This past week, Qualia launched its first two Qualia LIVE remote events. Both events focused on regional responses to COVID-19 including how title agents in different parts of the country are handling closings in light of social distancing orders and how businesses are transitioning to fully-remote and hybrid-remote work environments. 

In the latest Qualia LIVE remote event, Perla Aparicio of Qualia’s Industry Relations team joined Chris Saunders, State Project Manager IT – Business Systems Analysis at AmTrust to discuss these topics. The pair focused on AmTrust’s underwriting regions including New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, Washington DC and Pennsylvania. 

Staying flexible and adaptable during unprecedented times

During COVID-19, many traditional ways of doing business have been interrupted. For example, title & escrow businesses cannot schedule multiple closings in their office at the same time due to social distancing mandates. Changes like these impact the natural rhythm of an office and require solution-driven thinking for even the smallest of tasks. “A lot of this is going to be about logistics, planning and flexibility,” Saunders noted. 

Saunders and Aparicio provided a few solutions for in-person closings that they’ve seen among title & escrow businesses including: using large conference tables to maintain social distancing during closings; conducting drive through closings whereby the signers remain in their vehicles during a closing; and reducing foot traffic in the office through appointment-only visits from the public. 

Aparicio also referenced some of Qualia’s tools which help to reduce the amount of in-person contact during closings. For example, with Qualia Connect’s e-signing feature, parties can sign a significant number of non-notarized documents ahead of the closing date to reduce the amount of time at the closing table. 

In order to quickly adapt to changes spurred by COVID-19, businesses also need to maintain open communication with their colleagues, clients, and partners. “At AmTrust we’re keeping lines of communication with our agency and agency reps open by using as much technology as possible to send mass updates and bulletins,” Saunders said. 

Leveraging Remote Online Notarization (RON) to reduce in-person contact

In addition to reducing in-person contact during closings with creative solutions like drive through closings, many businesses across the country are leveraging remote online notarization (RON) eClosings to eliminate in-person interactions all together. 

Saunders noted that the transition to RON eClosings has in some ways been expedited by COVID-19. “It was only a matter of time that we’d get to a point in this industry where the convenience and technology was available to actually pull this off,” he said of the sudden mass need for fully-remote closings.

Saunders recommended that title & escrow businesses take a look at state guidelines for RON, speak with their underwriter, and discuss with their lender if they are considering RON eClosings. Saunders noted that some lenders are still not accepting RON eClosings. Additionally, guidelines around RON may be in flux among underwriters if the state recently adopted or adapted their RON legislation in light of COVID-19. “In some states, RON is temporarily permissible or pending adoption,” Saunders noted. “AmTrust is looking at these [state guidelines] on a case-by-case basis.” 

Saunders also noted the AmTrust offers a bulletin section on their website which provides up-to-date information by state on RON guidance. 

Transitioning to new work environments during COVID-19 

In addition to the complications COVID-19 creates for closings, the pandemic has also forced a new day-to-day normal for title & escrow businesses. In the title industry, many employees are now working fully-remote or partially remote (in cases where individuals need to come into the office to complete closings or access in-office check printers and other equipment they do not have at home). 

Aparicio offered some guidelines and tips from Qualia (which can be found here) for adapting to a remote work environment. Saunders offered a few additional tips for remote work success including:

  • “Set up your remote office as identical as possible to your work office as you can.” Saunders recommended that those working on a laptop set up monitors and a mouse to avoid cramping up while using a small laptop screen and trackpad all day. 
  • “Try to go as paperless as possible.” Saunders caveated the first tip with a nod to the fact that most individuals can only work within a 4 x 4 foot space at home if they are lucky. Reducing paper (sticky notes, physical files, and bulletins) can help free up space.
  • Use digital tools as much as possible. “In an office environment you’re used to hollering or walking down the hall to talk to someone…You’ll now need to replicate that communication digitally with instant messaging tools.” Saunders said. Aparicio agreed noting that since COVID-19, Qualia has seen a 3X uptick in in-app messaging among its users.  
  • Use a landline and router to connect to the internet. Saunders noted that WiFi can be spotty and create communication and access issues while working remotely; however, connecting to a landline can reduce some network interruptions and bandwidth issues. 

Overall, Aparicio and Saunders agreed that patience is key during COVID-19. Leaders should maintain a level of empathy and understanding during these uncertain times to keep their teams engaged and feeling supported. 

If you’re interested in participating in a Qualia LIVE event, submit a request to participate here