While many phishing scams target Realtors and title agents in the hopes of accessing escrow funds, the latest scheme has targeted a state land title association.
Earlier today, the Florida Land Title Association alerted its membership that suspicious email is being sent from its executive director asking to view and sign documents.
ALTA title professionals should be vigilant when receiving and responding to email. To protect yourself, do not open attachments or click links included in suspicious email. You should also not respond or even “unsubscribe” to messages that seem suspicious. Report suspicious email to the Federal Bureau of Investigation Internet Crime Complaint Center.
ALTA President Daniel D. Mennenoh Encourages Members to Embrace Innovation and Improve the Customer Experience
Whether it’s his passion for auto racing, telephones, the title industry or his family, Daniel D. Mennenoh is rooted in history. He’s only missed two races at the famed Indianapolis 500 over the past 28 years. His home is filled with antique telephones harkening back to a time of switchboard operators and pay phones. He lives in the historic district of Galena, Ill., notable for the home of Ulysses S. Grant. And he’s the president of a title company originally established in 1883 that now employs the third generation of Mennenoh’s family.
“We must never forget our past as it provides context for who we are, what we’re doing and where we’re going,” said Mennenoh, who was installed as ALTA’s 2016-17 president during ALTA ONE in Scottsdale, Ariz. “With the historical perspective, we can appropriately drive forward and incorporate innovative products to our operations to increase efficiency and improve the customer experience.”
Many members of Dan Mennenoh's family listened to his induction speech during ALTA ONE last year.
As a tribute to his family, Mennenoh wore a red bow tie that belonged to his father, as he gave his induction speech in October. His parents, John and Ann, were active in both ALTA and the Illinois Land Title Association (ILTA) for years and inspired him to do the same.
“My parents always led by example, with the business, with industry participation, with life,” said Mennenoh, who is president of Galena, Ill.-based H.B. Wilkinson Title Company. “My dad is no longer with us, but his wisdom, experience and good humor are sorely missed. As for my mom, she’s not able to stretch a double into a triple anymore, but she’s as sharp as a tack and still has her great sense of humor.”
When Mennenoh attended his first ALTA convention 20 years ago, becoming ALTA president never crossed his mind. To truly appreciate how he reached the pinnacle of ALTA leadership, you need to know his history.
Life Destined in Title?
There were detours in Mennenoh’s career path, but the seeds of a title profession were planted early. During his childhood, Mennenoh’s father worked for Chicago Title in various offices. Eventually, the family moved to Morrison, Ill. That’s when John and his business partner, Grace Shaw, purchased H. B. Wilkinson Company (which is now called H. B. Wilkinson Title Company).
Having grown up with two siblings, Mennenoh recalled parents who were loving, and supportive of their interests, and stressed the importance of education and personal responsibility.
“And there was laughter in the house,” said Mennenoh. “My parents always planned for a family trip during the summer vacation. We took road trips in the family station wagon to many parts of the country every year. We experienced many places and learned much from those trips.”
As avid auto racing fan, Dan attended his first Indianapolis 500 in the 1960s and has only missed two races since.
In addition to playing baseball during his youth, Mennenoh became captivated by auto racing after visiting Indianapolis for the first time in the early 1960s. The trip to Indy was actually to see his grandparents, but the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was open to visitors. That’s where he saw his first race car.
“I think that probably hooked me on motor racing,” he recalled.
As far as education, Mennenoh first attended DeVry Institute of Technology in Phoenix before transferring to Arizona State where he studied electrical engineering.
“Getting defeated by Calculus 2—twice—I came to the conclusion that maybe engineering was not my calling,” Mennenoh said, smiling.
After college, he spent a summer living with his grandfather, who ran a successful landscaping business on the Chicago North Shore for over 50 years. Mennenoh envisioned learning the business on job sites, but spent most of the time doing accounting and payroll. His grandmother had always handled the office work, but she had passed away in 1974.
“He really needed the help in that area and was a bit behind on things by 1978, so I helped him get his office work caught up and organized,” Mennenoh said.
The time spent organizing his grandfather’s office would pay dividends once he transitioned to the title industry, but first Mennenoh took a job in 1979 with Illinois Bell Telephone Company in Sterling, Ill. As he Installed and maintained pay phones, he quickly realized this wasn’t the right career path.
“I heard a lot of grousing about the job and the company from the fellas I worked with in the field and decided I didn’t want to become them,” Mennenoh recalled.
Timing is everything and that’s when Mennenoh’s father asked if he wanted to give the title business a try. With the possibility of running the operation down the line, title work sounded like a better opportunity than chatting with the phone crew. In 1982, he joined the title company and started doing abstract work, searching tax records, doing plant maintenance, microfilming and recording documents at the courthouse.
“I was even the office janitor for a while,” Mennenoh shared.
Eventually, his math background from college paid off as he started doing some drafting and gained a better understanding of legal descriptions.
“I really enjoyed drawing out legal descriptions and seeing how multiple parcels fit together,” said Mennenoh, who still enjoys this aspect of the job and provides the legal description training at his company.
No Turning Back
From then on, he was hooked on title and had no interest in other careers. “I love what I do,” said Mennenoh, who was named company president in 1996 when he purchased the company along with ALTA past president Greg Kosin after Mennenoh’s father retired.
It’s been a family affair ever since. Working with relatives isn’t for everyone, but it has been successful at H.B. Wilkinson Title Company. His parents provided the perfect example working side by side for many years. In 1997, Mennenoh’s wife, Merry, joined the company and started handling payroll when his mother retired. A few years later, Merry took over general accounting responsibilities and has handled those duties since then. She’s now the company’s chief financial officer.
“The most difficult part of working together was realizing we had to stop talking about business at the end of the workday,” Mennenoh said. “When we leave the office at the end of the day, we make a conscious effort to not discuss work. We’ve been pretty successful.”
Dan and Merry, with their daughter, Devon, with the U.S. Capitol behind them.
The family success now stretches to a third generation. With nine locations that service northwest Illinois, southwest Wisconsin and much of Iowa, the Mennenohs’ daughter, Devon Irby, has used her organizational skills to help the company attain Best Practices compliance. Her expertise has been used to improve the management team’s effectiveness as well as the hiring and training process. And Mennenoh has been able to pass on his father’s training to his daughter as she’s also a good title examiner as well.
“Having had the chance to work with my parents, to learn the title business from them—to learn the importance of not only our industry, but the pride in being a professional and operating a business professionally—is a highlight of my career,” Mennenoh said. “Being able to pass along those things to my daughter and see her professional growth in an industry I truly love is great.”
Meanwhile, their son, Cody, has helped keep the company's electronic title plant updated for years. "Since it can be done remotely, we’ve had him help with that for some time, and he’s good at it," Mennenoh said.
His parents also influenced his involvement with ALTA and ILTA. His mother served as ILTA’s secretary for a decade, and both understood that their involvement was beneficial to the industry and to their business. Mennenoh served as ILTA’s 1998-99 president. In addition to serving on ALTA’s Board, Mennenoh volunteers on many committees including Finance, Membership and Organization, Nominating, Abstracters/Agents Section, Nominating and Research.
“My parents spent many years attending ALTA conferences and my dad served at the committee level at ALTA,” Mennenoh said. “Becoming involved in ALTA was not a difficult decision for me.”
Mentors and Friends
Starting with his parents, Mennenoh said he’s had many industry mentors over the years. Mennenoh described his father as one of the “best examiners I’ve known.”
“I learned how to manage the operation and how to work with customers and consumers from my parents,” he said. “I learned how to problem solve from them, and I also learned how to successfully train and work with staff.”
Mennenoh recalled several title professionals from his early days in the business who helped provide guidance, including Jim Weston, Jim Costello, John Howe, Chad Nash, Bob Gorman, Mike Troutt and Hartzell Givens.
“There are many people today in the industry, too many to list, that I have great respect for and truly enjoy working with,” Mennenoh said.
Michael Lane, executive director of the Illinois Land Title Association (ILTA), took over management of ILTA from Mennenoh’s mother in 1990. Lane said he knew from the beginning that Mennenoh was destined to do great things in the title business.
“Dan and Merry are terrific people and wonderful ambassadors for the title business,” Lane added. “They also introduced me to hummus many years ago. ILTA is indebted to Dan’s leadership and we know he will offer the same great leadership for ALTA.”
Frank Pellegrini, chief executive officer of Illinois-based Prairie Title and an ALTA past president, came to know the Mennenoh family from the time he started attending title functions in the 1970s. He believes Mennenoh’s strong, steady, and measured perspective that will serve the industry well when dealing with critical issues.
“The three generations of the Mennenohs represent all that is right and strong about families,” Pellegrini said. “They also represent what is so very special about our industry. They care deeply about values, integrity and getting the job done right.”
Herschel Beard, owner of Marshall County Abstract Co. in Oklahoma, met Mennenoh about 25 years ago when volunteering for ALTA committees. Both have continued that service ever since. The two share a common bond of coming from family-run businesses.
Dan and Merry Mennenoh on a fishing trip with friends in Minnesota.
“I have the utmost respect for Dan and Merry, and for the integrity with which they have operated their company,” Beard said. “I’m confident that Dan will be an outstanding president and will represent us well.”
If you looked up “title professional” in the dictionary there would be a picture of Dan Mennenoh, according to Mark Bilbrey, president of Old Republic National Title Insurance Co. and an ALTA past president.
Bilbrey met Dan and Merry at an ALTA Annual Convention in the 1990s. The friendship continued through their work with ALTA committees and state associations. Bilbrey described the Mennenohs as “title junkies who live it and love it 24/7.”
“Dan has the correct blend of knowledge, talent and caring to help them thru these moments, he added. “Dan has the gift of friendship. I always say to have a friend, you have to be a friend. Dan truly meets that standard.”
The president of any large organization is to help set the tone for what the organization will try to accomplish in the immediate future In 2017, ALTA will focus on six strategic priorities to help our members excel in a dynamic business and regulatory environment. These main areas will focus on:
Communicating with homebuyers
Core industry values
Talent focus & business basics
Mennenoh believes one of the most pressing challenges to the industry—particularly for smaller companies—is balancing the needs of a responsibly run title agency with the additional cost of reaching an acceptable level of compliance to meet lenders’ requirements.
“The lack of guidance from the CFPB to lenders on their vendor management responsibilities is hurting smaller agencies and will ultimately hurt consumers—particularly in rural areas of the country if those smaller, rural agencies are no longer able to remain viable. The result will be that those consumers will no longer receive the level of local service they want and have been getting for decades.”
While he knows that many national companies promote their ability to service every county in the country, Mennenoh firmly believes consumers in rural counties want local market knowledge and a personal touch. Even with the advancement of technology, real estate remains a local business “best served by local companies,” he said.
“If we lose that component of the title insurance and settlement services industry, the effect on our industry and on consumers will be very negative,” Mennenoh said. “ALTA has been consistently pressing the CFPB for clearer guidance in this area and must continue to do so, along with our lender partners and other trade associations. I hope the CFPB will ultimately realize their lack of guidance is detrimental to consumers, the economy and to an entire delivery system that has worked well for a very long time.”
Dan and Merry Mennenoh along with other title professionals from Illinois meet with U.S Rep. Cheri Bustos during ALTA’s Federal Conference.
Mennenoh is focused on continuing the growing participation of ALTA membership through education, the Homebuyer Outreach Program (HOP), cybersecurity and advocacy. Having seen tremendous gains in recognition by legislators and regulators over the past several years, it’s important to keep that momentum going, he said, while also promoting the benefits the industry provides to the economy and providing peace of mind by protecting consumers’ property rights.
“No one else will do that for us,” he said.
Innovating and Driving Forward
Innovation is one of the topics that intersects with most of the association’s strategic priorities. Quoting Thomas Edison, Mennenoh said “there’s a way to do it better—find it.” He encourages the industry to be more innovative and explore better ways to serve customers and explain the industry. Doing so, doesn’t necessarily mean spending more, Mennenoh said. There are plenty of tools provided by ALTA such as the HOP, free education Title Topics webinars and committees that can keep staff engaged and informed of changes that are occurring.
ALTA members across the country are joining together to find ways to solve current problems and address challenges. This will lead to creative ideas that will ultimately benefit the industry’s customers.
“For those who may feel that our business is changing so much that our future in the industry may be difficult to see, we have to look at this as an opportunity to innovate,” Mennenoh said. “We’ve seen change before and we’ll continue to see change. Technology has driven a lot of change, some good, some not so good, but finding a better way can be very exciting. We want to innovate and find solutions to ensure all ALTA member companies have the tools they need to thrive in this rapidly changing market.”
Mennenoh compared life and business to the laps an Indy 500 winner must make in order to drink the famed milk.
“In a lot of ways, life and business are a race track,” Mennenoh said. “Both often leave you feeling like you’re going in circles. But every lap can be different. Conditions can change. Other racers improve their cars so that they go faster and handle the turns better. As an industry, we must be prepared for change and understand where innovation can improve our processes. From conducting title searches and sharing data to the closing table and recording documents, there’s new technology being introduced. At the end of the day, however, our core values remain the same. We are here to protect property rights and close transactions efficiently and compliantly. I am truly honored to serve as ALTA’s president. We’ll work hard to ensure our members have the tools to succeed.”
Jeremy Yohe is vice president of communications for the American Land Title Association. He can be reached at email@example.com.
ALTA would like to inform its members about fraudulent emails coming from marketing firms indicating that they are selling contact information of companies listed in ALTA’s database.
The email scam asks if the recipient would like to acquire an ALTA list. This scam claims it includes lists for title insurance companies and title abstractors. Mailing list scams try to snag unsuspecting businesses with offers of lists of potential new clients.
ALTA has not provided its list to these companies. Lists can only be legally acquired after ALTA approves marketing pieces that are to be physically mailed to offices. ALTA prohibits anyone other than the association from calling and emailing companies on the ALTA membership list for marketing purposes.
Following the Federal Reserve’s decision to raise rates a quarter point, the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) lowered its origination forecast for the first quarter of 2017.
“We have adjusted the path of interest rates upwards a bit more quickly in 2017 reflecting the fact that the recent rate increase following the election has been sustained,” the MBA reported.
The total volume of one- to four-family mortgage loan originations is expected to reach $352 billion in the first quarter, according to the MBA’s December Mortgage Finance Forecast. This is down from the $365 billion in first-quarter volume the MBA had predicted in November. The lower forecast remains higher than the $350 billion in origination volume recorded in the first quarter of 2016.
The biggest drop off will be experienced in the refinance channel as rates have moved higher, forcing a more rapid decrease in an already slow refinance market. The MBA reported that refinance volume is now expected to reach $140 billion in the first quarter, down from the November forecast of $145 billion. The MBA also projected that purchase origination volume will total $212 billion, down from its prediction of $220 billion last month.
“We still forecast $1.10 trillion in purchase mortgage originations during 2017, an 11 percent increase from 2016,” the MBA reported. “Strong household formation coupled with further job growth, rising wages, and continuing home price appreciation will drive growth in purchase originations in the coming years.”
We are busy. Every one of us can talk about being bombarded by emails, phone calls, texts, and meetings. The various and simultaneous demands distract us from our most important work—if we even take the time to think about what our most important work should be. While we all want fewer things sidetracking us, there’s an innate desire to do and achieve more. It’s a perplexing dichotomy.
In the book The One Thing, Gary Keller details how to limit the distractions and achieve more. His book opens with an ancient proverb that says “If you chase two rabbits, you will not catch either one.” So true. What follows is a simple path to achieving results for what is most important to you. It resonated with me when I thought back on times when my work has been effective.
Think about times when you have excelled. You’ve probably achieved great success when you narrowed your concentration to one thing. Results were likely muddled when your focus wandered.
Defining your One Thing isn’t easy. It’s hard to let go of the things we’ve convinced ourselves that matter. This extra noise blurs our thinking and sidetracks success. Everything that must be done is not equal. The book encourages us to avoid being “busy,” and focus on being productive. Robert Koch highlights this philosophy in his book The 80/20 Principle, based on the Pareto Principle, which asserts that “a minority of causes, inputs or effort usually lead to a majority of the results, outputs or rewards.” What does this mean to you? The majority of what you want will come from the minority of what you do. So, a to-do list can become a success list if it’s prioritized.
As your trade association, there are many issues we could focus on. But to be effective, as the One Thing stresses, we must narrow our attention. To do this, ALTA’s Board of Governors and executive team develop our strategic priorities each year. This is our One Thing. By constantly returning to the strategic priorities, the entire association is focused on the key topics that will affect our members in their business and regulatory environment.
So, what’s your One Thing? We’d like to hear from you. Here are a few questions to help you get focused:
What’s the One Thing I can do to relieve my stress?
What’s the One Thing I can do to further my career?
What’s the One Thing I can do to make my company more competitive?
What’s the One Thing I can do to improve our customer experience?
By cutting through the clutter and concentrating on what really matters, you’ll achieve exceptional results. Strive to prioritize. The rest will fall into place. Success is built sequentially—One Thing at a time.
Michelle Korsmo is ALTA’s chief executive officer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ALTA's Best Practices Maturity Model is a resource to help companies identify areas of their policies and procedures that can be enhanced to better meet the Best Practices.
To use the Maturity Model, a company must first undergo a Best Practices assessment that tests the company’s policies and procedures to the ALTA Title Insurance and Settlement Company Best Practices and the Best Practices Assessment Procedures. The Maturity Model in no way changes the work that must be performed as part of the Best Practices assessment. Rather, the Maturity Model offers an alternative method of reporting the results of a Best Practices assessment.
After the company undergoes a Best Practices assessment, the company may plot its assessment results on the Maturity Model. Rather than focusing on a pass or fail designation, the Maturity Model features a spectrum of compliance levels that range from having no policies and procedures in place (“Ad Hoc”) to having policies and procedures that are fully compliant with the ALTA Best Practices (“Optimized”).
The Maturity Model allows companies to determine how their procedures measure against the ALTA Best Practices. If a company is fully compliant with the Best Practices, it should be in the “Optimized” category of the Maturity Model for each Best Practice. Using the Maturity Model as an assessment report helps companies identify ways to improve their policies and procedures to meet the Best Practices.
To learn more about the different compliance levels featured within the Maturity Model, check out the graphic below:
You may view Maturity Model and its accompanying Maturity Model Explainer, which details how to use this new tool, by visiting www.alta.org/bestpractices. As a reminder, the Best Practices Maturity Model is subject to an open comment period that closes on Friday, July 29, 2016. You may submit comments or feedback to email@example.com.
Defect, fraud and misrepresentation risk is falling across the United States, and decreasing to very low levels in some markets, according to First American’s latest Loan Application Defect Index.
Data shows that the frequency of defects, fraudulence and misrepresentation in the information submitted in mortgage loan applications decreased 1.4 percent in September as compared with August. Since last year, the defect index has decreased by 14.8 percent.
“The widespread implementation of data- and technology-enabled loan manufacturing processes is benefiting consumers across the country,” says Chief Economist Mark Fleming. “The mortgage finance industry continues to improve, producing loans with fewer defects and producing those loans right the first time.”
According to Fleming, more data-driven evidence is mounting that the Millennial first-time homebuyer is playing an increasingly important role in the housing and mortgage finance markets.
“The market is in transition toward a greater volume of riskier purchase loans, away from a market dominated by lower risk refinance loans,” Fleming added. “Yet, overall the defect index continues to decline, which is a testament to the effort the mortgage finance industry is making to improve the loan production process.”
The Defect Index reflects estimated mortgage loan defect rates over time, by geography and by loan type. It’s available as an interactive tool that can be tailored to showcase trends by category, including amortization type, lien position, loan purpose, property and transaction types, as well as state and market comparisons of mortgage loan defect levels.
The five states with the highest year-over-year increase in defect frequency are
Maine (+25.5 percent)
North Dakota (+14.8 percent)
South Dakota (+11.3 percent)
Vermont (+10.4 percent)
Missouri (+7.2 percent)
The five states with the highest year-over-year decrease in defect frequency are
With so many consumers obtaining information on their phones and through social media, make sure to take advantage of the member-exclusive content provided by ALTA in the Hombuyer Guide. The guide includes nearly 70 items that title professionals can use to explain the benefits of title insurance.
One in three targeted cyberattacks over the past 12 months results in a security breach, according a new survey from Accenture.
Despite this alarming number of incidents, 75 percent of respondents were “confident” they were doing the right things with their security strategies, and a similar number said security is “completely embedded” in their cultures, with support from the highest-level executives. Disconnect between the number of incidents and feeling confident about security strategies, according to Accenture, highlights the need for a “reboot” and for companies to “embrace an end-to-end approach to recognizing threats and minimizing exposure.
In the report titled "Building Confidence: Facing the Cybersecurity Conundrum," Accenture surveyed 2,000 enterprise security practitioners representing companies with annual revenues of $1 billion or more in 15 countries about their perceptions of cyber risks, the effectiveness of current security efforts and the adequacy of existing investments. The survey reveals that the length of time taken to detect these security breaches often compounds the problem, as more than half of executives (51 percent)disclose that it takes months to detect sophisticated breaches, and as many as a third of all successful breaches are not discovered at all by the security team.
“Cyberattacks are a constant operational reality across every industry today and our survey reveals that catching criminal behavior requires more than the best practices and perspectives of the past,” said Kevin Richards, managing director, Accenture Security, North America. “There needs to be a fundamentally different approach to security protection starting with identifying and prioritizing key company assets across the entire value chain. It is also clear that the need for organizations to take a comprehensive end-to-end approach to digital security—one that integrates cyber defense deeply into the enterprise—has never been greater.”
Additionally, the survey found that internal security teams discover only 65 percent of effective breaches, with employees, law enforcement and “white hats” (e.g., “ethical” hackers) finding most of the rest.
Part of the security challenge is prioritizing where to focus resources to effectively protect the organization. More than 50 percent of survey respondents say internal breaches made by malicious insiders have the greatest cybersecurity impact. Even so, two out of three respondents say they lack confidence in their organizations’ abilities to monitor internally for breach activities.