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Innovate UK x Shieldpay: Digital escrow, removing the risk of commerce

This is the first in a series of posts where we will document our progress through the next 9 months.  The opportunity for businesses of any size to fund dedicated resources for projects through Innovate UK grants is incredible. Although not a condition of our funding, we felt that it was important for us to be open (to the extent we are not giving away commercial secrets) about our objectives, processes, successes, challenges and importantly our learnings throughout. This will hopefully give you even more information on our process (more on that later) and help future Innovate UK Grant holders in their own quests for innovation.

Shieldpay: A digital escrow, removing the risk of commerce

Shieldpay Legal Services or Third Party Managed Account solution is suitable for all types of client money payments typically handled by law firms: fees on account, conveyancing, probate, disputes and group litigation, as well as traditional corporate escrow. 

The focus of the Innovate UK grant is to develop the conveyancing module into a fully automated completion mechanics solution ready for scale. Our mission is simple, to help improve the homebuying and selling process, protect consumers and their lawyers from fraud and making life’s most important purchase, stress-free:

  1. The first work package focuses on building the foundations for scale by beginning to automate the conveyancing module. This will include banking integrations, HMRC & HMLR functionality as well as open-banking initiatives;
  2. The second, is to integrate with intermediary solutions such as Case Management Systems, accountancy packages and panel manager solutions; and
  3. The third, aims to unlock functionality for complex chain transactions, where many homes can be simultaneously bought and sold any day of the week with complete certainty.

Our project period started on 1 February, but what has getting Innovate UK funding given us already?

  • Stakeholder engagement. Most Innovate UK grants are received by different entities working as partners and jointly making the application, creating a form of stakeholder engagement. This was not the case for us. In our application process, we collected the written support from key industry stakeholders instead (Barclays Bank,Solicitors Regulation Authority, Council for Licensed Conveyancers, HM Land Registry, Howden’s Specialist Insurance,My Home Moveand Pirie Palmann). However soft a letter of support can be, having the conversations with these entities helped us validate our assumptions and de-risk the proposition. To emphasise the importance this element played for us, we weren’t successful on our first attempt at getting funding, but working with those relevant stakeholders off the back of those letters, we were able to complete our first conveyancing transaction on the platform and gain great exposure on what we were proposing.
     
  • Branding and legitimacy across the business. One of the most difficult things to achieve for any early stage company, and in particular when handling other peoples’ funds, is establishing trust and legitimacy with potential clients. We have sought to do this through the banks we hold our client funds with (Barclays, Lloyds, Santander and ClearBank) and through the partnerships we have built business-wide with regulators and high-profile firms. Our global partnership with Visa, has also helped. The Innovate UK grant and brand builds brand awareness and helps all sides of the business align with innovative technology and Government objectives. Rightly, there are strict guidelines as to what you can and cannot say as part of the agreement with BEIS, but having “Funded by Innovate UK” on your slide deck, does hold some sway (and helps you get your foot in the door more easily).
     
  • Rigour and project planning. When you are running at 100 miles an hour and trying to get your product out and into the hands of customers, the promises of agile sprints, rigorous testing and process that you initially set out to achieve may not always be kept. This is particularly the case when you are a small team trying to do so much, so quickly, all at the same time. The requirements by Innovate UK for detailed project plans and a structured approach to the development, without which you won’t get funding, has been very useful for us as a business. It has enabled us to have a retrospective on the development to date and to improve our processes and reporting on development going forward. It’s very exciting seeing it all coming together over the last few weeks.

This is the start of an adventure, we have a plan for what is coming round the corner.  If you are interested in hearing more about the plan or getting involved,  please contact me on gdunnett@shieldpay.com.

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