Last week, title & escrow industry leaders and professionals gathered in St Louis, Missouri for the 2023 National Settlement Services Summit (NS3), hosted by October Research. The conference included a number of speaker sessions and technology demonstrations curated to teach attendees how to navigate the challenges of the current real estate landscape. Two themes ran a consistent line through these presentations:
- Title & escrow companies need to evaluate how they leverage automation to remain competitive.
- Change is hard, but often necessary. Companies that embrace a growth mindset will find ways to succeed through change.
Both of these themes were a major focus during a session entitled “5 New Tools to Enhance Your Business.” Jim Campbell of Title Alliance, Shawna Hernandez of Endpoint, Alan Frelix of The Closing Exchange, Alex Brown of Qualia, and Jaime Kosofsky of Brady & Kosofsky, each spent ten minutes highlighting ways in which title & escrow companies can bring automation and technology into operations. A few takeaways from each of their sessions can be found below.
Focus on what you can control
Jim Campbell, CEO of Title Alliance, began the session by acknowledging that the title & escrow industry is currently facing a down market. Amid these challenging conditions, he encouraged companies to focus on the aspects of business they can control: attitude, effort, and outlook.
Campbell spoke about “the three P’s”: people, process, and product. He encouraged companies to put effort into supporting and retaining their high-performing employees, while also taking time to mentor “B players.” He recommended reviewing organizational systems and processes to make sure the technology supports long-term business goals. (Campbell noted that his company recently adopted Resware to better support their operations.) Campbell also stressed the importance of determining what differentiates businesses (i.e. products) from competitors in order to gain a competitive advantage.
Cultivate a ‘digital mindset’
Shawna Hernandez, CEO of Endpoint, focused on “cultivating a digital mindset” within businesses. Hernandez noted that the mission of the title & escrow industry is to make home closing easier for everyone. Leveraging technology in an intentional, systemic way, and implementing technological enhancements like automations and AI are central to that mission. However, she also pointed out that the title & escrow industry has historically had a hard time with change. So, before new technology is implemented, companies should speak to employees, make sure they understand what the technology is, and how it benefits their productivity.
Hernandez shared that Endpoint implemented a digital onboarding playbook to help teams become more familiar and comfortable with technology. The first step in Endpoint’s approach to implementing new technology is identifying the individuals within who love using new tools and systems. Provide these individuals with the skills and training necessary to understand and use the tools, and get their buy-in to help drive adoption among other employees. Endpoint also builds “digital fluency” by training staff on the definitions, terms, and concepts associated with new technology. Understanding that some employees may see new technology as a threat to their job, Hernandez’s team is sure to reinforce the value of a human touch.
“Human-to-human connection cannot be automated. Tasks can.”Shawna Hernandez, CEO of Endpoint
Leverage technology and outsource to build a new ecosystem
As the CEO of The Closing Exchange, a nationwide mortgage signing service, Alan Frelix had a different perspective on operational efficiency. Frelix’s focus was on embracing a change mindset and exploring new tools and strategic partnerships as a means of building a new ecosystem for the real estate industry. “You’re either going to disrupt, or you’re going to be disrupted,” Frelix said, urging professionals to leverage technology as a tool for growing business and remaining competitive in an industry that has become—and will continue to grow—more digital.
Frelix noted that creating a change mindset begins with defining a very clear, strategic mission statement and developing concise goals to align action to that mission. He also stressed the need to include staff in the processes being developed to ensure that they are adopted and implemented at every level of the organization.
In his experience working with many title & escrow companies, Frelix knows the importance of developing strategic partnerships that allow for the outsourcing of certain work to create a differentiated service. “We tend to think of [the closing] as a linear process that begins and ends with the lender, but it’s not,” said Felix, “A lot can happen during the closing.” He explained that title & escrow companies need to look for opportunities for greater efficiency at every step of the process and consider how their business—and the technology they use to run their organization—is driving a modern closing experience for all parties involved.
Automate workflows for efficiency and scale
Qualia’s Director of Title Strategy, Alex Brown, shared insights on how a title & escrow company’s workflows can be leveraged to meet the strategic goals set out by the speakers who took the stage before him. Brown asserted that legacy processes impact adoption of new technologies. Many title & escrow agencies are using workflows that were built five to ten years ago when the technology that exists today simply wasn’t available. Since workflows have not been updated and optimized for current business practices, staff members have come up with workarounds and cheat-sheets. As a result, processes are overly complex and cumbersome, and title agencies have a significant amount of “workflow debt” built up in their system. Moreover, the data that title & escrow companies rely on to manage business effectively is inaccurate or not even captured in their title production software. These legacy systems create massive inefficiencies and bottlenecks in the closing process. The solution, says Brown, is to create workflows that leverage tasks and automations to drive a more streamlined closing. These base workflows allow variations in transaction type, client-specific needs, and geographic specifics to be layered on in a manner that is consistent, efficient, and reportable. By creating a modularized process architecture, title & escrow companies can remove inefficiencies from their business, creating a brand experience that sets them apart from competitors. “Just because your system isn’t broken doesn’t mean that it’s the best that it could be,” said Brown.
Like Campbell and Hernandez, Brown noted that system updates and new processes need to take into consideration the people who will be using them on a daily basis. Staff use tools consistently when they understand them, so continued education and training are foundational to successful implementation.
Build business intelligence through social media
Closing out the session was Jaime Kosofsky, Executive Vice President of Brady & Kosofsky. As he took to the stage, Kosofsky turned to Brown and said, “Alex, I cut my workflows in half after the last time we talked.”
Kosofsky then proceeded to discuss how he uses the tools readily available on LinkedIn and other social media platforms to understand what is happening in the industry. He encouraged professionals to monitor posts made by competitors and people within their network to build a better understanding of industry trends, the topics that matter most to colleagues and prospective clients, and to help them form a better overall picture of how the market is impacting the title community. Kosofsky said that he uses the intelligence gleaned from social media to forecast business and make decisions on how Brady & Kosofsky will react to outside influences, like a down market and the ever-present threat of wire fraud.
An opportunity for change
Technology advancements in the title & escrow industry are revolutionizing the way companies do business. With transaction volume still down in many markets, the leading title & escrow companies are taking the opportunity to reflect on the processes and systems they have in place. They’re looking to identify tools and tech that can help them drive a better brand experience and differentiate themselves from those companies that are yet to embrace a digital mindset. By implementing the strategies and tools championed by the experts above, title & escrow companies can position their businesses for future success.