LLL had the pleasure of visiting with Melissa Johnson Eldridge recently. Melissa is the President of NEMA Online Signing Solutions & Consultants as well as the creator of NEMA’s Online Notary Training. At a time when topics like Remote Online Notary (RON) closings are taking center stage, Melissa is certainly in the center of the action!
A Louisiana transplant (she’s in the Dallas-Fort Worth area today), Melissa started her career working with several state agencies before putting her education in criminal law to use as a law and public safety teacher. At the time, she supplemented her career as a notary. But the more she saw the notary process changing, as well as an acceleration to that rate of change, the more Melissa was drawn into that field, to the point of founding and building one of the most successful online signing solutions providers in the nation.
For those wondering how to get started with online notarization or eClosings, Melissa cautions that there is a distinction. While an eClosing results from the same workflow processes, culminating with an eNotary and a tablet in person with the signer, online notarization is done completely online—the online notary (who must be state approved as an online notary) will not be in the same location as the signer. Melissa also noted that traditional notaries can do remote closings. However, online notaries must be state approved (depending, of course, upon whether or not the state in question even allows remote closings.) In fact, when it comes to online notarization, the process must be permitted by the state and the county in which the property sits. And then, of course, the mortgage lender must approve of the process as well, as not all lenders will accept the process.
According to Melissa, the key is to be aligned on workflow processes. While online notarization can certainly speed the transaction along, it can also upset a traditional workflow process. Her own organization, NEMA, has spent a great deal of time proactively working with lenders and title agents in order to align systems and processes among parties, which has been a big reason for their success.
Melissa noted that the first step is education. While some lenders seek to jump straight to RON processes, they may not have the necessary tools to begin. She recalled, during the pandemic lockdown, some agents contacting her without even communicating with the title underwriter or lender, in the misperception that the closing could be done via a simple Zoom teleconference!
Of course, COVID also introduced RIN (remote ink-signed notarizations) to the world as well, a la “drive through signings” and the like. Melissa told us that in states that permit RIN signings, temporary platforms were allowed to enable a notary to view the signing without being personally there. However, the signing still needed to be “wet” (ink, not electronic). The process was always intended to be temporary to enable home purchase transactions to continue in spite of quarantines and lockdowns.
Finally, Melissa told us that RON is a fantastic business continuity tool (weather, pandemic, other disasters), which is quickly going from a “want to have” to a “must have” capability.