with customers and deepening the customer relationship. Signing and reading documents would happen remotely, leaving the confidential conversation richer.

Blocknotary legal tech Blockchain

The rise of ‘legal tech’

Of course, there are still some hurdles to clear. Legal frameworks are often slow to catch up to technology innovations, but work is being done here. A report from the Legal Transformation Institute cited by Hackernoon claimed that as early as 2014, the so-called ‘legal tech’ market in the US was already valued at $539 million(2). The European Union is also looking into building better legal frameworks to give this market a boost(3).
On the business side, startups like BlockNotary(4) are already offering products specifically geared towards notaries, with timestamping and anti-fraud products that use the Blockchain. Notaries themselves don’t need to learn how to code or become digital wizards (though it helps if they become more technologically literate) (LIIIINK) if they could use these off-the-shelf products instead. It remains to be seen whether solutions like BlockNotary will take off, but the promise is there.

The human complement

And notaries are – pun unintended – taking note. In a EurActiv report from late 2017, José Manuel García Collantes, President of the Notaries of Europe, is quoted as believing that the Blockchain could become an important “ally” to the business(5).

Notaries will still be needed to provide the human component, the legal expertise and the physical reassurance that comes with their role as anti-fraud guardians. But if they can get ahead of adventurous individuals and organizations that might try to bypass them with a Blockchain solution, they will have a major advantage in the ongoing battleground of tech innovation where those who don’t adapt eventually find themselves on the sidelines.

Let’s continue the conversation

At Investereum, we see the Blockchain as a spark that can light the tinder of progress in many professions and sectors. It is not the end-all be-all solution for every challenge, but it possesses far greater potential than the general public suspects. As the Blockchain keeps maturing, having a partner by your side that knows its ins and outs and can help you get value out of it is golden. We would love to be that partner.
Curious? Want to know more? Please contact our Blockchain strategists and we will be more than happy to listen to you.

Further reading
(1) PAdES, Wikipedia, last retrieved April 8 2019
(2, 3) Hackernoon, ‘Blockchain: impact on notarial professions’, September 10 2018
(4) BlockNotary, last retrieved on April 8, 2019
(5) EurActiv, ‘Notaries turn to blockchain for digital transactions’, October 4 2017

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April 17th 2019, 08:33

Categorized: Government, Legal