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ALTA President: Be Authentic and Win

Odonnell ONE

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.”


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