Should You Become a Remote Online Notary?Brenda Stone
Today’s article should not be considered an endorsement of remote online notarization (RON) or an opposing viewpoint. It is a simple summary of what I have observed since gaining my “boots on the ground” perspective. I will describe how I got set up and some of the issues that must be overcome.
Although, I am in Texas, other states’ notaries will undoubtedly have the same challenges that I had here. In fact, some states are using Texas online notary laws as a model and tweaking them to fit their needs. Others states have patterned theirs after the Revised Uniform Law on Notary Acts.
Nuts and Bolts of Typical RON Legislation
Below are the high points of remote notarization laws in layman terms, without techno-speak. Generally speaking, RON laws (or proposed laws) —
- Create procedures for how a notary becomes a remote online notary including
- fees a notary will be charged for the new commission
- who may apply
- application process
- education requirements, if any
- Create or cite a list of defined terms used to discuss RON
- Set fees that may be charged for online notarial acts
- Establish that audio/video technology represents appearance
- Indicate for whom the notary may notarize
- Provide rules for the notary’s location while performing notarial acts
- Explain the method used by the notary and signer to communicate (and appear) without being too specific on technology except to say that it must be secure and continuous (but stated in more complicated technical jargon)
- Describe methods of identifying the remote signer that are acceptable
- Determine the type of storage that a notary must use to store a video recording of notarial acts and/or documents notarized (if required)
- Stipulate other requirements for record keeping, for instance:
- rules regarding an electronic journal
- the length of time that records are kept
- who may access the records
- Provide language for RON notarial certificates
- Establish requirements for
- the notary’s signature in the form of a digital image
- digitized image of the seal
- secure digital certificate
- Mandate penalties for notaries and others if RON laws are broken
My Journey to Become a Remote Online Notary
As you may know, Texas notaries were able to get into the RON game in the summer of 2018. On the first day that I could apply, I was there front and center in line (virtually) to snag my online notary commission. I was approved in a matter of minutes.
Signing up with a Technology Provider
Your platform must meet the criteria set by your state. By “platform,” I am referring to a website or portal through which you conduct your online notarizations. Some propose that a web conference platform like Zoom are adequate for the appearance requirement. Even if it is, however, a web conference site can’t provide all of the other things discussed under the bullet points above.
My chosen platform was DocVerify. Why? As far as I know, DocVerify is the only game in town for independent notaries. In addition, they have a huge library of help files, both text and video.
The initial outlay was $275 to get my spot on the platform, pay for my online commission, a digital certificate (priced affordably through DocVerify), and other requirements so that I could notarize my first document. Notaries will also pay $40-$50 per month to the platform ($480 if paid annually or $50/month, if paid monthly). Additionally, there’s a cost of $2.00 per ID verification as there will be with any platform. All of those charges could be higher with another provider. I’m happy with my choice.
Digital Certificate Dilemma
I network with many notaries across the state. John Andrews, a retired police lieutenant from Chicago, is one of them. I want to credit him for having contributed significantly to my personal knowledge base on RON. Recently, John attended the Texas Secretary of State’s conference and returned with insight that had not “clicked” with me before.
Notaries in our state can have only one digital certificate registered with the Texas Secretary of State. From John, I learned that if you perform work on more than one platform, you’ll probably have to purchase more than one digital certificate. For instance, I purchased my digital certificate through the platform I am using. I can’t use the digital certificate elsewhere, only in that particular platform. So, if a company contracted with me and required that I work on a certain platform, I could not use my current digital certificate purchased from DocVerify. I would need to purchase an additional certificate to use on the other platform. Consequently, will be an inconvenience factor if a notary has more than one digital certificate. As stated above, the Texas Secretary of State allows notaries to have one on record. Any change or update of certificate should be reported to the Texas Secretary of State within ten days of its use and notaries may only have one certificate at a time on file. I believe that other states require this, as well, or they will eventually require notaries to register their certificates. All prospective online notaries should bear this in mind. Perhaps notaries should consider requesting an additional tweak to RON laws that will allow more than one certificate to be registered to an online notary.
RON Challenges to be Mitigated
Two of the biggest title company families have indicated that their RON loan signings will be conducted by their employees. This may not be how things work out in the final analysis, but for now, it looks as if an independent notary with an online commission will be more likely to find a market in general notary work than in loan signing work.
But, general notary work will have challenges, as well. In my observation, before online notaries agree to notarize documents using RON, their signers should be aware of the following two items. Providing signers with the opportunity to understand that just because online notarization is technically “legal” does not mean it is going to be accepted everywhere.
1 – Recordable documents (like deeds, for instance) may be troublesome at this point in RON history. Many counties are not set up for e-recording. That means they cannot record electronically notarized documents. Electronically notarized documents must remain in their secure, electronic state that shows no tampering has taken place in order to be considered the same as an “original” like a paper document. Remotely notarized documents fall into this category. Once printed, the document is technically a copy. Clerks do not record copies of deeds. The signer should be aware that the online notarization will be worthless if the document can’t be recorded.
Fortunately, a law has been proposed to mitigate this problem in my state and looks like it will pass with flying colors.
2 – Recipients may reject an electronically signed/notarized document. The Uniform Electronic Transaction Act which has been adopted in most states is clear that the parties must agree “to conduct transactions by electronic means.”
Here’s an example of what I mean: many of my clients contact me about speeding ticket affidavits. Usually, the acceptance of those affidavits by a municipal judge in Speed Trappers, Texas (Population 1,203) means quite a bit to the driver whose future driving record will be significantly damaged if the affidavit is late or unacceptable. Once printed out, an electronically notarized document is a copy.
The client should be sure that the judge will accept a copy of an affidavit in a case like this.
What if the affidavit is rejected?
Can that affect the signer’s future insurance premium cost? Or his/her driving record? Signers should be able to contemplate this before signing documents online.
But, can we make money with RON?
My crystal ball predictions —
- Yes–notaries who will put themselves to the many tasks of developing marketing skills and strategies will be able to identify pockets of the population that will embrace RON services.
- Savvy marketing strategies will be crucial.
- Setting up a formal business plan for becoming a RON provider will be necessary or a notary’s business will tank for lack of profit margin.
- Determining costs of doing business before setting out to undercut all competition will be vital to survival as an online notary.
- Many should be able develop a nice income stream, but not quickly. Profits from RON services will not come overnight.
- Notaries should seek legal counsel; they must develop business policies, procedures, terms of service, and other types of protective measures.
- Casual side hustlers won’t survive for several reasons, but mostly because of lack of planning or understanding the huge responsibility that comes with RON.
- This is a new and strange market. It’s quite literally a nationwide market for most of us. Others will have the entire globe as a potential market. Figuring out how to connect with potential clients will be the key to thriving.
This article is based on my personal experiences, observations, and conversations with other notaries and shared for discussion purposes only. RON is so new that it will be years before anyone can forecast reliable outcomes.