Simon Brown, Founder, the ESTAS
Last week I had the pleasure of interviewing Dan Salmons, CEO of Coadjute, to discuss blockchain technology and how Coadjute is improving the home buying and selling process.
Dan Salmons: Start with the easy ones! When people describe blockchain technology they often quite quickly get into the technology itself, what are the blocks and how they all fit together which is all sorts of maths really.
I think the easiest way to describe it is by looking at what it does. Blockchain is a technology that allows a separate group of companies or individuals to have the same information, to share the same facts and have them synchronised without needing some kind of central authority that verifies those facts for them. We can see this with cryptocurrencies for example, where everyone agrees on how much money each person has without needing a central bank.
At Coadjute we’re using it to achieve consensus and get one view of the truth for everyone involved in the property industry. Blockchain is really an information-sharing technology that avoids the need for central authorities and central databases and allows a community to share that information. I hope that makes sense.
Simon Brown: Yes, that does! I’m glad you didn’t get too technical there as you would have lost me but that does explain it. I think the first thing people think of when they read about what you’re doing is that this sounds like what we've waited years for. It sounds amazing.
Dan Salmons: Blockchain is a really exciting technology that’s only been available for 10 years and it’s only in the last 3 or 4 that we’ve had the real bank-grade enterprise blockchain technology that we use today.
One of the things that makes the current property process so challenging is that there are so many different parties involved. Property is a very diverse industry with real estate, banking and all sorts of others involved.
Blockchain technology will allow for the first time for everyone involved in the whole property transaction to see the whole deal at the same time, instead of just their bit of it. They’ll then have access to that sort of shared information and that can be really useful for knowing where they are in the process, for being able to send messages and synchronise documents between them and then ultimately even to be able to settle money in the transaction.
It’s a very exciting development and I think it’s something the property market has waited for - the ability to work together like that.
Dan Salmons: It certainly has! I spoke to the seller the other day actually and yes, it is live. We have our first estate agents and conveyancers on board, and it is live. The transactions are flowing over the network which is an amazing moment. You can talk about it, in theory, all you like, and we’ve piloted this over two years, spent the better part of a year building the final industrial-scale system but nothing beats that moment when you’re sitting looking at an estate agents screen and you can see live things that the conveyancer is doing. It’s really extraordinary and I think it really will bring the industry together, so it’s an exciting moment.
Dan Salmons: The first piece of feedback we had was a surprise to me and it shouldn’t have been as it’s a simple one. In one of the transactions the estate agent connected with the conveyancer to instruct them and when you do that using Coadjute, the data from one platform simply travels over the Network to the other platform and loads up. The conveyancer said ‘Wow, that was amazing! I didn’t need to type anything in’. Then because we’re blockchain geeks we said no you won’t need to because it’s already on the network and so consensus is achieved. But they said ‘no that’s really helpful! I thought I would have to type everything in again’. With Coadjute you don’t have to as for your transaction it automatically shares. That was a cool moment.
The other thing that was cool, and this was one of the things that are really different about Coadjute, is we’re embedded in the existing software people already use. There is no ‘new Coadjute platform’ to learn, we just appear within existing platforms and allow users to connect. One of our users just said ‘Wow, I was amazed. I was expecting an afternoon training course, but it only took about 10 minutes!’. They said, ‘It’s just obvious. I know my existing platform and now I bring up a deal and it’s connected and I’m getting live information’.
Simon Brown: This is incredible because for even some simple and small PropTech platforms it takes a long time to get used to them and to understand the benefits. I suppose for a lot of people reading this, they will know that there have been quite a lot of attempts over the last 8 years or so to try and do what you are doing. I think you’ve just answered what it is that makes Coadjute different.
Dan Salmons: No, you don’t have to learn or take on a new platform. I’ve been involved in innovation over several years and one of my great beliefs is that innovation doesn’t need to make you say ‘Wow!’, but it does need to be really easy to use and the easier it is to use the better.
I was involved in the rollout of contactless cards and one of the things we worked really hard on there was to make it just incredibly easy to use, and this is the same. I think that’s really important.
People don’t want to learn a new platform, they’re very happy with the one they’ve got. They also don’t want to see their data centralised somewhere else. One of the reasons we use blockchain is because modern data practices are not to have these big legacy databases. People are understandably nervous about that from a data security point of view. Coadjute allows the data to stay in the platforms it’s in today and then just synchronises and replicates with the other platforms, when it’s permissioned to do so. I often have to explain to people that there is no Coadjute database, we’re a Network.
Simon Brown: Yeah, it takes away that nervousness doesn’t it. Obviously, GDPR is on everyone’s lips when you talk about sharing data. Conveyancers in particular are probably more nervous about that than agents because of the amount of personal data that they’re holding. That’s a massive advantage, you’re just taking the stress out of that.
Dan Salmons: The data security piece is such an important point. The blockchain that we’re using is literally bank-grade blockchain technology. It’s used by banks for settlement, for international trade, for trading platforms. We are treating people’s data like money, it’s literally the same level of security. It’s encrypted where it is, it’s encrypted in transit, it’s encrypted at the other end. It’s as secure as can be.
What we really like about this particular type of blockchain which is different to others is that there’s no broadcast. People connect over Coadjute but only for that deal, so within that deal and within a property transaction where they’re sharing information, they can’t see other things that they’re doing where they don’t have permission to do so.
It’s incredibly secure and certainly a huge improvement over email, especially where people download stuff and send it over public email with all the associated risks. I think certainly for the legal profession, it’s one of the things I know that’s being appreciated. Not only will it save time, but it’s also more secure.
Dan Salmons: So Coadjute is a real word, not a made-up word. Coadjute just means to cooperate, to collaborate and it’s nice to bring it back to the English language.
The word Coadjute captures what we want to do. Some people ask if we’re a disruptive technology, but I say, ‘I really hope not! We’re not here to disrupt, we’re here to bring the property market together. We’re a network, it’s our job to connect people.’ The idea of Coadjute is that it allows the property market to cooperate, to collaborate better than ever before.
For me, it’s been the missing link in the property market. I think everyone in property works really hard to try and get transactions through but we’re missing systems that already exist in banking for example. We take it for granted that every bank can connect to every other bank in the world and send money in a standard form over systems like Swift or through VISA for example. However, it just doesn’t exist in the property world and yet it’s such a huge industry. We’ve been missing this and it’s high time that we have a way of cooperating.
Dan Salmons: I certainly hope so. I think the impact of Coadjute will be similar to when ‘just in time’ was introduced in manufacturing which allowed the whole process to compress. This wasn’t because the actual factory step took less time but because they weren’t waiting for the materials to come through anymore because the whole chain was communicating. Coadjute is a bit like that. We’ll help reduce the gaps in between where you were waiting, or maybe chasing something, or when the other person didn’t respond. We hope we’ll collapse that.
Then we also think Coadjute will be the rails that a lot of other innovation runs on. It’s very difficult to innovate in the property market. If you wanted to introduce digital ID for example, then everyone would have to connect to 30+ digital ID providers, that’s a lot of integration! No one can do that on their own but if you plug into Coadjute you can. Anyone can use any digital ID provider, with a very low barrier.
I think what will further collapse the property transaction time is lots of other innovations that won’t come from us. Other people will say, ‘we can do this’, ‘we can provide this data’, ‘we can bring this data forward if we were all connected’. That is my hope that this is the beginning of a digitisation, that’s been very difficult for people who tried to do it previously.
I hope that Coadjute reduces transaction times and makes the transaction more transparent for consumers because now they can see and communicate with everyone involved and reduce the time it takes to buy and sell a home - meaning fewer deals fall through.
Simon Brown: Absolutely, I think currently 1 in every 3 property transactions falls through. This will reduce stress for the consumer, the agent, the conveyancer, and everyone who’s involved in the process.
Dan Salmons: That’s one of the nice things about reducing property transaction times, it’s really to everyone’s advantage. I haven’t spoken to anyone who doesn’t think it’s a good thing if we can get deals through quicker - everyone wants it.
I think Coadjute is one of those things where the buyers and sellers won’t be very aware of Coadjute. All they’ll find is that the agents, conveyancers, and others that use Coadjute seem to be getting things done quicker and more efficiently and that feels good. I think this will be good for everyone.
Dan Salmons: That was an easy one Simon! Coadjute has been around for a few years, but most people haven’t heard of Coadjute at this point. It’s very important for us that every part of the property industry, the estate agents, the conveyancers, the brokers, begin to know who Coadjute is.
We were looking for someone to work with who reaches all those parties and who is really well respected for the higher standard of customer service and bringing folks together. There really wasn’t any other choice for this, Simon, and I’m not just saying that! The ESTAS is a lovely partner because I think we’re all trying to do the same thing. We all want the market together and we all want to celebrate great service, so the ESTAS is a super partnership for us.
Simon Brown: Absolutely, we’re very grateful for your support Dan. As you know we are going to have our first ESTAS forum on the morning of the awards which will talk about the relationship between the agents and the conveyancers mainly because that’s where most of the delays are. So that’s going to be a fascinating session.
I know you’re going to be on one of the panels on the day and will be doing a presentation so we’re looking forward to that! The event is being held on 22nd October and it will be great to have everyone in one room again – we can’t wait!
The biggest day in the residential property industry is less than 3 months away and tickets are selling like HOT CAKES. If you haven’t already, make sure you snatch up your tickets sooner rather than later as we are set to sell out.
For the first time, the very best of estate agency, property lawyers, mortgage brokers and suppliers will all be in one room.
The Great Room will have an atmosphere like never before – see you there!BOOK TICKETS