I like Mike. Mike sells title insurance and he is proud of it. With the vast amount of negative press the title industry has seen in past few years, that isn't always something that is easy to admit. Whenever someone asks what I do for a living, I look around to make sure it's safe before I announce that I am a title insurance agent. Then... I prepare to duck for cover. People didn't used to know what that was. Now, thanks to the media, they "know" that the title industry is full of crooks! But, Mike has the right perspective and as the president elect of ALTA maybe he will be able to effectuate positive change.
Meet Mike Pryor, president and CEO of Lenders Title Company in Little Rock Arkansas and president elect of ALTA.
"I provide a thorough and accurate search of the title, resolve ownership issues, provide lien records, keep the courthouse records accurate, collect unpaid child support, facilitate collection of government taxes and assessments, and require proper conveyances and acknowledgments. Its my work that keeps the housing market and the overall economy from being bogged down by inaccuracy, uncertainty and fraud. "
"Our industry is constantly being criticized for our low claims payout, but I salute every title insurance agent that has made that happen. It's our good work that keeps our customers, our friends and our neighbors from experiencing claims. We have done our jobs."
Mike recognizes that our industry has those whose bad practices should be eliminated. And, he knows the importance of the process. He seems to realize that only a "thorough and accurate" search of the title can protect our friends and neighbors from unnecessary title claims. That is great - ALTA needs someone who understands all of these things about our industry.
It is my understanding that ALTA rotates the president's position each year between an underwriter representative and an independent agent. The current ALTA president, Gary Kermott, is a First American executive. I'm not so sure he understands the importance of a reliable title search. After all, First American is the "innovator" that has brought our industry the "one-minute title search" and the "thin title plants" created by cheap labor in India. Anyone who has ever been forced to endure customer service or tech support calls to India has experienced the problems that the language barrier creates. Yet, those are the people indexing the records many title policies rely on.
First American was also a pioneer of the short search for title insurance purposes. They have constantly been lowering the standards for the requirements of a title search to meet the weak abilities of their "automated" and "thin title plants." First American doesn't understand what a "through and accurate" search is... but, I think Mike does.
Mike is entering a culture dominated by the underwriters who have been proponents of weaker title standards - weaker title standards that do not provide the same value to our friends and neighbors. A culture that has foregone traditional title standards in favor of faster, cheaper title searches. A culture that is seeing title insurance claims rising. And, if I'm correct, we will see claims continue to rise as more and more policies are issued based on "instant" title searches.
It will be interesting to see how a "traditional title guy" does at the helm of ALTA. Mike will have the opportunity to attract many of the small agents and abstractors back to ALTA if he can reach out to the disillusioned and disenfranchised who left (or never joined) because of the perception that ALTA is merely a mouthpiece of the "Big 5." But, that will be no easy task - trying to buck that trend will be akin to rolling a snowball up a mountain.
Small agents and abstractors seem to be very upset by the changes that have taken place in our industry over the past decade. Instant title products and Affiliated Business Arrangements have been devastating to many of the small businesses in our industry. Though there doesn't seem to be much benefit to the consumers, they have found a place among the underwriters and large agents. The big companies are getting bigger by cutting their costs and creating captive clients, but the consumers aren't seeing any savings. Instead, the dominance of the big companies has come at the expense of their smaller competitors as they slowly erode the options of consumers.
Changing the status quo may not be possible. I'm not expecting any miracles. Still, I like Mike. It will be interesting to see what he does at the helm of ALTA.
Robert A. Franco
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