Why valuers should not fear technology

Technology is about to transform property surveying and that’s something that valuation professionals should embrace.

That was the overriding message from Aviva Investors’ annual property conference, held in Norwich on 25 October.

Speaking to an audience of over 200 valuation and legal professionals, Ben Elder, Global Director for Valuation at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), stressed that while valuers will retain a pivotal role in releasing wealth across the UK economy, they can enhance the service they provide, as well as develop their careers, by engaging with the technological data revolution. 

“If we can give the decision-makers better information, they can make better decisions.” - Ben Elder

Mr Elder added that as machines will be able to deliver more inputs than traditional methods, the valuer will need to bring more to the mix: “They will have to demonstrate to the client that they are providing some form of judgment or information, which is above and beyond the straight data set.”

James Smith, Senior Portfolio Surveyor at Aviva Investors, agreed with Mr Elder’s view that new technology in valuations should be viewed as an opportunity rather than a threat: “There has been a scepticism that new technology could mean unemployment. We don’t see it like that. Technology’s purpose is to free up valuers to utilise their skill and expertise to properly assess the risks that are faced – not just today, but over the length of the loan.”

As a client of valuation services, Gregor Bamert, Head of Real Estate Finance at Aviva Investors, highlighted the importance of a broader perspective: “Ultimately we are in the business of lending money, secured against property, and the reason we do that is because we have investor clients that are seeking a very stable and secure income stream. That means we have to be able to look through cycles and look at long-term trends. We believe technology will aid this.”

Aviva is committed to simplifying previously complex processes through smarter data collection and manipulation, successfully demonstrated by its insurance business at the conference , additionally a proprietary automated valuation model (AVM) for commercial property has been employed by its Aviva Investor’s Real Estate Finance business for a number of years now.  The aspirational aim is to materially reduce the period between investment committee approval and capital release.

John Hadcroft of Aviva Investors emphasised, the importance technology will play in achieving this across the lending industry but this won’t mean the end of lending professionals such as the valuer, “…rather it will allow them to focus more on the important elements of their job.”

“The most advanced AVMs will never be able to deal with the nuances of an asset.” - John Hadcroft

The prospect of fundamental technological disruption to their industry was received enthusiastically by many attendees, including Barry West, Senior Director at CBRE: “… the presentation was great and extremely thought-provoking. There are certainly challenges presented by potential business disrupters, but huge opportunity for the valuation profession and property consultancy in general to differentiate and provide a tailored service.”

Ed Impey of Savills found the message ‘surprisingly inspirational’: “I was initially dubious about the ‘Technological’ heading and content but was pleasantly surprised at the relevance to myself as a surveyor and valuer. Several colleagues and I concluded that we were the ones who had to embrace this data revolution, not only to make the day job easier, but to keep up with evolving client requirements.” 

“There seems to be an acceptance of change, which is great,” commented Ben Elder as the conference drew to a close. “Rapid urbanisation across the world makes this an extremely exciting time to be in the industry and creates a fantastic opportunity for technology-savvy valuers to make their mark.”

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