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Special Report

Notaries rising to the challenges of COVID-19

While the past year was a time the entire world might want to forget, surprisingly there was good news for many Notaries. Demand for their services was not just stable — in many cases, it increased and even skyrocketed because of the large numbers of signers who needed important personal documents such as living trusts and healthcare instructions notarized.

Part 1 of 3. Throughout it all, Notaries rose to the challenges created by the global pandemic — and continue to do so. Every day, they are proving their designation as “essential service” providers by the federal government. Early on in the current crisis, government and business leaders alike recognized how important Notaries are in keeping the economy going.

As a result, many Notaries prospered, whether they were Signing Agents, mobile, employees,  performing remote online notarizations or any combination of the above.

About the Special Report:
In the past year, Notaries as an industry faced — and overcame — remarkable challenges to emerge and thrive in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and a struggling economy. The National Notary surveyed nearly 3,000 Notaries about their business, health and safety experiences over the past several months, and conducted in-depth interviews with Notaries from a wide variety of different backgrounds. In this 3-part series, we share what we learned about how Notaries managed to succeed in the face of unprecedented changes — and where Notaries are headed in the years to come.
Part 2: How COVID-19 gave RON a shot in the arm and Notaries new opportunities
Part 3: How Notaries turned a national shutdown into business success

At the same time, Notaries were forced to make many changes to the way they performed their duties as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. As soon as the Safer-at-Home order came down in the spring, many Notaries had to temporarily pause their work to figure out how to proceed without putting themselves and their customers at risk of coronavirus exposure.

By following strict guidelines, Notaries were able to stay on the job with personal protective equipment (PPE) and hygienic best practices. Those concerned about meeting signers face-to-face were given the option of remote notarizations in almost all states (except California and South Carolina) thanks to the rapid passage of new state laws and emergency temporary orders.

With all these changes happening so rapidly to an industry that is far better known for “evolution, not revolution,” the NNA decided to take an in-depth look at how Notaries have adapted to the current realities and how they have positioned themselves for the future.

As part of this Special Report, The National Notary spoke with scores of Notaries and industry experts, analyzed internet data and conducted an extensive querying Notaries about their experiences during the pandemic. Nearly 3,000 responded from all walks of life, including: employee-Notaries who perform notarizations as part of their jobs; self-employed Notaries whose main source of income comes from notarizations; and Notaries with full-time jobs who also notarize on a part-time basis to supplement their income.

The fact that so many Notaries are prospering during the pandemic is surprising because two-thirds of the survey respondents are over age 50 — a group considered far more vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19. That cuts across all segments of the Notary population—from office workers to full-time Signing Agents and mobile Notaries.

“People would much rather work with mobile Notary services who come to their homes instead of going to a Notary these days.”

Jonathan Segura, California Notary

In addition, the overwhelming majority of the Notaries said they chose to continue working or resumed work after a temporary pause during the early phases of the crisis. Less than 13 percent stopped performing notarizations altogether.

This illustrates that many Notaries feel their jobs were important and state and federal governments agreed with them, naming them essential workers and allowing them to work throughout the pandemic.

“It’s my pleasure to be a Notary,” said Laura Goodwin of Oregon. “Our economy needs it. Our customers need it.”

Donna Roseland of Texas agrees. “I take pride in being a Notary. A lot of people think that notarization is easy or that you don’t make a difference in people’s lives, but you do. During this time, being professional and letting your signers know that safety is a priority is greatly appreciated. I know how important it is that you care and are empathetic to customers’ situations. I keep seeing the quality of service going down all over in other industries.”

Increased Notary demand in 2020 due to COVID-19          

With federal interest rates down, people getting laid off and having to downsize, the U.S. economy found lots of people buying and selling homes in 2020. This would not be possible without Notaries. In addition, people sheltering at home during the worst pandemic in 100 years began to consider the importance of having their families’ futures secure which drove increased demand for Notary services in 2020.

“Interest rates have been low, and a lot of my business has been refinancings and calls from people in other parts of the real estate business,” said Carrie Tracy of Maine. “Then they closed the libraries, banks and townhalls, so those Notaries were no longer available.

“I tried to take April off and shut my business down, but I couldn’t because I had so many people calling me personally,” she continued. “Because interest rates have stayed low, demand has been consistent. The refinance market is creating such a huge increase of work right now. I haven’t seen anything like that in other industries before.”

“There are certain documents that keep coming up. Birth certificates are very popular because the place they can usually get it is closed,” said California Notary Jonathan Segura. “Since people are home, they have time to think of things they didn’t have time to think about before, like wills, trusts and health directives.

“People would much rather work with mobile Notary services who come to their homes instead of going to a Notary these days,” he added. “I can be in and out if you have everything prepared. In, done and move on.”

While the notarial acts haven’t changed, the way they conducted notarization appointments has. Many Notaries applied to perform notarizations online under new permanent or emergency state rules. Because remote online notarizations measures allow Notaries to conduct business from their computers — as long as they follow their states’ requirements — they can notarize documents for signers anywhere in the world. This has opened up helpful options to notarize documents for military personnel based overseas or expats who chose to ride out the pandemic abroad. It also gives many Notaries an alternative to meeting signers in person.

Notaries also have gotten creative about doing in-person notarizations with many public venues closed for safety and people reluctant to allow potentially infectious strangers into their homes. Consequently, Notaries are meeting on people’s porches, in garages, through windows and on their car trunks — all in an effort to keep themselves and their signers safe from the coronavirus.

COVID-19 safety precautions in 2020

As demand for Notary services increased, at the same time the vast majority of Notaries in our survey took measures to protect public health during notarizations.

The overwhelming majority of Notaries who have kept working during this time report using personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks during notarizations, and they also ask signers to use PPE during in-person notarizations as well. Similarly, employee Notaries say their employers either have implemented strict safety measures in the office or are allowing people to work from home.

“We don’t shake hands these days, no close contact. But most of my customers prefer the masks and social distancing as a precaution. Every so often, I get someone who doesn’t really care, but I always insist. If I politely ask, they will do it. They might not be happy about it, but no one has refused,” said Erin Parker, a California Notary.

Goodwin added, “They are all very gracious and do all they can do to protect themselves and me. I sanitize on my way in, and I sanitize on my way out. I don’t touch their doorknobs and they get to keep the pen. My kids say, if you poke me, I would bleed sanitizer!”

“I always wear a mask,” said Anna Amelina, also from California. “I am protecting myself and protecting them as well. Since I meet with so many people, it’s best for me to wear a mask all the time. They also really appreciate that I wear shoe covers when I enter their homes.”

For California Notary Denise Delaney, identifying signers wearing masks was a challenge at first, but she adapted. Delaney says that most of her identifications are easy because many of her notarizations are for friends, so she has personal knowledge of their identity — though she still checks their ID. In those instances when she doesn’t, she has devised a solution.

“For any clients I’m meeting for the first time, I ask them to inhale, pull their mask down quickly to show me their face, then pull it back up before exhaling,” she says. “Of course, I’m also looking for other physical attributes beyond the few inches covered by their masks.”

Shifting from meeting signers indoors to outside appointments has added a pleasant touch to Delaney’s notarizations for her clients.

“We usually meet outside on my porch, which is a pleasant area,” she says. “One client said, ‘I’m just enjoying myself so much chatting and hanging out on your porch.’ It’s certainly a more pleasant experience than standing in line at the bank or wherever.”

Heartwarming Notary experiences during the pandemic

Despite the challenges, Notaries are finding a lot of good in people and enjoy their role in helping others. Neighbors helping neighbors, food and clothing drives to help those who lost their jobs or were homeless, and people writing notes of encouragement to those who sheltered in place alone became commonplace.

“I started delivering Meals on Wheels, and many of the folks that I deliver to are elderly and frail and have truly been in COVID prison since March,” said Patty Jansen, a Notary in Oregon. “We place (the meal) on a table or chair they provide and step back. I always stay and visit a bit, from a distance and masked. I also waive my Notary fee for folks I can help in my community, through senior center referrals and the sheltering facility that supports the homeless. Many are families and newly homeless.”

“There’s one experience that made me sad,” said Michelle McManus of Minnesota. “One young girl needed to transfer her parental rights. She was giving them up to her mother so her child could get the medical attention he needed. It was heartbreaking.”

But occasionally, everything seems to just fall in place, like it did for Olivia Martinez-Rock of Texas, who became a Notary recently after a friend asked if she wanted a job that she could schedule around the needs of her six children and new husband.

“I have been blessed beyond belief,” she said. “I have the love of my life, and I found an awesome business during COVID. It’s geared me toward what I love to do. I love to be with people. It all happened because of COVID.”

The future for Notaries post-COVID?

So what’s in store for Notaries in 2021 and beyond? With several vaccines in production, the pandemic shows signs of slowing down, and eventually life will go back to a semblance of “normal.” But life won’t go totally back to how it was before.

Now that RON is firmly in place, more Notaries can explore this new avenue. Mobile Notaries proved that they can literally notarize anywhere, so the public is now more aware that Notaries aren’t just found in banks. The world found new ways of doing things during the pandemic and that’s not about to change.

Some Notaries have found themselves turned into mentors for others who want to start their own small business, like John Wonsik of Virginia.

“Because some of my signers are out of work or had their hours cut, many have asked how I started my Notary business,” he said. “I’ve helped quite a few people get started. I find it very rewarding. The first thing I tell them is call the NNA. I enjoy my work and I’m glad I became a Notary.”

Roseland also found benefits to being a Notary during the pandemic: “I’ve established a great clientele because of COVID. I think I’m going to see a good increase because now people know I’m convenient and it’s easy. I’d like to expand into RON. Eventually it’s going to catch on because it’s so easy and convenient.”


Add your comment

15 Feb 2021

I am very great full to be a notary and help people with this pandemic going on it’s crazy how so many places shut down but I am here to help as much as I can

Iris Garcia

15 Feb 2021

I am a mobile notary and my business has prospered throughout the pandemic. I have dealt with clients closing on their homes to POAs to Affidavits to Guardianship docs. I conduct curbside notary sercices.....I make myself available 24/7 to my clients. I have driven in rain, sleet and some snow.....and my clients appreciate my notary services. So I completely agree.....we are front line personnel workers! Great article!

Paris Harvey

15 Feb 2021

Thank you for this report. Interesting. I want to add that I have recently started wearing a face shield along with my mask (with a filter) and medical gloves. I feel totally safe. My customers are very grateful, even though I look like a space girl!

Jennifer LeMert

16 Feb 2021

This would be a really good time for NNA to re-consider the practice of needed a separate signatures ID information for each journal entry. It requires MUCH more time with a customer and more physical interaction that is not necessary

Delphine Fano-

17 Feb 2021

Hi...this "thread" was very interesting and helpful. I started Part-time in 2019. In 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, After March 2020- I shut down my notary services 'til the end of 2020. It was a terrible year BUT...thanks to the stimulus for self-employed individuals/small businesses in 2020, it helped me a lot. January 2021 I was still skeptical because of the Covid-19 rumors amongst us-Still. In between months, while "juggling" other things in life, I try to study my notary keep learning more and more. Now, regardless of the Covid-19, I figured, while wearing and complying to all necessary mandations--I am ready to go and continue my notary services accordingly, full-time. Thank God I have strength, mobility and faith in all I do for myself. I am a people-person, love to help but limited to and Enjoy life, Its a demand. One Love out.....

Cheryl Brown

17 Feb 2021

I am a general notary and use to meet my clients at a nearby library. Since all libraries have been closed since March 2020, I now only meet outside (weather permitting) at a nearby public parking lot. I wear a mask and ask clients to do the same. I bring hand sanitizer and wipes, extra pens to the appointment. I notarize on a little table I bring or I sit on a folder stool. The weather has slowed down my business but I have managed to help others even in the cold.

Walter Ordonez

20 Feb 2021

Great article! Made me feel appreciated! At the time of every 2020 notary act I was concerned that i was taking too much of a risk in meeting with clients, but If I did not perform the notary act these clients would have one additional thing to be stressed over, i will always associate 2020 not only with this pandemic but as the year that tested our sense comforts and freedoms. It gave a new meaning to the the term good customer service.

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