Returning from the 2019 Texas Notary Public Conference in Austin, I felt inspired to begin sharing some thoughts and experiences with other “green and growing” notaries. Many of us have been asking the same types of questions and have been seeking answers and solutions. My initial focus will relate to becoming an online notary public.

Becoming a Texas online notary public sounds exciting and very 21st Century. It is. It can also befuddle both “green and growing” and firmly planted “oak tree” notaries. New and emerging technological capabilities are forcing some out of their comfort zones, while drowning others with all the techno-speak.

Following the footsteps of Stephen Covey (7 Habits of Highly Successful People), today’s topic appropriately explores Habit 2 – Begin with the end in mind. Why do you want to become an online notary public? Will this be for general notary work (GNW) or for specialized notary signing agent (NSA) services? This distinction could affect which direction you go, as I will explain as we dig deeper.

First, allow me to share some realities. It will take considerable time, effort and expense to develop a mastery of remote online notarization (RON) in your notary service line. Adding RON to your notary business should be viewed as a long-term business investment. RON is no get rich quick scheme. Your return on investment (ROI) and profitability will be much slower to develop than traditional notary services. In addition to the considerable start-up costs, there will be new learning curves to master, technological requirements, legal mandates, and compelled partnerships with RON platforms. All of this comes before bringing your new service to market. This says nothing of effective marketing and advertising that says you are “RON-ready” and open for business.

Second, allow me to share another Covey concept – interdependence. Adding RON to your notary service line will require choosing a RON platform that meets or exceeds Texas requirements for the security, delivery and storage of RON transactions. If you were thinking RON could be as easy as combining Skype and Google Docs, you have been sorely misinformed. Millions of dollars have been invested into the development, implementation and marketing of each RON-capable platform out there. This is big business, spearheaded by the financial and real estate industries. The bottom line is this… Every online notary will be compelled to enter into a strategic partnership with a RON platform that meet Texas legal mandates, in order to conduct RON transactions.

Where the Rubber Meets the Road… at the Fork in the Road

If you are looking to become a Texas online notary to perform general notary work, there are several vendor-platforms currently available. You can perform a Google search to learn more about each one. As each notary business has their own uniqueness, each vendor-platform has their own uniqueness. One size might not fit all (or fit you). Research them and see which flavor you like best. Most, if not all the major players will set you up with a digital certificate and electronic notary seal when you subscribe to their platform. One stop shopping… easy peasy. Personally, I chose DocVerify (www.docverify.com). In my humble opinion, they presented the best opportunities for my notary business. I will be able to conduct RON transactions with a level of autonomy (not a RON call center). I will also keep most of the money charged to clients for RON transactions.

If your desire to become a Texas online notary is dedicated to NSA work (with the emergence of RON loan closings), I am led to believe that you will not have a choice of which RON platform you will be working with. That decision will probably be made for you by the RON-capable lender or title company you choose to work with. I believe a logical assumption at this time could be that most RON-capable lenders and title companies develop their own online portals for loan closings that would be unique and proprietary to their brand. For corporate uniformity, I assume that each may require the online notary to obtain a digital certificate and electronic notary seal from “their guy.” Thus, you may not be able to ‘bring your own certificate and seal’ (BYOCAS) [I just made that acronym up… lol]. Like RON vendor-platforms accommodating GNW, this sounds like an easy turnkey setup with little drama for the online notary choosing to go the NSA route.

Choose Your Direction Carefully

Becoming a Texas online notary for GNW or NSA? Why not do both? Hmmm… Interoperability may be a problem.

The reason I enjoy attending conferences, seminars and workshops is that in addition to meeting some awesome people, I always walk away learning something new. I believe any notary worth their weight should network with other like-minded notaries. Additionally, those who take their craft seriously should be plugged into competent resources and subject matter experts, to stay on top of the latest and greatest news in the business.

During the RON presentation at the conference yesterday, I heard a statement from a notary (operating in the role of an NSA) that immediately raised my antenna… something that perhaps went unnoticed with others attending the session. In brief, it had to do with digital certificates and working with multiple (RON-capable) lenders or title companies.

Texas online notaries are required to submit a copy of their digital certificate and electronic notary seal to the Secretary of State (SOS). The major vendor-platforms make this easy for an online notary to accomplish (some will even submit them to the SOS for the notary). Should a need arise to update a digital certificate or electronic notary seal, SOS has made the process quite easy to upload the new one… to replace the previous one. Read that last sentence again. The newest one submitted will replace the previously existing one. Another words, one online notary – one digital certificate.

Herein potentially lies a problem… All RON platforms that I am aware of require the digital certificate of the online notary to be securely stored on the platform’s server. An online notary cannot perform RON transactions on a platform without their digital certificate ‘locked and loaded’ into place. This provides bullet-proof integrity and confidence for clients and notaries using a RON platform. The integrity of digital certificates, by their very nature, cannot be copied and used elsewhere. They also cannot be easily ‘ejected’ from Platform A’s server and reinstalled on Platform B’s server. Doing so would terminate the online notary’s “RON-ready” status with Platform A.

With restrictive interoperability, one could present an argument to support online notaries who may have need of multiple digital certificates. At the conference, I spoke with Briana Godbey about this. Unquestionably, Briana is the notary public subject matter expert with the Texas Secretary of State. She told me the state legislature has not considered such a scenario and the SOS is not authorized at this time to accept and store copies of multiple digital certificates for a Texas online notary. Should this issue grow legs, it may warrant additional consideration, new or amended legislation and changes in the Administrative Rules of the Secretary of State.

Dead End… Now What?

I searched online to see if there were any RON platforms that an independent notary could partner with to perform both GNW and NSA work. I found none. There are a few RON platforms that exist and serve both sides, but notaries on those platforms are in an agent/employee relationship. It appears they are being paid an hourly wage for part time work at a call center.

Questions, questions and more questions. Additional issues seeking a solution. Around and around we go.

At least I can take comfort knowing I am not alone when it comes to “green and growing” and remote online notarizations in The Great State of Texas.

John Andrews
Notary Public

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