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ClosingReal EstateTechnologyTitle

The title insurance industry has a talent problem

Internships and TikTok at the center of attracting the next generation

HW-new-talent-tiktok

Shannon Foglia Brandy was pretty certain she wanted a career in public relations, but after a summer internship before her senior year at Bryant University, she began considering a career in the field of title insurance.

“I was looking to come home and do an internship over the summer, and nothing was really sparking my interest,” the New Hampshire native explained. “My mom, who is an LO, wrote to a friend who had just started her own title company about a year prior and found out that they were looking for interns for the summer. So, I kind of begrudgingly took the interview. I had absolutely no idea what title or title insurance was, but I liked them and the environment and what they were building, so I ended up taking the internship.”

Foglia Brandy has officially been with Cohen Closing and Title for five years now and is currently working as a closing agent and the director of business development.

“I lead a team of closing agents and marketers and work with them to help grow the business and expand into different areas,” Foglia Brandy said. “I get to explore all sorts of new software and technologies that make our jobs easier and more effective.”

While Foglia Brandy acknowledges her work in the title industry is not exactly what she had in mind for her career when she was in university, she does see some parallels between her former dream job in PR and what she does at Cohen.

“I definitely work every day at maintaining a good reputation for the company and the industry as a whole, and I do a lot of written communication,” Foglia Brandy explained. “I really do love what I do.”

But as a woman in her mid-20s, Foglia Brandy is something of an anomaly in the title insurance industry. As of 2014 the average age of title insurance agents and brokers was around 60 years old, and the situation has not really improved. Finding ways to attract and hire the next generation of mortgage and title industry professionals has been plaguing firms for years.

“This is the top issue,” Diane Tomb the CEO of the American Land Title Association said. “This is what keeps people up at night and the pandemic has only made things more complicated. We first launched our Talent Committee about 15 years ago and it is still working on the issue. Almost 21% of our workforce is within 10 years of retirement.”

While ALTA works to attract new talent to the industry in general, the thousands of firms that exist in the space have developed their own strategies to bring new talent to their specific company.

Stewart, one of the “Big Four” title insurers, is focusing most of its efforts on attracting developing new talent through internship programs, similar to how Foglia Brandy got her start in the industry.

“Most of the undergraduates and young people we see in the program aren’t going to school for title insurance,” Ryan Swed, Stewart’s head of U.S. national commercial services, said. “They are in marketing or geography or accounting, but through the internship program they get exposed to a large publicly traded company that has some really interesting work for them to do. I think that they’re getting exposed to our industry in a way that they’re saying, ‘Hey, this could be interesting for me,’ but it’s a place that they would not normally look. So, I think it’s a great place not only attract new talent, but that leads them to also talking to friends and, as in many businesses, referrals are a great way to generate new talent”

Pat Stone, the founder of WFG National Title Insurance and a long-time industry leader, echoed Swed’s sentiments.

“What really happens is that people stumble into title insurance by accident more than on purposed because it is not a career choice listed by any counselor out there at a university,” Stone said. “Now, having said that, it has an amazing attraction to people once they’re exposed to it because it is a great forum for learning about real estate, technology and insurance. Once people get into it, a lot of people stick around because they’re curious and they have a desire to learn. I got into this business by accident. I got a degree in history and was looking for a job and start as a title examiner trainee. I’ve been in the industry now for 46 years.”

Since starting the internship program, Stewart has had some success in converting some former interns into full-time employees.

“We were recently looking for a role replacement and ended up calling up someone from the internship program to see if they were interesting in coming back for a full-time job,” Swed said. “It has been a great way to expand our potential talent pool.”

Two newcomers to the industry, Doma (formerly known as States Title) and Blueprint, are taking a slightly different approach to talent development. They are putting their efforts into employee training and onboarding programs.

“We have developed a robust training strategy that includes title learning paths for roles across the company,” Blueprint CEO Steve Berneman said. “That’s helped transaction coordinators move into account management, IT specialists move into product management, and business development reps transition to ops.  Our goal is to unlock the potential in our team so that each member can grow with us. We also have management training, a streamlined onboarding process, and professional development stipend benefits to enhance external learning.”

Similarly, Doma hopes that its onboarding programs will make new hires feel welcome and prepare them for any challenges they may face in an industry that is often unfamiliar.

“We have started looking at what we’re calling our junior associate level profile, where candidates don’t necessarily have title and escrow experience, but they do have other kind of skills and criteria that we are looking for and then we are developing an onboarding and training program that would support them,” Kevin Pursel, Doma’s VP head of recruitment said. “It allows us to not only increase our talent pool but also the diversity of our talent pool as you don’t have to require X number of years of title and escrow experience. We certainly want that deep expertise in the title and escrow experience, but if you can couple those candidates with recent college grads or those more junior in their career, that’s a great mixture to have.”

As a whole, the title industry is at an important inflection point, as technology solutions are starting to be introduced into an over 100-year-old industry.

“As recent as 2019, only 14% of title professionals were offering any type of digital closing,” Tomb said. “Now it is at 46% and as ALTA gets closer to the finish line with things we have been advocating for, like widespread RON approval and usage, we expect that number to rise.

This influx of technology has of course created a plethora of new job opportunities in the sector.

“There is a huge opportunity for folks who are technologically savvy to step into our industry,” Tomb said.

For Stone at WFG, the industry’s embrace of technology has made hiring easier for certain roles.

“Because of the tremendous emphasis on technology, we aren’t having any problem at all attracting people,” Stone said. “This is currently a great venue for technological development as so much is changing. The one area that I would say that is probably having less and less appeal and will probably continue having less appeal is the actual function of title examining and being a title examiner or searcher.”

Although technology has somewhat diminished the need for title searchers and examiners, through automation the need for these more “traditional” roles is not going away.

“The need for a title examiner in the traditional sense of the word is declining and will continue to decline, but it won’t go away and it is a problem attracting people for these roles,” Stone said. “At WFG the average age of our examiners is considerably higher than it used to be and will continue to go up. You occasionally find somebody that is interested in doing it, but it doesn’t have a lot of attraction for people.”

When it comes to attracting talent for traditional title roles, firms are hoping that their company culture and benefits help them bring in new workers.

“We have analyzed our benefits packages and our ability to accommodate remote work,” Swed said. “Not just at Stewart, but industry wide, I think opening up the possibilities of remote work has widened our talent pool.”

At Blueprint, Berneman feels that the firm’s mission does a lot of the heavy lifting for them.

“Hiring in any industry is extremely competitive right now,” Berneman said. “For traditional title roles, the idea of modern workflows, being more effective, and joining the front lines of transformation is very appealing. For our technology and product hires, many can relate to their own struggles with trying to purchase a house, and the idea of building a better process goes a long way.” 

Back in New Hampshire, Foglia Brandy said that her firm does a lot with its social media channels in an attempt to attract younger talent.

“We have a really active Facebook page and our social media team is really working to grow our TikTok,” Foglia Brandy explained. “Of course we would love people with experience, but if we find someone who is inexperienced but who is willing to learn and is the right culture fit, we are willing to train them.”

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