What’s all the Hype with Blockchain?



By Frank Pellegrini

The financial and tech world is abuzz with the potential of blockchain technology. This technology, which underpins the bitcoin “currency,” is being developed for use in an array of financial transactions, including potentially the recording of property records.

What exactly is blockchain? Here’s the definition from Wikipedia (consider the source, of course):

“A blockchain is a distributed database that maintains a continuously-growing list of data records secured from tampering and revision.”

Confused? So are we.

While this new technology clearly has the potential to change the way we record real estate transactions, many questions remain, especially for us novices. During this exciting session we will attempt to clear up some of that confusion by exploring at length a number of questions about blockchain, including:

  1. How does blockchain function?
  1. Is blockchain the next big thing, or the next big bust?
  1. Will it make the process more cost efficient?
  1. Who’s working on making blockchain an efficient technology to use for real estate transactions, and what success have they had?
  1. How secure is blockchain technology compared to cloud-based storage technologies we are working with now?

Come listen to a discussion about this new technology.

Pellegrini, CEO of Prairie Title Services, along with Mark Ladd, VP-Regulatory & Industry Affairs at Simplifile, and Wesley Miller, CEO of ATS Secured, will speak more in depth about this topic during a session titled "What’s all the Hype with Blockchain?” at ALTA's Annual Convention. Click here to register.

Automating Fee Collection and Management to Ensure TRID Compliance



By Pat Carney

Under the TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosure rule (TRID), there’s a 10 percent tolerance for shoppable fees, like title. Falling “out of tolerance” can result in monetary and reputational penalties for lender clients. So, how can title and settlement agents help their lender clients ensure their fee disclosures are within tolerance?

During the pre-TRID and the early post-TRID period, lenders relied on extra manpower for their fee disclosure process. They collected rates and fees manually, then kept them updated in archaic tables and templates. Some even resulted to calls and faxes (gasp!).

But now, with the CFPB calling on lenders to use “the best information reasonably available,” more and more lenders are moving to automation. They’re partnering with specialized providers that perform fee collection and management on their behalf. Ideally, these solutions can also be integrated with each lender’s LOS, so that the closing fees can be loaded into the LOS, and subsequently the Loan Estimate.

These closing cost fee solutions leverage rate and fee management engines that dynamically load closing costs for a given loan based on the type of loan, loan amount, and subject property address. When a provider changes a fee, which often occurs, the fees will be updated and verified in the fee management engine without lender involvement—improving speed and accuracy by eliminating errors that may result from re-keying, misreading fees in a look-up table, or using outdated information.

By leveraging an automated closing cost fee solution, title and settlement agents are able to market their rates and fees to lenders nationwide and in real time (and ultimately secure more orders). Meanwhile, lenders are able to ensure that the cost disclosed to their borrowers on a Loan Estimate or Good Faith Estimate is the same cost indicated on an order, and ultimately the same cost provided on the final Closing Disclosure at settlement—guaranteeing they stay in TRID compliance and don’t fall “out of tolerance.”

Pat Carney is Chief Innovation Officer at ClosingCorp. He can be reached at pcarney@closing.com. Carney will discuss this topic during a Market Talk (The Need to Deliver Accurate Fees) at ALTA’s Annual Convention. Click here to register.


Digital Advertising in the Title Industry



By Bill Risser

Digital advertising is still new and relatively untested in the title insurance industry. Why? A few reasons come to mind. Historically, title insurance companies have done little advertising, instead relying on relationship marketing to build up relationships with referral partners. Second, digital advertising requires a skill set not usually found in industry marketing/sales departments. Finally, title companies have shied away from reaching out directly to buyers and sellers, fearing a backlash from their real estate agent, lender and attorney relationships. We will discuss this belief and question its relevancy in today’s digital world.

ALTA has embarked on an aggressive campaign to shift the messaging to the consumer. The Homebuyer Outreach Program (HOP) is ALTA’s initiative to connect with buyers and sellers and convey the value of title insurance before a purchase contract is signed. Content created by ALTA is available to ALTA members as companies begin their outreach efforts to educate future homeowners and raise brand awareness.

Digital advertising is everywhere. Ads appear on every major social network. Every Google search shows paid results (ads) along with organic search results. Retargeting allows advertisers to “follow” potential customers via cookies and pixels everywhere they go on the web. Anyone viewing an item on Amazon or any other online retailer has experienced retargeting when that product starts appearing on unrelated websites in the form of banner ads. 

How can the title insurance industry capitalize on digital advertising? This discussion will be a key component at the 2016 ALTA Annual Convention Engagement Lab - “Advertise Online Starting at $50 – REALLY!” 

There are two distinct target audiences the industry can reach out to via digital advertising - industry partners and consumers. Messaging is different for each as well as the channels to access each group. Is the advertising to direct the target audience to click through to content? Perhaps the goal is more geared to brand awareness rather than clicks.

Finally, it is important to understand the metrics of digital advertising so results can be measured. We will discuss the different ways to analyze the success of campaigns based on the desired outcome.

Bill Risser is VP of Digital Strategy for Chicago Title Agency. He can be reached at risserb@ctt.com. Risser will speak more in depth about this topic during a session titled "Advertise Online Starting at $50 – REALLY!" during ALTA's Annual Convention. Click here to register.

Closing Instructions: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly



By Margaret Sklenar

Lender closing instructions—to read or not to read? Veteran closers and settlement agents often familiarize themselves with closing instructions they see on a daily/weekly basis and the instructions get lost in a sea of legal jargon and mere words. The closer and settlement agent assume that whatever is in the instructions is certainly not meant for them! After all, they have closed residential mortgage transactions for months and or years. The closing instructions are really meant for a new closer or settlement agent who knows NOTHING about closing a residential transaction and needs the lender to walk them through the garden of navigating and understanding what a lender expects and requires on a typical closing that involves a new mortgage.

That scenario describes the yesterday world of closing instructions.

Questions for today’s settlement agent:

  1. How many closers call the lender and ask for updated instructions when a lender requests an endorsement your state does not issue?
  2. Type of policy lender requires that is not relevant to your transaction?
  3. Assurance to deliver to the lender on an annual basis your company’s profit and loss statement?
  4. Promise to assume any and all penalties and financial responsibility for non-compliance of TRID?

Stay tuned!

Margaret Sklenar is owner of Metropolitan Title of Indiana LLC. She can be reached at msklenar@metrotci.com. Sklenar will speak more in depth about this topic during a session titled "Closing Instructions: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" during ALTA's Annual Convention. Click here to register.


ALTA Continues Consumer-education Campaign on Pandora

In an effort to educate consumers about the benefits of title insurance, ALTA has continued its advertising campaign on Pandora—a streaming and automated music service.

ALTA is targeting 25- to 34-year-old first-time homebuyers in specific markets. During the latest campaign (which starts Aug. 23 and runs through Sept. 6), ALTA is focusing on this demographic in Austin, Texas and Portland, Ore. Earlier this year, ALTA ran advertisements in Denver, Minneapolis, Charlotte and Philadelphia. All of the cities are ranked by the National Association of Realtors as top metros for first-time homebuyers.

The ad informs the listener to purchase an owner’s title insurance policy to protect their property rights and directs them to ALTA’s Home Closing 101 website (www.homeclosing101.org). The ad campaigns have resulted in more than an 80 percent increase in page views of the website.

You can listen to the ad here: 


Here’s what the ad looks like:


More information: Can Micro Targeting Work in the Title Industry?


Ins and Outs of ALTA’s Best Practices Maturity Model



By Cynthia Blair and Lori Dorman

Reaching and documenting full compliance with ALTA’s Best Practices can be a struggle for small and large business owners alike. Completing an assessment and noting all the areas where improvement is needed to be fully compliant can be daunting.

Following an assessment, do you know what steps your company can take to improve its practices? If not, the newest tool in the ALTA’s Best Practices toolbox—the Best Practices Maturity Model—can help! The Maturity Model measures your company’s procedures against the Best Practices to help you determine your compliance. Instead of a strict “pass/fail” system, the Maturity Model provides a spectrum of compliance levels that allow you to assess the strength of your company’s procedures and help you determine whether you follow your procedures consistently. We’ll describe the different levels of compliance in the Maturity Model and how you can create a plan to reach “Optimization.”

The Maturity Model is a great tool to help businesses analyze their level of compliance with the various pillars, track incremental progress and easily identify areas of concern. The Maturity Model is another tool for businesses to achieve full compliance with the Best Practices. Attend this session to learn all you need to know to use this tool for your business!

Cynthia Blair NTP is a founding member of the law firm Blair Cato Pickren Casterline LLC. She can be reached at cynthia@blaircato.com. Lori Dorman is director of Risk Management at Agents National Title Insurance Company. She can be reached at ldorman@agentstitle.com. Blair and Dorman will speak more in depth about this topic during a session titled "The Ins and Outs of ALTA’s Best Practices Maturity Model" during ALTA's Annual Convention. Click here to register.

The Millennial Elephant in the Room



By Andrew Acker

If you're scared, intimidated, or annoyed when you hear the word Millennials, then join the club. And I'm one of them. Brace for it, one in three workers today are Millennials (age 18-34). It’s a fact that they’re now the largest generation in the U.S. workforce. It's also a fact that they have a bad reputation; but that doesn't mean it's true. Actually, I bet when you were first entering the workforce and "growing up," the generation ahead of you had less then positive things to say. That cycle of criticism seems to be the pattern of judgment in our culture.

Millennials might not share the same traits and work styles as prior generations, but they do have unique strengths and perspectives that can be invaluable, especially to a veteran industry. Their styles and routines might not be what what companies are used to and what we as leaders are used to managing, but the reality of it can’t be ignored.

One clear challenge we see will be learning how to recruit and attract the best Millennials. On other side of the Millennial employment coin will be the important step of transferring knowledge from a highly experienced generation to a new, motivated generation of workers.

Whether we like it or not, Millennials aren't just a trend that we can sit back and observe and wait to pass by (like PokemonGo, frosted tips, Beanie Babies or pet rocks). The shift is happening. As leaders, we get to decide how we want to narrate the story. At our session, we plan to dive into this topic and discuss the challenges in recruiting Millennials and provide tips for hiring your next generation of workers. We’ll also talk about how to best train new employees and maximize the current experts on your team.

If you're excited by about topic and don't want to wait for the conference to dive into more of the details, I'd encourage you to check out some blogs and books below:

Andrew Acker is chief operating officer of D. Bello Associates. He can be reached at aacker@dbelloassociates.com. Acker and Rich Griffin, vice president of North American Title Company, will speak more in depth about this topic during a session titled "Targeting and Training Future Employees" during ALTA's Annual Convention. Click here to register.

Engaging an Evolving Customer



By Cynthia McGovern and Linda Grahovec

When it comes to effective sales performance, relying on what you did 10 years ago … five years ago … or even LAST year just doesn’t cut it anymore.

That’s not because YOU aren’t as good as you used to be (remember, you’re getting better, not older!), but the world of buying and selling is changing at an incredibly rapid pace.

We’re not just talking about selling to new generational groups like Millennials. ALL of our customers are evolving, in their needs, their diversity, their knowledge and their sophistication.

They are better educated than any previous consumer group, and expect to be able to engage with you at every step within the transaction—you need to be ready! 

They use social media to seek out peer reviews and advice before making even the simplest purchase decision. If you’re not using these tools effectively, you’re likely to get “swiped left” and left behind.

Your customer groups are changing before your eyes, demographically as well as behaviorally. You need to be able to move smoothly from Baby Boomers through Generations X, Y, and Z—and whoever comes next!

You need to understand gender differences in the marketplace, as well as cultural diversity and how it impacts buyer behavior, not to mention the growing roles that family and community play in the process.  

And perhaps most importantly, you need to stay abreast of advances in technology, especially the tools your customers use to communicate. 

Your company’s digital presence has become far more important than its storefront.  Is your website current, and accessible to users on any device? Does it reinforce your brand?

Are you using social media to your advantage? How do your customers interact through the platforms you use. How do you respond?

Your sales process needs to evolve right along with your customer base. Creating, building, sustaining and maintaining relationships, as well as cultivating business with EVERY type of customer, has never been more critical.

Are you ready to take a big step forward in your customer relationship management?  Make “Engaging an Evolving Customer” a must-see at ALTA 2016!

Cynthia McGovern is president of Orange Leaf Consulting. She can be reached at cmcgovern@orangeleaf.com. Linda Grahovec is vice president of Communications, Education, and Marketing at Fidelity National Title Group. She can be reached at linda.grahovec@fnf.com. McGovern and Grahovec will speak more in depth about this topic during a session titled "Engaging an Evolving Customer" during ALTA's Annual Convention. Click here to register.

A Culture of Compliance



By Steve Day and Ted Rogers

As the independent representative to the settlement transaction, we need to instill a sense of confidence in the consumer. A key to this is the development of a culture of compliance within our organizations.

In today’s environment, operations struggle with the challenge of increased regulatory scrutiny and enforcement, while noting others in the marketplace that choose to deal in questionable activities to gain market presences.

Due to the social media world, one ethical lapse by a member of an organization can almost instantaneously expose it to the entire online world. By seeking to create a culture of compliance within their operations, leading edge companies are taking proactive steps to avoid the embarrassment and potential loss of business that can result. 

Most importantly, this direction must be a focus for every employee within our organizations—which is certainly a challenge!

At ALTA’s Annual Convention, we will have an open discussion on the challenges, internally and externally, to a culture of compliance, highlight the dangers of non-compliance, and focus on marketing our agencies as focused on the best interest of the consumer!

Steve Day is executive vice president and division manager of Fidelity National Title Group. He can be reached at steven.day@fnf.com. Ted Rogers is president and CEO of The Security Title Guarantee Corporation of Baltimore. He can be reached at trogers@esecuritytitle.com. Day and Rogers will speak more in depth about this topic during a session titled "A Culture of Compliance - Yes, Good Guys are Successful!" during ALTA's 2016 Annual Convention. Click here to register.

Don’t Work Overtime to Understand the Department of Labor’s New Rules



By Lukas Clary

Are you sure you’re paying your exempt employees enough? Even if you are right now, you might not be come Dec. 1, 2016.  The U.S. Department of Labor recently announced its long-awaited final rule updating the definitions of most types of exempt employees under federal law. 

While there are several important provisions in the new rule, the most important for employers is the new minimum salary threshold for “white collar” exempt employees—those who are classified as exempt under the executive/managerial, administrative, or professional standards.  Federal law will soon require these employees earn at least $47,476 annually ($913 per week) to qualify for the exemptions.  This marks a significant jump from the previous federal minimum of $23,660 ($455 per week). 

The DOL estimates that more than 4 million workers currently classified as exempt will no longer qualify at their current salaries come Dec. 1. The new salary requirements will particularly impact employers in regions of the country with lower median incomes, and employers in states that have adopted more employee-friendly overtime laws on top of federal law. Employers will have to assess how to manage costs in light of the new laws while keeping up with closing volumes. 

This topic will be addressed at the ALTA Annual Convention on Oct. 6,at 3 p.m. The session will provide a briefing on both federal and state classification rules, a discussion of how title professionals are treated under these rules, provide a method for documenting compliance and defending challenges, and help employers ensure they are in compliance.

Lukas Clary is an associate of Weintraub Tobin. He can be reached at lclary@weintraub.com. Clary will speak more in depth about this topic during a session titled "Don’t Work Overtime to Understand the Department of Labor’s New Rules" during ALTA's Annual Convention. Click here to register.