Wow! It has been an overwhelming past year-and-a-half, particularly with the pandemic and everything that came with it. I’m thankful to work in an essential business area – namely, the real estate field.
Prior to joining Alliant National, I worked at eRecording Partners Network (ePN) for eight years. They’re one of the main electronic document recording service providers. The other main vendors are CSC, Indecomm and Simplifile.
Document recording is one of the final steps in the real estate transaction process. Getting real estate documents officially on record with counties is essential to the successful completion of a transaction. This process includes traditional recording of paper documents, as well as electronic document recording (eRecording for short).
eRecording started back in 1999 and it uses technology that’s now over 20 years old; some people are surprised by this. The eRecording process offers numerous benefits for title agents, other business submitters and counties. Turnaround times are reduced. Final policies are issued more quickly and the gap time is lessened. Some other benefits include: faster rejection resolution; streamlined electronic payments; the elimination of rejections for incorrect recording fee payments; compliance with industry best practices; and lender requirements and eco-friendliness. Plus, eRecording is more streamlined, secure, and cost-effective. As one title agent said to me a couple years ago, “It’s like going from the Flintstones to the Jetsons!”
But how does the process work exactly? Well, first it’s important to understand that eRecording is an “e-delivery” business service option for title companies, law firms, banks and other businesses that record land record documents frequently. It is not a service for one-time document recording. Once you have your documents executed and ready to record, eRecording is another option for document delivery, recording and return. County business customers can choose to pay postage, UPS, FedEx, a courier or an employee to deliver and return their paper documents. Or they can pay to eRecord them. Most eRecording vendors charge a few dollars per document. Some have other fees as well. Explore your options to ensure you are selecting an eRecording provider that best fits your unique business needs.
Getting started with eRecording is easy. Requirements are basic. You need a computer, a scanner, internet access and a web browser. You’ll also need to choose and sign up for a service with an eRecording vendor approved by counties where you record documents. Once your eRecording vendor sets up your login and account, you should be able to start eRecording immediately. Most counties typically have multiple approved eRecording vendor options. Most have approved ePN, CSC and Simplifile as eRecording vendor options. Sometimes Indecomm is included as well.
When you eRecord, the fees remain the same. eRecording vendors typically charge a fee per document; usually, this amounts to a few dollars. Some have adopted a “variable rate” approach based on volume and other factors. Some also charge additional sign-up, monthly or annual fees. Ask each vendor for their pricing options to gain a clear picture.
Today, eRecording is legal and available in 49 states, plus Washington, D.C. Vermont is the only state where eRecording isn’t yet legal. As of August 2021, almost 2,300 jurisdictions are eRecording nationwide. That’s about 88 percent by population. In about 15 states, 100 percent of the counties allow eRecording. Alliant National’s home state of Colorado is one of the states with eRecording available in 100 percent of its counties. The Property Records Industry Association (PRIA) is a great resource for state and county status for eRecording. Many state and/or county recording associations also provide information on eRecording availability, as well as contact info for each county recording office.
Due in big part to the COVID-19 pandemic, use of eRecording sky-rocketed in 2020. Shortly after the pandemic hit in March of 2020, things changed for everyone. At the county level, offices closed or had limited access. Some Recorder offices closed completely for a time or tried to continue operations by working remotely. It was a challenging period, and for a time, there seemed to be a lull in eRecording activity in county offices. In some cases, operations still aren’t back to where they were pre-pandemic. But thankfully, as we got toward the latter part of last year, we started to see a rise in county adoption of eRecording once again.
Now you may be asking, what about recording turnaround times? Pre-pandemic, it was pretty safe to estimate same day or next day eRecording by counties. And in many cases, it wasn’t uncommon for counties to turn documents around within a couple hours or less. However, during the pandemic, turnaround times increased in many counties, and at times dramatically. Situations, of course, varied. Sometimes, both traditional recording and eRecording were affected. In others, traditional recording was affected, but eRecording wasn’t affected as much. Over the course of the past year-and-a-half, we’ve seen improvements. I’m sure that those of you “in the trenches” and involved with getting documents recorded have seen and experienced fluctuations and changes in recording turnaround times. But I can say with confidence that eRecording certainly helps with recording turnaround overall.
Over the past decade, eRecording has received more attention due to regulatory changes (CFPB and TRID), more stringent requirements on lenders and, in turn, on their service providers – including those that record documents with counties. ALTA released its best practices in early 2013, which included a call for faster delivery, tracking and timely response to rejections. PRIA also released their TRID Informational Paper and their eRecording Best Practices for Recorders in 2015. These documents cover items like accepting all document types, allowing multiple eRecording vendors, imaging and making eRecording easy for their business customers, among others.
While there are now almost 15 states with 100 percent eRecording, there are others that are close to the 100 percent mark. To gain a complete picture of each state’s status, PRIA put together a helpful map. Some states are working on legislation that would mandate that all counties make eRecording available by a certain date. My home state of Ohio is one of them. I know that Indiana, Kentucky and others are working on legislation as well.
As of July 2021, about 88 percent of the U.S. population lives in eRecording jurisdictions. Counties continue to come online with eRecording or expand their services by adding more eRecording document types. Counties, eRecording submitter vendors, underwriters, and industry associations like ALTA, PRIA and state associations, continue to raise awareness and promote eRecording. If eRecording is not yet available in counties where you conduct business, please ask your county recording office how soon they will offer eRecording or when they’ll start eRecording deeds and let them know that you are interested to explore the benefits of this technology.
For more information on eRecording, here are the websites for eRecording vendors that service counties across the U.S.:
Bob Grohol is AVP & State Manager Ohio, Penn. & Mich., with Alliant National Title Insurance Company. He can be reached at 440-228-0826 or BGrohol@AlliantNational.com.
Stay on the right side of the law while promoting your agency
Let’s face it: producing content can get tiring. Whether it be written or visual, each project requires time and talent. When you’re running a business, every moment is precious. It can be tempting to grab assets wherever you can find them.
While we exist in a copy-and-paste digital environment, copyright and copyright infringement have not gone away. In fact, with technologies like search robots and web-crawling spiders, it is now easier than ever to track down inappropriate uses of copyrighted material across the internet. Numerous people have received angry correspondence from giant corporations like Getty Images demanding that copyrighted material be taken down and for offenders to pay damages.
While that can sound scary, you still need to promote and market your business. Start by brushing up on some of the basics of copyright in the digital age. Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be better positioned to help your business while staying on the right side of the law.
What is Copyright Anyway?
Copyright protects creators from unlicensed actors taking original works and claiming them as their own. It covers literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, architectural, and other intellectual works. Federal copyright begins as soon as a work is in “tangible form,”[i] which can include it being on “a hard drive, computer disc, film or tape.”[ii]
Copyright is also automatically applied when a work is created, and creators are not required to declare their copyright for it to be in effect. Websites are also the copyrighted property of their respective owners, including “overall design, all links, original text, graphics, audio, video and any additional original elements.”[iii]
Alternatives to Infringement
When it comes to copyright, the internet is a double-edged sword: it provides a glut of content, but creative works cannot be used without explicit permission. Providing a disclaimer like “No copyright intended” or merely giving credit to the original creator does not magically make it okay to use.
There are, however, other ways to utilize some of the excellent works that are floating around on the information superhighway. Those might look like:
- Ask permission: It may seem silly or overly simple, but often the best way to leverage online creative assets for your agency is to ask the original creator. It may not work, particularly if you are using the asset for financial or business purposes, but it also might. The fact is that exposure is everything these days. By reaching out directly to an artist or writer with a compelling offer, such as guaranteeing to credit them and provide their work with a platform, you might receive permission to use their copyrighted material for your business.
- Look for royalty-free work: While all creative works automatically carry copyright, there are specific materials that are designated as “royalty-free,” which makes them free for a third party to use. The trick is knowing where to look. The Associated Press, for instance, has a cache of royalty-free imagery, as does Getty Images. There are also lesser-known sources, such as Pexels.
- Fair use: Fair use is a legal doctrine that allows for limited use of copyrighted material under highly specific circumstances. The use of copyrighted material is determined to be “fair use” depending on how it is interpreted through a four-point test. The four points include:
- The purpose and character of the use, including whether it is for a commercial nature or nonprofit, educational purpose;
- The nature of the copyrighted work;
- The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
- The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
To learn more about fair use, consult the U.S. Copyright Office.
- Public domain: Copyright infringement can, at times, feel onerous. Thankfully, copyright does not last forever. Currently, copyright lasts for the lifetime of the original author plus 70 additional years, while works made for hire enjoy copyright protection for 95 years following publication or 120 years following creation. You can find huge troves of public domain photos online, with this particular website being a great place to start.
- Creative Commons: One of the last ways that you access copyrighted works is through Creative Commons, which offers a variety of public licenses for creators to share their works. All licenses issued through Creative Commons stipulate that you credit the original creator, and some prohibit using their work for financial purposes. You can learn more about the specifics of Creative Commons by viewing its website.
Work Faster and Smarter
The internet made the world’s scholarly, scientific and artistic resources available to creators across the planet. But despite this accessibility, creative work remains protected by copyright, meaning that, as an agency owner, you still need to be mindful of the assets you’re leveraging for promotional content. The good news is that there are other methods for obtaining wonderful creative materials that can enhance your marketing work. From simply asking permission to utilizing the Creative Commons, it is still possible to use the internet and its inexhaustible content to work faster and smarter for both yourself and your agency.
*This blog post is issued for informational purposes only and is not intended to be construed or used as legal advice.
[i] Copyright Protection on the Internet: Everything to Know (upcounsel.com)
Ransomware attacks are on the rise. Don’t let yourself become a victim.
For anyone with a passing awareness of IT trends, ransomware is the hot topic of the day. From the Colonial Pipeline attack to the JBS Holdings attack, ransomware attacks are becoming more brazen, more destructive and more frequent. According to recent data, this cybercrime is expected to grow by a staggering 15 percent per year, until it reaches 10.5 trillion dollars in 2025. For comparison’s sake, the entire GDP of the United States in 2019 was 21.43 trillion dollars.
Of course, independent title insurance agencies are much smaller than a gigantic oil pipeline system or food processing company. But that doesn’t mean they are immune from being targeted by bad actors or that they will stay under the radar of cybercriminals by default. Smaller companies are also at risk and need to take steps to protect themselves and their operations from ransomware.
Here is what you need to know about this particularly destructive cybercrime.
What is Ransomware?
Ransomware is a type of malware. True to its name, it blocks access to systems, devices, files or data until a ransom is paid. It’s important to note, however, that there are many different variations of ransomware. There is crypto ransomware, where malware encrypts a system’s files; wiper ransomware, where it threatens to erase files; or locker ransomware, where it blocks access to a system entirely. Ransomware also often includes communication from the criminal, a demand for financial payment – typically in the form of Bitcoin.
How Do Ransomware Attacks Occur?
Ransomware is delivered in a variety of ways. Some of its delivery mechanisms can include malicious attachments or links sent in an email; a network intrusion; being dropped by another malware infection; or by being wormable, where it spreads laterally via flash drives or Windows shortcut (LNK) files.
Why Be Aware of Ransomware?
Ransomware is a chronic and escalating problem. Not only do attacks appear to be happening more frequently, but their impact is also growing. In 2019, for instance, ransomware tore through 750 government computers in Texas. Earlier in 2021, the Colonial Pipeline got shaken down for nearly $5 million in ransom. Also this year, the computer giant Acer was attacked, with the threat of actors demanding a $50 million payment – the largest known ransom to date.
The ransoms that follow these types of attacks are not the only losses these companies experience. Ransomware also results in significant downtime for a company, which can cause havoc for an organization’s bottom line, not to mention their brand and reputation.
How Do You Protect Yourself?
As with many cyber initiatives, developing an effective and robust defense against ransomware requires an all-hands-on-deck approach and strong organizational buy-in. It is imperative for companies to develop, implement and enforce cybersecurity policies across all departments. Such policies should include guidance and training for how to spot malicious emails and report suspicious activity. In addition, businesses can change default passwords at network access points, routinely apply software patches to keep systems current and segment networks to make it harder for a criminal to roam across your entire digital ecosystem.
Now is the Time for Action
With the prevalence of breaches and cyber-attacks, conducting business online can feel like the Wild West: you just never know what is going to happen. But there is truth in the adage that the best defense is a good offense.
With ransomware attacks growing in both size and scope, now is the time to take proactive, preventative action to discourage bad actors or make your enterprise more resistant to cybercrime. Nobody can eliminate the prospect of ransomware attacks. But by taking strong action before a problem arises, you will greatly reduce the possibility of being attacked and keep your operations running as smoothly as ever.
 The increase in ransomware attacks during the COVID-19 pandemic may lead to a new internet (theconversation.com)
 United States of America – Place Explorer – Data Commons
Many independent title professionals who run agencies are already overtaxed. From managing personnel to overseeing marketing, HR and billing, they have little time to take on new responsibilities.
Still, gaining an understanding of the basic principles of graphic design is a valuable use of any business owner’s time. In a world of unlimited content, your messaging, accompanied by vivid graphics, helps you stand out from the crowd. You can always find a talented designer, but understanding the basics and handling even small designing tasks can save you money and time.
More importantly, doing so has a net positive impact on your brand. Here are a few tips to help get you started.
Color is a cornerstone of graphic design, dramatically impacting how we think and feel about a brand. Think, “Coca-Cola.” Do you immediately see red and white in its logo? Establishing a compelling color palette, and then learning to pair your colors effectively, can go a long way toward creating visual messages that are memorable, emotional and impactful.
To start building your mix of brand colors, hop online. A cursory search produces tutorials and resources. Canva, for example, has put together a terrific primer on why color matters, how different hues convey different emotions, as well as what different colors mean and how to start putting together a comprehensive palette. A number of blogs take a deep dive into the matter. This particular post is especially helpful and explanatory.
The font family you select for your brand should be as intentional. Like color, your brand’s typeface communicates many things to your audience – although typically this works on a more subliminal level than a color palette. Think about the tone or purpose of your company’s brand when making your selection, ensuring that your font reflects that core identity.
For instance, perhaps you want to position your agency as a sleek, forward-thinking and, most of all, modern brand. You probably won’t want to pick a big cumbersome font like Impact or an antiquated text like Copperplate Gothic. Instead, you would want to consider something elegant-looking and clean, like Avenir Next LT Pro and Gill Sans Nova. Similarly, if you want to present a knowledgeable and professional image, you won’t want to use an ornate or playful font like Algerian or Modern Love. Instead, you should perhaps select Helvetica or Myriad Pro.
As with brand colors, there are innumerable online resources that can help you understand the theory behind the font family selection process. Do your reading and give careful consideration before moving forward.
When making these decisions about your company’s colors or fonts, keep in mind the critical nature of contrast. Your color palette should include complimentary hues but also colors that draw a sharp contrast with one another, allowing for designs to be more vivid and powerful.
The same principle holds for fonts. When designs only feature a single font, a piece of collateral can quickly become stale-looking or stodgy. Incorporating a secondary font that differs wildly from your primary font can overcome this challenge, providing you with greater flexibility when laying out information.
Images are everything when it comes to design. Without pictures, you often have little to work with so use them with gusto! Capitalize on images to break up walls of text. This tip is particularly useful for title insurance agency owners. While you may not be creating a lot of graphic design collateral on your own, you almost certainly will have a website you have to update. Data shows that pictures make web pages more inviting, less intimidating and raise the probability that visitors will take desired action.
When sourcing pictures, be sure you have the right to use the image. There are a variety of royalty-free websites you can use for graphics. Pexels ranks as one of the best. Using a picture you don’t have permission to use can subject you and your agency to financial penalties — even litigation.
Pictures represent an important design consideration, but ample whitespace is equally as important. Whitespace matters because every element you add to an image increases the risk that your collateral could look cluttered and disorganized. Whenever possible, aspire to keep designs clean and orderly – and whitespace can be an invaluable tool.
A New Tool in Your Toolbelt
We know title insurance professionals, particularly those who have a responsibility to an entire firm, hardly have an easy time managing everything on their plate. To learn a new skill or understand a newsubject is a tall order. But increasing your knowledge of graphic design is not just an intellectual exercise. It is a valuable endeavor that can save you real-time and money.
After you have internalized the above principles, put them into practice. Take advantage of the many online exercises, templates and frameworks, and start experimenting with some small design projects. You will be glad you did. This knowledge base can only benefit your business, ensuring that your brand stands out from the crowd and possibly even netting you new business as a result.
Your brand doesn’t begin and end with your logo.
What makes a strong brand? If you’re asking that question, rest assured, you are not alone. While many people are aware that a company’s “brand” includes its logos and colors, other aspects of the branding process may not be quite so familiar. Just the fact that you are thinking about branding at all deserves a pat on the back. Your brand is probably your agency’s most valuable intangible asset. It can help establish your competitive difference. On the other hand, a poorly thought-out brand can harm your reputation.
Building a strong brand, however, can quickly get complicated; it’s easy to get lost in the weeds. Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to strengthen your brand that are relatively straightforward. Ready to learn more? Then let’s begin.
What is Branding?
Originally, branding was the practice of marking cattle or material goods. Later, in the middle ages, it evolved with the introduction of watermarks. During the Industrial Revolution, proprietors began placing distinguishing marks on generic, mass-produced goods to give them an appeal for consumers accustomed to locally produced products. By the late 19th century, branding had been developed enough as a field that legislation was passed to protect corporate investment. In the 20th century, the development of the field ramped up even further, with corporations introducing slogans and mascots, and taking advantage of new communication mediums such as radio and television.
Creating a memorable logo and visual palette can help your company leave a powerful first impression and separate it from the competition. All strong logos include several elements. A logo should reflect the nature of your business. It should use colors in an intentional manner that communicates aspects of your company’s personality. The fonts you select also need to work well with its other visual elements. Lastly, all logos should strike a careful balance between being distinctive and being simple enough for easy replication across a wide variety of marketing materials.
Of course, logo design is easier said than done. And if you are running an independent agency, funds may be too limited to pay for a graphic designer. Thankfully, there are now several sites online that can assist you in creating a professional DIY logo either for free or for a manageable price.
If you want a strong brand, then you must have a strong “brand promise,” a short, simple statement that outlines what consumers can expect from your company. A brand promise describes the products and services you provide, as well as the impact they will have on your customers’ lives. The purpose of a brand promise is two-fold. Once again, it helps your company create a positive and lasting impact on a consumer, concisely communicating what you can do for them. It also acts as a unifying force, clarifying a company’s scope and focuses, and helping lay the groundwork for other parts of the branding process.
Successful branding can’t happen in a vacuum. Instead, it must be infused into all aspects of an organization’s output. This brings us to brand voice – the tone in which a brand communicates. Establishing a memorable brand voice is a terrific way to give your company personality, but it also requires careful thought and consideration.
Not all tones are right for all brands. For instance, if you are cancer research company, it is probably not appropriate to communicate in a casual or jokey tone. Similarly, if you sell board games, you likely don’t want to project a stodgy air. Find the tone that works well for you and master communicating within its structures. Don’t forget that the strength of your brand voice hinges on it being adopted company-wide. All employees must be educated on the particulars of the company’s voice, and you could consider creating a style guide or full-scale brand book that they can use as a reference for any questions.
Your brand positioning statement describes your position in the marketplace. More importantly, this statement is your opportunity to describe further how you differ from your competitors and why consumers should choose to work with you over another provider. A well-written brand positioning statement involves a keen understanding of your target audience, knowledge of your core competitors, compelling use of your value proposition and evidence that you can deliver on your brand promise.
Let’s Start Branding!
Now that you have an understanding of some of the core aspects of branding, you should be ready to start putting it all together. While this list of steps is by no means comprehensive, by developing your brand aesthetics, promise, voice and positioning statement, you will have a great start on creating a distinctive identity for your business and a leg-up on your competitors.