Increased use of PropTech by lettings agencies should allow staff to be freed up to engage in all-important face-to-face contact with customers - it shouldn’t be used solely as a means of reducing headcount.
That’s the view of Neil Cobbold, chief operating officer of automated paying service PayProp and a strong proponent of greater technology throughout the lettings industry.
He was responding to recent government research suggesting 1.5m jobs in England were at risk from automation.
Cobbold says: ”Effective automation for agents is all about putting processes in place to free up staff to do more front-end functions. For example, automating accountancy and payment tasks can increase accuracy and efficiency, while at the same time allowing staff to provide a more valuable output than just administration and data processing.”
He says that information gathered from automated processes can give agents more visibility of their business flows and control over back-end functions, thus producing better insights for clients and themselves.
"Implemented effectively, automating certain processes can close transparency gaps, open new doors and help agencies find new ways of doing things.”
The lettings payment platform says automating processes rather than cutting jobs should be the focus, reducing repetitive admin and allowing more face-to-face interaction with clients.
After analysing the jobs of 20 million people, the Office for National Statistics has estimated that 7.4 per cent are at high risk of automation. However, there are no estimates for the property industry, which Cobbold says could be less susceptible to job losses than other sectors like manufacturing.
The ONS defines automation as replacing tasks done by workers through the use of technology, including computer programs, algorithms or even robots.
The study revealed that the proportion of jobs at high risk of automation has dropped since 2011, but the proportion of those at low and medium risk has increased.
"Automating certain processes should complement strategic interventions like prioritised staff development and providing the best possible customer service" says Cobbold.
"Letting property is a people-centric business, so it remains vital that agencies have the staff in place to build long-term relationships with landlords and tenants. When you develop a team of dedicated property experts, PropTech can support this by freeing up capacity and allowing agents to focus on the more personal aspects of the rental process.”
And he concludes: ”Many industries will feel under threat from the prospect of automation, but if agencies find the right balance between automating key processes and continuing to provide an outstanding personal service, the lettings industry needn't be one of them.”