During the 2008 economic downturn, Janeane Arildsen, who is now an Advisory Escrow Officer and Trainer at Pango Group, witnessed what she called a “game changing” moment for real estate. The devastating impact of the recession permanently altered real estate through tighter regulations and consumer-protection measures. 

Arildsen believes COVID-19 will be a similarly transformational moment for real estate—in a different way. “I believe [COVID-19] will help transition the industry into a truly paperless, digital environment,” she said. “This is a wake up call to all settlement agents about how adaptable and flexible we need to be to meet the needs of our clients.”  

Qualia spoke with Arildsen over the phone in April about how Pango Group is adapting in light of California laws and regulations to move transactions forward during COVID-19 and what Arildsen believes lies ahead for the industry. 

California escrow businesses rediscover the value of paperless processes 

Not many would have predicted that handling real estate documents would ever be considered a dangerous task. Now, during COVID-19, physical documents must be handled with extreme care and with minimal handoffs. “Providing a paperless process and limiting physical contact at every stage of the transaction is more critical now than ever,” said Arildsen. 

Pango Group  has been working in the paperless environment for nearly 10  years; however, many California escrow businesses are not digitally-equipped for paperless transactions. “That’s mind blowing to me in terms of how they are managing right now in this environment,” she said. 

DBO guidelines limit remote work, escrow officers stay safe with technology 

The move toward paperless processes may be slower in California than other states due to regulations which largely prohibit remote work (a major driver of paperless processes). Historically, the California Department of Business Oversight (DBO) which regulates independent California escrow businesses, limited remote work and required real estate transactions to be processed in brick and mortar locations.

“In  March 21, 2020 guidance to Escrow Agents, the Department indicated it will not take enforcement actions against licensees for operating unlicensed branches to the extent that, during the state of emergency, employees conduct activities from home that would normally require a branch license, provided that appropriate measures are taken to protect consumers and their data,” Arildsen noted. However, Pango Group still continued operations primarily from its brick and mortar locations. 

With a cloud based system like Qualia, Pango has been able to quickly pivot its operations to create a safe environment for both employees and clients. Pango closed its doors to the outside public and equipped its notary partners with personal protective equipment (PPE) for signings taking place outside or in neutral locations. All of this was made possible with technology that greatly reduced physical document handoffs and close physical contact. 

With an online communication portal (Qualia Connect) Pango Group escrow officers could maintain its high level of customer service to update clients in real time on the status of their order, walk homebuyers through document instructions and information, and gather information seamlessly to automatically update files without error. 

The value of training more apparent than ever

Pango Group’s dedication to digital operations and paperless processes begins with robust training programs. This is where Arildsen comes in. Alongside Pango leadership, she developed a multidimensional training program that enables escrow officers to prepare and quickly adapt to new scenarios like COVID-19.

  1. An online training portal to educate escrow officers on software and technology. Pango leverages Pango University, an online technology training portal which also supports education on “the Pango Way” or the specific way in which Pango Group uses Qualia’s customizable workflows for escrow transactions. (This training portal is similar to Qualia University, a workplace training tool leveraged by Qualia users who do not already have an online training platform in place. )
  2. Multigenerational communication. Pango leverages “5 bullet Friday” to update staff on industry happenings and changes. These communication materials cater to millennial employees who “don’t want a diatribe” to learn what they need to know. On the other end of the spectrum, Pango also provides employees more detailed updates which include more historical context and citations to cater to employees in the Baby Boomer generation. 
  3. One-on-one training and support. For any employee needing support, Arildsen is just a phone call or email away to help the individual work through a particularly tricky file or unfamiliar scenario. “I provide  neutral, non managerial support so they can feel supported and comfortable reaching out with any questions,” Arildsen said. In addition to on-demand support, Pango also provides high-need users with 1:1 training as well as individual teams with in-person training sessions. 

Pango has primarily leveraged “5 bullet Fridays” to update employees during COVID-19; however, Arildsen noted that she is ramping up escrow education during COVID-19 for employees who may be experiencing less volume as purchase volume declines in light of coronavirus. “With added time, there’s a captive audience,” Arildsen noted. (To read more about the importance of workplace training and how to get started with a digital training program, click here). 

What’s ahead for California? 

For states like California where remote online notarization (RON) is not yet offered by California notaries, a paperless system for the majority of the transaction (up until the notarization) is the next-best option for businesses to deliver safety and reassurance to their clients during COVID-19 and beyond. However, industry veterans like Arildsen who have witnessed the benefits of digital transactions are hopeful that COVID-19 will push California toward remote online notarization. There are new developments with some California counties allowing RON documents for out of area sellers. These additional tools are proving to be helpful with closings during this challenging time.

“We’re hopeful that if there’s any silver lining in this pandemic it’s that it will help California move into the future with all the other 22 states that have remote online notarization,” she said. “Then we’ll be able to participate in providing our very cosmopolitan buyers and sellers with an easier, faster, and more convenient option to close their transaction that they don’t have now.”