For many people, having to access a notary is likely a rare and minor inconvenience. But the pandemic has thrust new importance onto the field. With businesses closed, or people uncomfortable leaving their homes, the notarization process has been forced to modernize. This modernization is opening doors for entrepreneurs.
Michael Peregrine started KC Notary Associates, a mobile notary service in Kansas City, after nearly three decades as a paralegal. When he began having health issues about a year ago, he saw an opportunity in mobile notary work. He said the opportunity has only grown during the pandemic.
“Because of the pandemic, the interest rates dropped considerably,” Peregrine said. “Everybody’s refinancing. And so there’s just tons of refinancing work to be had at the moment. I don’t know how long that will last. But, for now, that’s the case.”
Hear more: The Speaking Startup podcast covers the growth of notary businesses
Opportunity didn’t expand just because of the lending climate. Peregrine said consumer behavior has shifted, with people becoming more interested in having a notary come to their home. Peregrine said that in a single day, he had three people who scheduled with him because they didn’t want to leave home.
“There’s two that were older, couldn’t get out of the house, and one who was sick, or she was she just got home from the hospital,” Peregrine said. “So, yeah, there has definitely been an uptick in people.”
Notarization is expanding in other ways, driven by advances in digital technology and the relaxation of some industry standards as a result of the pandemic.
Before the coronavirus, only 24 states allowed remote online notarization, according to venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. Now, 47 states do. Missouri is among the states that have made the switch.
“When the pandemic hit, the secretary of state did kind of an emergency authorization to allow it,” Peregrine said. “I mean, there’s a lot of older folks who are really scared to get out right now, and people who are susceptible to coming down with COVID. And so I don’t blame them. They’re looking for a way to do this without contact with other people.”
That is driving growth and acquisitions across the industry. In March, Boston-based digital notarization platform Notarize announced it was adding 1,000 notaries to keep up with demand. In July, San Francisco-based digital signature software maker DocuSign signaled its move into remote notarization with the $38 million acquisition of Liveoak Technologies.
In Missouri, where notarization is required for many absentee and mail-in ballots, election season has brought a new wave of interest in notaries.
Aimee Gromowsky, a lawyer and notary in Kansas City, lobbied to get remote online notarization approved in Missouri. She was originally interested in notary work for her clients, but she said requiring voters to get mail-in ballots notarized can be confusing and inconvenient.
“I saw it as just, like, a convenience for clients, and the whole notary process is probably a little antiquated anyway, just because you can verify people’s signature or identity much better online now,” Gromowsky said. “I think people can be intimidated by some of that process. And to make it easy, everybody knows about FaceTime and Zoom now, you know, so why not use that?”
Gromowsky said that though Missouri is moving in the right direction, she would like to see remote online notarization continue expanding.
“They have a limited amount of vendors that you can use for the notary,” she said, “and I would like to expand that.”