Tips for Navigating RON Facts & Findings – Q1 2021 Issue

What is “RON”? Before the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us had never heard of RON, which is the acronym for “Remote Online Notarization.” If you are an active Notary Public, you may have heard the term but did not pursue it. Who would have envisioned that we would be working from home for months on end? We are faced with the question of what to do when documents must be signed and notarized, but none of the company representatives are working together within the same office – making an in-person session impossible. Suddenly, it is time to pay attention to RON.

In easier times, if a Notary was not available in the office for any reason, a bank or traveling Notary services were good alternatives. In a pandemic situation, however, options are fewer. Banks closed doors and began operations online only, and the availability of a travel Notary became limited due to more pressing demands.

You may be faced with these circumstances and wonder where to begin. Our hope is that by sharing the knowledge our corporation gained and the experiences we encountered in setting up a RON program, others may find it helpful as they work to implement something similar in their own companies.

We are a large corporation employing several busy and wellinformed Notaries Public. When it was time to learn more about RON, we knew right where to turn. We began reading up on our state’s procedures and articles from the Notary service that we
use to process our applications through the Secretary of State. The Notary service handles all the paperwork, including Notary bonds, errors and omissions liability insurance, and our Notary stamps. It was easy to prepare our application packages
to submit through our Notary service. Fees for processing range from $100 to $200, depending upon the service and the state requirements.

One decision we needed to make up-front was to determine which state-approved RON software platform we would be using. We began researching available software platforms, verifying which ones were state approved, reading online customer reviews, watching YouTube video demonstrations, and comparing costs. Once we located a platform that ticked all the boxes, we sought management review and approval, then finance approval to purchase the number of licenses we would need to set up a corporate account.

Every project requires a project manager. This person should be someone comfortable with creating the corporate (“parent”) account in the software application and following instructions for setting up the initial user accounts.

The project manager will have a great deal of material to read in order to understand how the platform works and what users can expect. Naturally, this knowledge and understanding will be vital to the process of orienting the Notary team and providing training and guidance during the initial phase of implementation.

The project manager should attempt a few RON test sessions with some volunteers of the project manager’s choosing, mainly to get the feel of the software and to listen to the participants’ feedback.

At first, we used Google Meet – side by side with the RON software application – because we needed to communicate and share screens in order to go over instructions and steps. However, we quickly learned that running these two applications simultaneously actually interfered with the functionality of the RON software platform. For that reason, we switched to verbal communications by mobile phone and used a “talking through” approach.

To manage the implementation of a RON program in your company, you do not have to be super tech-savvy, but you do need access to people who are.

If you have a basic understanding of computers, modems, Wi-Fi, highspeed internet, and some experience working in software applications, that is a great start.

First, and most important from the network perspective, was to request that our Information Technology team “white list” the domain name of the RON software platform so that our network would allow and not block the domain name of the platform. In other words, emails between Notary and signer participants within the company could come through the network without any issues.

Second, we established a group email address for RON requests, so that anyone in the company could send the Notary team a proper request to notarize documents remotely. The benefit of a group email is that the request reaches all Notaries at the same time, and the appropriate and available individual can step in and handle the transaction.

Third, we made sure to engage fellow Notary colleagues in the entireprocess. The collective knowledge and resources of a strong team are vital to the success of the program. Everyone’s contributions add value to the process. You will find that the team effort makes the project more interesting and fun for everyone involved.

Do not hesitate to seek technical support from the software platform company and its client management team.

Even if it looks like any form of personal contact may be difficult to arrange, pursue it. A few companies we researched actually stated that in order to keep costs down, they do not take phone calls or answer live questions. Also, some have chat features on their websites that are actually artificial intelligence – meaning that the question you pose in the chat window will merely result in a list of links to FAQs or community forums where you may find the answers you are looking for. That is fine, and you should read as much as you can about the product and view tips of other users. But you may not find the answer, and the FAQs do not get you to the right point. If that happens, take the step beyond chat and send a ticket (i.e., request) to the support email address. A ticket can help you engage with a real person to help with the specific technical issue you are having. Be specific in your support ticket request. Include details such as dates and screenshots, as appropriate, to make it easier for the person reviewing your issue. If you feel more explanation is warranted, ask for a conference call to discuss questions and issues that you encounter.

In our case, the support team manager came to our aid fairly quickly and was able to coordinate a call with software developers and team leaders. We were able to have productive conversations about some nagging issues we were having.

Through this type of peer-to-peer contact, we were able to get access to more informative training videos and additional guidance documents designed specifically for us and our concerns.

In addition, the development team understood our issues and knew that an upcoming, planned software upgrade was going to address a fair amount of problems we were having.

For that reason, never underestimate the power of making this important peer-to-peer contact. Software companies will normally value feedback from their customers. It helps them understand the user experience more fully and make tweaks to
improve things that can help their products become more likely recommended and used by more customers.

In our company as well as many others, it is customary to draft written policies and procedures to document the services we perform. We began drafting a document that captured the essence and purpose for the RON program, defined new terms,
and described the new processes we would be using and how this would be practiced and administered.

We engaged two of our company attorneys, whose perspectives on compliance and contract management were invaluable to the writing of the documentation. The attorneys helped with the reviews and revisions, so that the final product to be published in our companywide directory would be as clear, accurate, and complete as possible.

With everything moving forward, we began “mock” remote online notarizations. The first participant pool is best filled by the members of the Notary team themselves.

Immediately, we began to discover all sorts of issues due to inconsistent home internet and Wi-Fi connections. These were promptly reported to our peer-to-peer contacts at the software company, and we received prompt responses with suggestions and
workable solutions.

In addition, we had to find a way to train ourselves and our signer participants to limit distractions that caused us to miss on-screen alerts. We learned the RON platform displayed prompts and alerts for moving to the next step, but these only appeared for a brief period. If something was missed, starting over was the only option. We had to fight our natural tendency to take notes about each step, because that was counterproductive to watching the screens for the next step.

Because the RON platform is intuitive and the actions taken by both signer and Notary invoke certain alerts and prompts, we had to learn to trust what we saw on screen in order to keep moving the transaction forward.

As we trained our Notary team through numerous test trial sessions, we also realized we needed something to help us prepare our signers for their remote online notarization experience. We came up with a friendly introductory letter that explained the RON process and the few simple preparations the signers needed to make before we would begin our session.

Ideally, this letter should be sent to the signer in advance so they can review it and prepare. In addition, it is important for the Notary to review these points with the signer at the very beginning of the session when the Notary and signer start their phone call. This is to ensure the conditions are ideal before the RON session begins, as many people may read but not fully grasp all requirements. The Notary will need to do a little coaching and explanation.

Necessity is the mother of invention, so the saying goes. Test sessions evolved into active live remote online notarial sessions. Soon after, documents were successfully signed and notarized with our RON software. Running into the office just to notarize
documents no longer held us hostage and put us at risk during the current pandemic. Not every session goes perfectly, due to varying factors with devices and internet, but having this RON capability is a huge benefit to helping us keep business transactions moving along more efficiently.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, we had many other options for notarizing documents. In this new normal, RON is clearly gaining popularity. Navigating all the products and services – and knowing how to get them activated in your company or firm so that you can really begin using them – is a challenge.

Our hope is that we have given you an inside look at how we managed the project in our company and that this information may help others get started with RON. We believe RON is here to stay, and that means we all have a real need to find the right partners to help us make it a successful endeavor.

About the Author:

Jill Divens, CP, is a Remote Online Florida Notary, Certified Paralegal, and a Certified Records Manager. She holds a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of South Florida and a Bachelor of Science degree from Penn State. Jill has been a NALA member for the past 10 years.