11/15/2019

GenEveryone: Connect With All Generations

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Marketing and branding innovator Scott Stratten took the stage sporting a man bun for the closing Omni Session at ALTA ONE in Austin. Why the interesting hair style? Stratten quickly explained.

“My wife loves it. That’s the only reason,” he joked.

From there, the best-selling author and president of UnMarketing took attendees on a roller-coaster of wit and nostalgia to drive home his point that everyone thinks the next generation is the hardest to understand and deal with. But is that true or are we reacting exactly as we always have to new ways of thinking and working?

“Every generation hates the next generation. It’s just law,” Stratten said. “We hate people based on age.  

That’s how this works. Generation X was called the slacker generation. Millennials are called the trophy generation. Who’s buying them the trophies? GenX.”

Stratten has transformed how corporations like PepsiCo, Century 21, Fidelity, and Microsoft do business with radical insights on how to engage customers better through social and viral marketing. Instead of worrying about generational differences, he puts the focus back on what matters the most to current and potential customers—values like trust, authenticity, relationships and service.

“The problem is we rip on younger people,” Stratten said. “The difference is disruption—change without time to resist it. The rate of change is exponentially higher now. Embrace the age of disruption.”

Stratten said potential and current customers want to be listened to, validated and have a platform to be heard—especially online. This is less about age and more about being present and trustworthy.

“Never judge a person based on their age,” Stratten said. “Being an idealist is refreshing. They have hope.”

11/14/2019

ALTA President: Be Authentic and Win

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In the movie “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Freddie Mercury’s father says, “good thoughts, good words and good deeds.” It’s a reference to one of the core Zoroaster religious maxims, which reinforces the idea of doing the right thing, and worldly rewards will follow.

Mary O’Donnell, ALTA’s 2019-20 president, mentioned this quote during her speech at ALTA ONE in Austin to remind attendees to be true to themselves when facing constant challenges and changes in the market.

“Would it be cool if life was that simple? But it can be,” said O’Donnell, who is president of Westcor Land Title Insurance Co. “If we live our lives and businesses by those words you will be authentic. If you’re authentic you win. People do business with people. If you say what you think and do what you say, you will be authentic.”

Staying genuine can often be challenging during change. But O’Donnell said the industry’s transformation is already here.

“We’re experiencing change every day and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon,” she said. “We are constantly thinking about the threats to our industry. What’s it going to look like? What should we do next? Our industry has been around for 125 years—and think about it, we’ve been selling the same product in the same way for 50 years. Most people would say that’s ‘That’s simply unsustainable.’”

Change isn’t solely about disruption or discomfort. It also opens the door to opportunities. O’Donnell encouraged attendees to think about improvements they can make to the process and transaction. Innovation doesn’t just have to be tech-based.

“We all need to be thinking about a shift in our industry,” she added. “Because others are. Investors, outside industries, tech giants—they all see this multi-billion-dollar industry as ripe for innovation. Whether you’re the size of Westcor or have two employees in rural Kansas, these disrupters are thinking about your business and you should as well.” 

But O’Donnell quickly reminded attendees to not get discouraged because “we know this business better than anyone and disruption works much better within.” O’Donnell encouraged investment in top-notch customer service training. She pointed to Publix, the largest employee-owned grocery chain in the United States. With an aim to be the premier quality food retailer in the world, the company doesn’t have the greatest technology, but what they have in spades is customer service.

“If you’re from the Southeast part of the country, you know that people who love Publix really LOVE Publix,” O’Donnell said. “People will go out of their way just to buy groceries at Publix. Why? Because their employees live and breathe helping their customers. If you went home today would your employees say the same thing or that they are focused on getting a commitment out? Or would they say, ‘I’m focused on creating a wow moment.’ Publix isn’t necessarily developing huge campaigns and wild schemes to better the customer service process. They are simply empowering their employees to do what it takes to “wow” the customer on each visit. Ask yourselves what you can do in your business.”

To help the industry better understand what’s next and prepare for it, ALTA creates a set of strategic priorities each year. ALTA’s 2020 strategic priorities:

  • Protect customers’ money
  • Prepare for privacy laws and regulations
  • Prepare for digital closings
  • Tell your story
  • Engage with relevant agencies focused on federal housing finance policy develop and retain talent

“Over the next year, we’re going to continue to find solutions to protect our customers’ money,” O’Donnell said. “We’re going to maintain and strengthen our relationships with all the agencies creating housing policy at the federal level to ensure ALTA always has a voice and a seat at the table. Digital closings and increased privacy laws will also be a focus as these changes will affect our business for years to come. The need to develop and retain talent is an issue facing each of us and we’ll work on workforce skills and specialized training to help your business navigate this changing terrain. And lastly, we’re going to keep telling our story as an industry to ensure all our customers really understand what we do to protect property rights.”

11/06/2019

Survey: Most Title Companies Interested in Offering Digital Closings

Digital closing readinessEighty percent of title companies are interested in conducting digital closings or have already closed some type of hybrid, electronic or remote online closing, according to a recent ALTA survey.

The survey of more than 800 title professionals showed that 44 percent are interested in digital closings, while 19 percent have researched vendors and applicable laws and 17 percent have already conducted some variation of a digital closing. Only 20 percent indicated they are not interested in digital closings.

While 14 percent of those surveyed currently offer digital closings, 42 percent indicated they have no planned timeline to offer these types of closings. Thirty-one percent plan to start offering digital closings in the next year, while 13 percent said they expected to begin offering digital closings within the next three years.

Lender requests and changes to state laws were the top two factors that would most likely alter a company’s timeline to implement technology to conduct digital closings. In October, Ginnie Mae announced it was moving forward with a pilot to accept e-notes. This will be a significant step toward a complete digital mortgage process. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have already launched initiatives for digital closings and to accept e-mortgages.

Digital closing factorsDriving a company’s interest may be whether they’ve been asked to perform a digital closing. According to the survey, two thirds indicated they have not had any digital closing requests. Lenders (22 percent) were the ones most often making a request for a digital closing, followed by consumers (16 percent) and real estate agents (10 percent).

A recent survey by Solidifi of 1,000 consumers who bought or refinanced their home in the past two years found that 70 percent of consumers would like a more digital process at the closing table.

Transactions involving cash buyers (55 percent) were the types of deals where digital closings were most often used.

Of those who took the survey, 66 percent operated one office over the past year, 24 percent had two to four offices, 8 percent had between five and 50 offices and 2 percent had more than 50 offices. Nearly three fourths of those who participated said they have less than 10 employees, while another 20 percent have less than 50.

To help title companies understand the digital closing process, ALTA and the MBA have partnered to offer three Digital Closing & eMortgage Boot Camps. Click here for more information.

 

 

11/05/2019

Alert: Spoofed Email Appears to Come from ALTA

Phishing emailALTA is alerting its members to delete a phishing email with the subject line “American Land Title Association.”

The email appears to come from Cande Fudge, ALTA’s membership and licensing manager. The email says ALTA is interested in doing an interview with the recipient and to review the attached document for more information.

ALTA encourages you delete the email. Do not open the PDF. In addition, you should block the domain of the email or the IP address that it is coming from. Once the scammers catch on, they will likely switch email domains.

You can be sure that your information is safe. This is a phishing email and our system was not breached.

Thank you,

The ALTA Staff

10/31/2019

Winners of ALTA Our Values Awards

ALTA announced the winners of the ALTA Our Values Awards, which serve as the industry’s cultural compass and highlight the core ideals ALTA members embrace.

The four Our Values Awards were presented during ALTA ONE, the largest annual event for the land title insurance industry, held Oct. 22-25 in Austin. Each of the three individual awards represent one of the three values:

  • We Lead: We are the authority in real estate transactions. We innovate for the benefit of our customers.
  • We Deliver: Our customers trust us to do the right thing, the right way--before, during and after the transaction. We sweat the small stuff to assure that land transfer is accurate, swift and secure.
  • We Protect: We protect the property rights of those we serve. We reduce risk so our customers have peace of mind.

ALTA expanded the program this year to recognize an entire ALTA member office or operational team that demonstrate these ideals.

Our values evansDiane Evans NTP, an ALTA past president and vice president of Land Title Guarantee Co. in Denver, won the We Lead Award for her leadership on the Land Title Association of Colorado’s Remote Online Notary Task Force. As the consummate title insurance industry advocate, Evans used her expertise to stand up not for her company, but what she thought was in the best interests of the industry and, more importantly, the consumer. Evans lives the concept of leadership through her tireless work to improve the industry for all.

“The title industry is and always has been about protecting consumers,” Evans said. “Great companies, title agents and underwriters alike know that we have access to non-public personal information necessary to complete a consumer’s real estate transaction. Protection and use of that information is a trust that we should never abuse nor neglect. Assuring regulators, legislators and consumers is critical to creating confidence about our industry and the values we embrace.”

Our values kinnardLauren Vanni Kinard, president of First Excel Title in Fairfax, Va., won the We Deliver Award for going the extra mile to ensure her customers’ transactions are smooth, safe and on time. She delivered for her customers repeatedly, from going out of her way to track down incoming wire transfers after hours to ensure homebuyers wouldn’t have to spend the weekend in a hotel room, to helping a customer’s friend find two unreleased mortgage payments so that person could close on a home equity line of credit.

“It is quite an honor to be the recipient of the We Deliver Award,” Kinard said. “By looking at each transaction as if I were in the customer’s position, adopting a service-oriented platform helps ensure a successful experience, which aligns to my company’s mission. Our customers know we will deliver for them with professionalism and trust us as we strive to exceed industry standards.”

Our values GregoryAmy Gregory, chief administrative officer and president of the Florida Agency Network, won the We Protect Award for pulling out all the stops to help a real estate wire fraud victim. When a customer was defrauded of $130,000, Gregory uncovered where the funds were sent. She even persuaded the U.S. Secret Service to investigate the crime and ultimately retrieve and return the money. She then went a step further and earned her Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialist (CAMS) designation to help become a strong resource for other customers.

“With decades of experience, I have seen a vast amount of change and new threats that did not exist years ago,” Gregory said. “We have made it our mission to protect our clients and company, and to create an environment of continuous improvement and awareness. I am truly honored to receive this award.”  

Our values LibertyFinally, Liberty Title, which has multiple offices in Michigan and Florida, won the Team Award. Liberty Title’s internal motto is, “If we can’t close it, no one can … or should,” summing up the company’s commitment to their customers. Earlier this year, a customer approached Liberty Title with a title issue that needed resolved. Many companies turned the customer away because of an existing lien. Liberty Title’s in-house legal team listened to the customer, explained her options, then closely examined the lien. The legal team found that the lien should have been expunged years ago.

“Working at Liberty Title means being part of a team that works toward one shared goal: protecting the consumer and giving our clients peace of mind with every transaction,” said Michele Richardson, president of Liberty Title. “We encourage each other; we collaborate, not compete. We use our different skill sets to make sure that problems are solved and contracts honored. Collaboration across departments is essential in ensuring that every transaction is handled professionally, sharing our knowledge and expertise along the way, while fostering a collegial environment that makes our colleagues feel like family.”

During the awards ceremony at ALTA ONE, ALTA Immediate Past President Steven G. Day NTP, president of national agency operations at Fidelity National Title Group, as well as Robert J. Grubb, cofounder of Alliant National Title Insurance Co. and vice-chairman of Presidio ATC Holdco LLC, presented engraved awards to each honoree.

“I am pleased to see the Our Values initiative be embraced by our members,” Day said. “It highlights the professionalism of those in our industry.”

“We Lead, We Deliver and We Protect reflect the universal values of ALTA members,” Grubb said. “These values are at the core of who we are and how we operate every day. The Our Values Awards recognize the most extraordinary efforts in a profession full of extraordinary professionals who work hard to protect the long-term interests of their customers. The awards allow us to recognize those in our industry who raise the bar, inspiring the rest of us to do the same.”

Why Our Economy Is Generating More Investment Growth in IP than IT

By Odeta Kushi

Important, but easy to overlook shifts in investment trends may be contributing to our current era of low interest rates. An excess supply of global savings relative to the demand for that money for investments is driving down interest rates, which can be thought of as the price of money. The neutral rate of interest, which is monitored by the Federal Reserve as it considers changes to monetary policy, represents the equilibrium point for the price of money and is largely determined by the supply and demand for savings (i.e., income that is not used for immediate consumption and that can be invested back into the economy).

Today, the neutral rate of interest is at historically low levels because of the excess of savings relative to the demand for that money for investments. The lack of investment in recent periods has received much attention this year. Investment that businesses make is called capital expenditure. Capital expenditures, or investments in property, equipment, products and technology, by a company facilitates a company’s growth and productivity, and ultimately broader economic growth. The U.S. economy is booming, yet capital expenditures declined in 2019. In the midst of the longest economic expansion in recent history, why is capital expenditure declining?

A Short History

In November 2017, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was introduced, with the intent that it would boost business investment upon becoming law. After the law took effect in the first half of 2018, companies in the S&P 500 increased capital expenditures by nearly 20 percent. Business spending on fixed investment (machinery, buildings and equipment) increased 11.5 percent and 8.7 percent during the first and second quarters of 2018, respectively.

However, by the second quarter of 2019, U.S. corporate investment in buildings and equipment fell by 0.7 percent, the first quarterly decline since the beginning of 2016. The overall slowdown in capital expenditures was not just limited to the U.S. Global corporate capex expenditures grew at a marginal rate of 2 percent last year, compared with 6 percent in 2017. Could it be that there’s a long-term structural change in business investment that is leading to the slowdown in capital expenditures and contributing to the dynamics that are keeping interest rates low?

Capital Expenditure Efficiency

Services play a much greater role in today’s economy than manufacturing, which means there is more demand for “soft assets,” such as intellectual property, software, and R&D, than there is for “hard assets,” such as equipment and structures. In fact, in the second quarter of 2019, intellectual property investment totaled nearly $1 trillion, compared to only $421 billion in the second quarter of 2002 – this is growth of over 128 percent. During that same time period, investment in hard assets only increased approximately 66 percent, nearly half the growth of investment in soft assets. While hard asset capital expenditures remain the dominant form of investment overall, it’s clear that investment in soft assets is increasing more quickly. This reflects the transition in our economy to businesses that are less hard asset capital intensive.

Additionally, in today’s modern economy many firms are moving from a capital expenditure model to an operating expense model. Take cloud computing, for example. In a world where technology is evolving rapidly, it is difficult to predict and manage a company’s IT infrastructure needs. So, rather than spending a large amount of capital to host, manage and maintain large amounts of IT infrastructure, firms are opting to “pay as they go,” renting the capacity they need at the moment, and scaling as their needs change. This reduces the hard capital expenditures and improves the efficiency of the expenditure.

With something like a cloud IT infrastructure, a company does not have to build and maintain an infrastructure to accommodate peak demand. Since services can be purchased as needed, utilization is optimized effectively making each expense dollar more efficient or “productive.” The result? Less investment dollars are going further. Obviously, the providers of cloud computing services are investing heavily in IT infrastructure, but the collective utilization by all their customers is much higher than if each customer did it alone. Therefore, less IT infrastructure is needed overall to support the economy’s computational needs.

Investment trends

Increasing investment in soft assets and the transition to operating expense models are reflecting the continuing transition in our economy toward services and more efficient utilization of production assets. While more efficient investment in highly utilized hard assets will continue, as services play a more central role in the U.S. economy than manufacturing, growth in capital expenditures will be driven more by money spent on intellectual property. Intelligent business investment drives productivity growth, but the increased focus on soft expenditures, in combination with more efficient utilization of hard capital expenditures, means less can actually be more.

Odeta Kushi is deputy chief economist at First American Financial.

10/24/2019

ALTA Announces Winners of 2019 Title Webbies

ALTA announced the winners of the Title Webbies, an awards program recognizing member companies that have created or redesigned the best title industry consumer-facing website or page within the past year.

The two Title Webbies were presented during ALTA ONE, the largest annual event for the land title insurance industry, currently being held Oct. 22-25 in Austin. Nominees in the two categories—Best Website-Title Agents and Best Website-Underwriters—were judged on mobile friendliness, overall user experience, social-media integration, image/video use and content quality.

Commerce Title in Baton Rouge and Prairieville, La., was the winner in the Best Website-Title Agents category. Marketing Coordinator Katie Wilcox accepted the award on the company’s behalf.

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“A website homepage has the ability to say so much about a business and a brand, and we wanted to take advantage of that and create something that gave the best first impression possible of our company to any potential customers,” Wilcox said. “Our intention was to immediately and attractively communicate through our website that even though homebuying can be an intimidating process, our ultimate goal at Commerce Title is to make the closing as easy and enjoyable as a piece of cake.”

Additionally, Commerce Title’s homepage gives consumers the impression that their closing is going to be a smooth celebration. The website’s language reassures consumers that Commerce Title has their closing under control. The website also provides consumers with easy access to title insurance data as well as contact information for every single person in the office.

Old Republic National Title Insurance Co., which has offices across the United States, was chosen as the Best Website-Underwriters winner. Right out of the gate, Old Republic’s homepage establishes a strong message: “We serve our policyholders with strength, stability and more than a century of experience.” The homeowner section is easy to find and packed with useful information broken up into palatable bites.

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“It is an honor to receive this award,” said Carolyn Monroe, president of Old Republic National Title Holding Company. “The redesign and update of our website was a group effort between our marketing department and our operations. Our new website represents a small piece of the projects that we have in progress. The culture of collaboration is alive and well as we strive to better serve our agents and customers.” 

Mark Bilbrey, CEO of Old Republic Title, accepted the award during ALTA ONE.

“In the past, the title insurance industry has focused on selling our services to our professional partners, but now consumers are increasingly choosing who they work with throughout the entirety of the real estate transaction,” said ALTA CEO Diane Tomb. “A fresh, informative and engaging website can make all the difference as it often is the first impression a consumer has of any company. It is incredibly important to ensure consumers understand what happens during the closing process as well as the benefits of title insurance. Congratulations to Commerce Title and Old Republic on earning these well-deserved awards.”

10/15/2019

5 Surefire Ways to Empower, Engage and Retain Great Employees

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Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash image from unsplash.com

 

By Grace Collins

Every manager wants to have a highly productive team, but to get there, employees have to be empowered and engaged. In fact, a Gallup study found that teams with high levels of engagement are 21 percent more profitable, as they come in to work with passion and a purpose. Therefore, managers need to know how to empower employees and make them an integral part of the company. That said, here are five ways you can boost your team’s engagement, and in turn, their productivity and retention. 

Show the path for growth

Entrepreneur claims that employees are more likely to be engaged if they see opportunities for growth. And while employees are responsible for their own personal development, managers must create a clear path for it. Be transparent and communicative about bigger roles your employees can take, along with opportunities on how to earn more money. If there is no clear trajectory for growth for an employee, identify their strengths and weaknesses and point out the possible paths they can take. By doing this, they will feel cared for and encouraged to find their own path.

Encourage a healthy work-life balance

While encouraging growth can motivate employees, make sure they don’t overdo it. Promote a healthy work-life balance by discouraging work talk after hours and on weekends, and be sympathetic to their needs and circumstances by implementing flexible times. Be open to switching schedules if needed and organize monthly outings for coworkers to develop friendships that go beyond the office. Ashley Stahl points out that having this balance can stave off burnout, and can benefit both the physical and mental health of an employee.

Offer great compensation and benefits

Providing ample compensation for a good quality of life is vital to keep employee turnover down. Additionally, employers should also encourage employees to think of their financial future and their retirement plans, or their 401(k). This may seem like something most employers push or even require, but on the contrary, Marcus reports that a staggering 62 percent of Americans have not set up a 401(k) plan with their current employer. Not only are they missing out on an opportunity to lower their taxable income, but they are also failing to set themselves up financially for the future. Thus, stay ahead of other employers by offering compensation that promotes financial wellness, and encourage your employees to contribute to their 401(k) by matching some (or all) of their contributions.

Provide ample feedback, coaching, and praise

Nurturing employee growth is both a benefit for them and the company, as the latter reaps the benefits from their productivity. Aside from giving formal employee feedback forms, managers should coach and mentor employees to ensure that their actions are aligned with the goals of the company. But don’t be too harsh—point out what they’ve done well first, then proceed to focus on the specific problem areas in their performance while giving actionable tips on how to do better. Moreover, don’t forget to praise them on a job well done when they do it, as CEO of Orange Leaf Consulting Cindy McGovern found that 20 percent of employees said that appreciation from bosses makes them happier in the workplace.

Talk less, and listen more

Employees will have their own ideas on how to improve processes that they want to share and contribute to the company. While it may be difficult to let go of routine practices, listen to their ideas and let them join in on the decision-making process where possible. This will make them feel like their input is valued, and will encourage them to continuously innovate and engage with their work.

Whether you’re in the insurance, real estate or the tech industry—these tips apply to workplaces across all verticals. Apply these to your business and watch as your employee retention and engagement increase.

Grace Collins is a business and financial blogger. She provided this content exclusively to the American Land Title Association. Send feedback to communications@alta.org

10/03/2019

Infographics: How Phishing Works

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10/01/2019

The Anatomy of a Title Claim

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By Monica K. Gilroy

Uh-oh. Your title underwriter just emailed to say that a title claim has been filed against your company. You feel ill. But wait, “is there a DOCTOR in the house?” Yes! There is a Juris Doctorate in the house to share her decades of experience handling title claims with you.    

At the 2019 ALTA ONE, we’ll be discussing how to address, handle and triage a title claim from first notice of a claim to a trial.

The first reaction to a title claim is often panic. There are many remedies to cure those initial pains, such as document gathering and open communications with clients, underwriters and staff. We will discuss the things TO DO and NOT TO DO when a title claim is presented.

The number one reason why we get sick is because of unhealthy habits, like not washing our hands. Diagnosing the unhealthy habits of a title practice that lead to title claims is a way to cleanse yourself of future ills. Are you enforcing best practices in terms of obtaining releases of prior deeds and encumbrances, are you ensuring that fraud does not occur in a transaction, are you training your staff to be on the lookout for toxic issues within a closing? Staying healthy in your practice will be easy as we look at the causes for the common claims and how to prevent them. 

If the worse occurs and litigation is necessary, keep your commonsense temperature in check. We will talk about what happens in title claim litigation and discus the steps of the litigation process including mediation.

You will return home to share your new-found healthy title habits. You will be able to face the pain of a title claim head on, without the need for anything more than an aspirin at the end of the day. No more need for Marcus Welby, Dr. McDreamy or George Clooney in your life -well wait, maybe we will keep George Clooney just in case!

Monica K. Gilroy of Gilroy Law Firm LLC will address this topic during the education session titled “Anatomy of a Title Claim” at ALTA ONE in Austin, Texas. Click here to register.