Interview with founder of Exizent Aleks Tomczyk
Today’s Wills and Probate interview Aleks Tomczyk, founder and COO at Exizent, which help improve the bereavement experience by providing an innovative platform to make it easier for legal services firms and institutions during the probate process, and easing the burden on executors and families.
Your software has been described as ‘tech for good’, what is that and do you believe it is a correct characterisation of what you are doing?
‘Tech for good’ is the intentional design, development and use of digital technologies to address social challenges.
Exizent came about because Nick (Cousins, my co-founder) had been through the stressful process of bereavement and we had both seen friends and family struggle too. We thought that there must be a way that technology could improve the experience. It was then a case of researching the processes, working out where the main problems were and designing a solution, which is how we focused in on a multi-sided bereavement platform. We started by building a productivity and data focused tool for legal professionals working with probate, because it is those dealing with the administration that is causing the most delays. We realised that, by making their work much easier, we could in turn make the whole process more efficient for the bereaved.
Exizent is a business that was set up with a clear, explicit purpose – to improve the administration of bereavement for all those involved. By harnessing technology to remove key pain points for stakeholders, we are aiming to make a tangible difference to people’s bereavement experience, even if they never know who we are or how we have improved things for them.
For a business to be a ‘tech for good’ firm, it needs to be purpose driven with the good of the widest stakeholder group at the heart of its mission. So whilst we did not set out to be ‘tech for good’, just to solve a significant problem, it feels as if the description is a strong fit for what we are doing.
Why do you think harnessing tech is so important for law firms?
Put simply, embracing good technology is good for the firm and for clients. It increases productivity, reduces administration and enables individuals to focus on value adding tasks.
More specifically on probate, we all know that the process is often hugely time consuming, inefficient and administration heavy, thanks in large measure to issues with communication and data collection. We also know that one of the most common causes of delays is waiting for third parties to respond to queries. Almost three quarters of firms we surveyed recently say the situation has been further exacerbated by the Covid-19 crisis, citing financial institutions taking even longer to respond as the main issue.
Probate practitioners know the process doesn’t work as it could – 52% we surveyed thought they could manage probate more efficiently and recognise the time it takes is unreasonable, with 41% saying they think technology could improve it – in my view an underestimate.
Most legal firms want to embrace technology and in fact, 22% say investing in tech is the top priority for the next 12 months. But for many, the good probate tools needed just have not been available, which may be why only 15% reported to us that they use dedicated probate software.
The pandemic has inadvertently moved tech forward in the legal sector, with many firms being forced online quicker than they had perhaps planned. Some of this has been painful; but I hope that a good portion will have been successful and shown firms that there are tools, and platforms like Exizent in the probate space, that can be simply adopted to benefit productivity, client service and make the working lives of team members much better.
How are you ensuring that what you build is what is needed and will deliver benefits?
We have a service design led ethos at Exizent. In essence, the service design approach is based on deep engagement with the users of a product or service, to solve real problems through the development of well-designed solutions. So we are in constant dialogue with customers and other stakeholders via our research community to inform this.
We are also truly agile which means we aim to deliver benefit realising value very regularly, e.g. releasing every two weeks, and we prioritise that value delivery based on what we hear back from the community. We keep a close eye on our architecture to keep the right balance of security, resilience and flexibility and use best of breed proven technologies where we can.
Ultimately, we are working towards a platform that benefits three key groups of people. Firstly, individuals who have been left behind – particularly family estate executors, secondly, the legal services world or professional advisors that people turn to and thirdly, the institutions that hold data and information about the person who has passed away.
The current platform was designed using the service design ethos and extensive feedback. It removes administrative and information gathering pain points from probate professionals through good software design, by connecting to external data services and strong information management. It already delivers significant benefits. We are also adding, and will continue to add further features to deliver more benefits – always led by customer feedback.
The next major step in benefit delivery towards our vision is to directly connect probate professionals with financial institutions giving fast, secure, seamless communication and passage of information. We are currently running a service design led pilot with the Scottish Building Society to design, build and prove this element.
What do you think the future holds for tech in the bereavement space?
Law firms are crying out for innovation but there has been slow progress to date. In general, I expect progress to accelerate as more legaltech solutions come to market and are adopted.
This has happened in other business areas for example Fintech (financial technology). Fintech is no longer a niche, it is one of the fastest growing sectors in the UK. Solutions deliver real benefits for companies and individuals, and are being widely adopted. Following the Kailfa FinTech Review, which recommends investment in fintech hubs, a focus on skills and training and prioritising open banking, the sector is getting more attention – and more importantly more investment than ever before. This should result in better skills training, the ability to attract more talent and more ‘tech for good’.
Legaltech could well be on a similar trajectory.
The bereavement space in particular has had very little technical innovation in its deep fabric up until now, and I feel that means there is huge opportunity. The technical capability is there to provide innovative solutions to the real problems and issues faced by those involved in the administrative side of bereavement.
Clearly Exizent’s platform will be part of that, and we will integrate with other services where there is customer benefit in doing so.
An area in which I see huge potential for further positive change using modern data and communication technologies in probate is enabling seamless, quick and secure data transfer between applications and parties. At some point in the future this must include access to open finance data for use in bereavement cases, and for submissions to HMRC and the courts.
In terms of our own goals, we want Exizent to become a fundamental part of the bereavement ecosystem, delivering benefits to all the different groups involved. But this will not be all about self-serving. It will be about collaboration, and making partnerships work for everyone. We need to look at how ‘tech for good’ can be harnessed at every stage of the process. The future is more adoption of technology. We are therefore excited to be working with a range of different partners exploring joined-up solutions from pre-death through to post-death in order to improve the overall bereavement experience for everyone involved.