Building a growth driven business means focusing on good business habits. This year at ALTA ONE, there is an unmistakable focus on disruption and defiance of the status quo. With themes like developing your company culture and embracing technology to center the customer and employee experience. It’s no surprise that most of the sessions and engagement labs focused on these topics. The title and real estate markets aren’t the only industries who are recognizing and embracing this shift that puts people at the center of business decisions.
How do title companies make sure they are keeping up with the changes that affect their customer and employee experiences and expectations? For title and real estate professionals that are caught in the daily grind of their work, it can be difficult to stop long enough to know where to begin.
Here are two places that you should start.
Evaluate and improve these two aspects of your title company in order to reach optimal growth:
- People and Culture
- Leveraging the right technology
Creating a plan to regularly evaluate these parts of your business and implement improvements will yield positive results for any business.
Investing in People and Culture
Culture is, at its root, all about your customers and your employees and creating an environment of passion, dignity, and respect.
Former Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz, often stated that coffee is the product, but the business he’s in is “building a company that treats people with dignity and respect.” For Schultz, witnessing his father struggle through a series of blue-collar jobs and eventually get injured with no health insurance or worker’s compensation spurred a desire in him to create a company with a better set of values. “It was not the calling of coffee, but the calling to try to build a company that my father never got a chance to work for,” said Schultz. Starbucks became one of the first companies in the United States to offer health insurance and a stock program to all its employees, including part-time workers.
To get a better handle on what company culture means and put it into practice, you’ll have to measure it. Understanding your culture means building a dialogue with your customers and your employees. As a leader, it’s imperative that you take charge of setting up that ongoing dialogue.
Some simple ways you can assess company culture include:
- Evaluate the onboarding experience. The first impression matters; if the process is unorganized, it’s an indication of how the company functions as a whole.
- Gauge openness within leadership. Innovation requires new behaviors from leaders and employees that are often in conflict with the 9-5 corporate culture. Do your high performers have the ability to be agile and fluid? Is your company focused on results instead of outdated metrics of operational success? Are your managers open to the change?
- Examine Incentive Programs. Reward your employees for a job well done and make it personal. Consider their hobbies and lifestyle to find unique ways to show praise.
- Observe Team Interactions. Take into account how your team communicates and collaborates with each other. If there isn’t a strong sense of connection, team outings can help foster trust and community while simultaneously showing your appreciation for their hard work.
- Ask questions. Whether it’s in person, a simple Google poll, or an HR tool like OfficeVibe, asking the right questions will give you valuable insights about your company culture.
After creating a method of evaluation that works for you, be sure to assess your company culture regularly.
Cultivating a culture of innovation within your title company
A culture of innovation starts with leaders who are open to a paradigm shift in their business philosophy. Remember that dialogue is a two-way street and sometimes there may be some things that you don’t want to hear. Examining your own resistance to criticism or proposals for changing the status quo is important if you want to build a culture that prioritizes innovative thinking.
To be a truly innovative leader, you must establish a working environment that echoes the parenting adage of “roots and wings.” This means giving your employees time and tools to give feedback on improving the company while maintaining accountability for the organization’s main goals.
Challenge traditional hierarchies and rules in your company. If you want real feedback that will have the greatest impact on your company’s growth, a culture where employees feel free to share the problems they see and comfortable enough to propose a change is imperative.
Having an open dialogue between decision-makers and individual contributors means employees will be more receptive to the final decisions. This creates trust within the company and less resistance to new technology and process changes.
Leveraging technology in the title industry
Knowing when to take time to invest in new developments and processes to meet client expectations, employee needs, and stay compliant can be difficult to assess. The real estate and title industry are notoriously cyclical in their booms and busts. A title company’s workforce is one of its most costly expenditures, and it is also one of the most difficult to manage when there is stagnation in the housing market.
The mortgage industry faces constant yo-yoing when it comes to applications. An unexpected downturn means the servicing industry has to address issues related to managing loans for a longer period of time. As a result, many companies are turning to technology to improve managing portfolios.
According to Tendayi Kapfidze, chief economist at LendingTree, “The player who survive in a low-volume environment are those that have the capacity to invest in technology.” The investment means they are able to leverage technology to not only sustain themselves, but also grow via acquiring smaller companies that are unable to keep up. This idea is also applicable to the title companies and real estate law firms working with mortgage originators and servicers.
“If you’re playing the long game, you would still focus on tech,” Kapfidze advises.
The cyclical nature of the origination and servicing industries directly impact the title industry. While servicing managers are asking how they can squeeze more efficiency out of their staff and control costs, what questions should settlement agents be asking themselves to weather periods of low mortgage and refinance applications?
Business and tech trends every title company should implement
There are a lot of tech developments happening in the title industry right now. Much of the push is, unsurprisingly, coming from the consumer. If you were fortunate enough to catch the Omni Session from poetic voice speaker, Sekou Andrews, you heard his call to action, much less elegantly stated here: Consumers are driving and demanding these changes and if you’re not going to keep up, you’ll be left behind. Smartphones are creating a new purchasing experience for buyers of everything from shoes to cars to condos. Few consumers are bothered by putting in personal information into a site if it means reducing the friction they experience when shopping for the same products in the store.
As lenders find ways to meet the consumer where they’re at in the digital homebuying and real estate investing process, they will expect their partners, those who provide title services to meet them there too.
Your biggest competition isn’t other local title companies, its online title providers like Spruce, which provides a fully digital title process experience focused on the lender and the buyer.
Five ways to modernize your title company's closing process:
- Cloud computing - Switching your data to a cloud is a great way to cut costs on hardware like servers and their maintenance. Using a cloud provider means that you only use the capacity your company needs, making scalability easier. It improves your team’s mobility and collaboration, which will be important as you adapt to a completely digital closing experience.
- Electronic notarization and other e-closing solutions - As remote notarization is approved by more states, title agents will need to make the switch from preparation of paper documents to digital ones. Complete digital closings will soon become the norm, so your company should be preparing for the change now.
- Wire Fraud prevention tools - CertifID, Vialok and other start-ups are providing a much needed solution to wire fraud that continues to plague the title and real estate industry. The move to digital closings means verification of each player’s identity is imperative. Title agents will still need to maintain the human element by acting as a conduit of communication between everyone involved in the closing. While these tools give added security for your company and your clients, it's not a substitute for ongoing education of best practices to prevent wire fraud.
- Optimizing online user experiences - Reduce friction at every touch point. This means having a website that’s easy to navigate with educational content and utilizing tech tools like chatbots to help answer frequently asked questions. This will not only improve your customer’s overall experience and satisfaction, but it will also help free up time for you and your employees to focus on more difficult tasks.
- Specialization - Companies that focus on a specialization within their industry are able to offer a better value proposition to their customers that strengthens their authority. A natural progression of specialization in the real estate industry would be real estate agent to buyers' agent. Additionally, in order for title companies of any size to grow, owners and managers will want to take stock of what tasks their team does on a daily basis and ask which tasks cause the most friction and yield the least profit. Cultivating T-shaped employees by giving team members specialized roles while encouraging the development of some broader general skill sets will help create a more innovative and profitable company. In order to allow your employees to hone the skills that are most valuable, you may want to consider how daily workflows can be improved by partnering with companies like PropLogix who specialize in tasks like municipal lien searches, association estoppel requests, survey co-ordination, and payoff tracking.
The right investments at the right time in your people and your technology will reduce the friction your potential and current customers face. This will directly impact your business’s ability to not only sustain itself during hard times but flourish. Like Andrews said, if you want to rise above, do things differently. Make waves. Splash, splash.