While other legal practices have modernized, a practice that has been used since the Roman Empire – notary services, although needed commonly for things like OSAP applications and Affidavits, have become somewhat of a forgotten service.
Many legal processes have been complicated in recent weeks leaving Canadians with questions on how to move forward. In response to growing concerns and limitations caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, last month, the Law Society of Ontario announced that for the first time commissioner services would be done digitally.
Now facilitated online through secure video and e-signature platforms the decision has not only allowed Canadians to keep up with business obligations but it has changed the landscape of commissioner services like document notarization.
Notary Pro, an online service that has been connecting clients across the country to notary services since 2016, is now providing these virtual services.
For Founder, Robert Onley, the journey started with a Kijiji ad side hustle four and a half years ago. The overwhelming demand for the service prompted Onley to turn the side hustle into a company. Today Notary Pro has over 20 notaries across Ontario and the largest platform servicing across Canada. Although this move to modernize the service is timely and step in the right direction, Onley says it is an overdue advancement.
“Prior to the Law Society’s recent statement on virtual commissioning, the notary and commissioner service may as well have been stuck in the 1950’s,” says Onley, “It was a purely face-to-face service, and required pen and paper. In an era where practically everything else can be submitted online, finding and meeting a notary didn’t just seem old fashioned, it was ancient.”
So what does this mean for Canadians and how has it changed notary processes in the midst of the pandemic? We spoke with Onley to break down what happens now, and how Notary Pro can alleviate the complexities of notarizing documents.
What You Need To Know
For any notary novices, what is the service and why is it essential? When may a notarized document be required?
In Ontario, Notaries are appointed by the Ministry to the Attorney General and they fulfill an essential service by acting as trusted representatives to verify the identity and signature of their fellow citizens on a wide range of legal documents.
In short: notaries help instill and engrain trust within a document, through a simple verification process which encourages the authenticity of official documents. Notaries help prevent forgeries and fraud by ensuring documents are not signed under duress or through coercion. In Canada, most notaries are appointed by their provincial Ministry of the Attorney General, and the overwhelming majority of notaries are lawyers.
Today, in an era of identity fraud and cyber crime, an increasing number of documents are required to be notarized as an essential means of confirming the identity of the individuals who will sign or have signed documents. Notaries primarily administer oaths and affirmations, and take affidavits and statutory declarations. Some of the most common notarized documents today are real estate closings, travel consent letters for children traveling abroad, Last Wills and Testaments, and Powers of Attorney.
Enter Notary Pro: What services does it provide to alleviate the stress of this process?
What Notary Pro offers is a simple and intuitive platform to connect clients with notaries in their community. On the client side, we offer a seamless booking experience and full pricing transparency. We take the mystery out of what a notary does, by enabling clients to book in-person appointments quickly and easily. Our clients can find convenient times that fit their schedules, as well as template forms that they can use to reduce their legal costs, such as OSAP affidavits, Will templates, and travel consent letters.
For our notaries, we offer a platform to bring people through their doors, and give them business. We take the trouble and complication of online marketing and brand communication, and let notaries do what they are good at: working with clients to notarize and commission documents.
How has the Law Society’s announcement changed the landscape for you as a business owner, but also for Canada as a whole?
Prior to the Law Society’s recent statement on virtual commissioning, the notary and commissioner service may as well have been stuck in the 1950’s. It was a purely face-to-face service, and required pen and paper. In an era where practically everything else can be submitted online, finding and meeting a notary didn’t just seem old fashioned, it was ancient.
With virtual commissioning, clients can now get notary and commissioner services wherever and whenever they are. You can now be in a remote community in northern Ontario, or locked-down in downtown Toronto, and get your documents notarized or commissioned within an hour of requesting an appointment, right at home.
While few could have predicted how rapidly the COVID-19 situation escalated – and kudos to the Law Society of Ontario for responding so rapidly – the reality is that Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General previously announced upcoming amendments to the Notaries Act and Commissioner for taking Affidavits Act set to come into force later this summer.
In many ways, permitting virtual commissioning as an interim measure during this outbreak is actually a long overdue recognition by the regulators of the video technology platforms that have long existed in other industries. The legal services industry is playing catch up to the broader shift to digital, and the private sector is ready and waiting for the government to step up to legislate change.
With this new change in policy, at such an uncertain time with the COVID-19 pandemic, how has your business and the future of notary services been impacted?
Of course, the first and largest noticeable impact to our business was the decline in demand for in-person notarizations. This was something that we have never experienced before. Understandably, people are less likely to leave their homes to get a document notarized. We also saw that many of our notaries decided to stop accepting clients to help reduce the spread of the virus, even though Ontario has declared legal services as an essential business.
The second impact we saw was the feedback from both clients and notaries, who began to realize that documents still need to be processed in spite of these challenging times. People didn’t want their lives to stop, and needed a method to get their documents notarized or commissioned. The calls kept coming in. Some situations in life just can’t be on hold, such as real estate transactions or various declarations. So, a fully digital signing solution solved this very need.
In what ways do you hope to disrupt or improve the market with your company?
The goal of Notary Pro is to make the process of obtaining notary public services easier and simpler. Think about the last time you had to use a notary. Did you know how much it would cost? Be honest, did you even know what a notary did? Or how to find one? How to check to see if they actually were allowed to be notarizing documents?
We are adding legitimacy and simplicity to a genuinely mysterious and seemingly complex industry. At the same time we are vaulting notaries into the 21st century by providing access to these services from anywhere in Canada.
Previously, someone living in a rural and isolated location would have to pay whatever they were told for notary services, and most likely drive quite the distance to get it. Now, they can instantly book an appointment and open their computer, know exactly how much they will be paying, and know exactly what they will receive. This is true convenience in our books: high quality and transparency standards, combined with technology at the right time to provide a superior customer experience.
How has this, if at all, shifted your company’s focus or mandate? How have you and your team had to adjust to this change in policy?
We always had the goal to offer online and digital e-signing as a solution. Originally, we planned to offer this in Q3 of 2020. Since the recent and abrupt challenges with COVID-19, this timeline was pushed significantly forward. Lucky, with a great team at hand and a few weeks of planning and preparation for our Q3 strategy, and recent additions of technology and digital marketing experts, we were able to launch this service in less than three days. I won’t lie when I say we got somewhat lucky having the team we did.
Our mandate will also be around offering a smooth and seamless experience to connect with notaries and commissioners. With digital as our new offering, we can now offer another option for our clients’ convenience. As one example, we had a client in Moose Factory, ON, a very rural area in northern Ontario, right near James Bay. This person was able to get their documents notarized within an hour of requesting an appointment. Otherwise, it would have been days, and maybe even a week before they were able to connect with a notary or commissioner willing to meet them in-person.
What do you want Canadians to know about the changed policy, how it impacts them and what resources they can now utilize?
What we want Canadians to know is that this new online offering will provide more convenience that will fit within everyone’s busy schedule and lifestyle. In addition to the current challenging times with COVID-19 and various “shut-in” orders, Canadians should know that their personal and business needs can continue.
Finally, there are many companies out there just like us who are using this as an opportunity to adapt their services to the new normals, whatever they may be, by offering reliable digital solutions. We truly believe that as a unified country, we will emerge from these challenging times stronger than before, with greater resilience and compassion for each other. We will get through this, and hope, in small part, to help others do the same with our new online signing service.
Robert Onley is an entrepreneur, corporate lawyer and former litigator, currently practicing finance law in Ottawa. He founded Notary Pro in 2016 and quickly became Ottawa’s top-rated notary service. While in law school (Windsor, 2012) Robert co-founded the Young Diplomats of Canada, a national nonprofit dedicated to building Canada’s next generation of global leaders. He is an alumnus of the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers Community, an avid freelance writer, and the father of 3 kids under 5.