Alliant National salutes a title industry giant.
Like many industries, title insurance is a diverse field with individuals from all walks of life. However, if there is one experience many title professionals could say they share it is being impacted by Curt Niehoff during their careers. Affable and hardworking, well respected and generous, Curt was a force for good in the title industry for more than 40 years. His passing on May 2nd, 2023, leaves a major hole within the industry and is a significant loss for all who were lucky enough to know him.
“Curt was a gentle giant,” said David D. Lanaux, Owner and President of Title Professionals of Florida and a good friend of Curt’s for over 40 years. “He was big in stature, but he was also big in heart. The title industry has lost a great man.”
Curt Niehoff was born in 1954 in the tiny town of Carlyle, Illinois, located approximately 50 miles outside of St. Louis, Missouri. The only son of Robert Niehoff and Anne Wahl, Curt gained an early appreciation for the world of title insurance through his father, Robert, who was a past Vice President and Western Agency Manager for Chicago National Title Insurance Company. After graduating from Clearwater High School, Curt attended the University of South Florida before pursuing the title insurance business upon completing his studies. This launched a career that would last for over four decades and earn him a sterling reputation amongst his friends, customers and co-workers.
In the 1980s, Curt took his career to the next level when he was hired to help start-up several title insurance companies that were moving their operations to Florida. He made incredible contributions to the overall success of several of these firms, including Fortune 200 companies like TransAmerica Title Insurance Company and TRW Title Insurance Company. As his career progressed, he also served as a state agency representative for Ticor Title Insurance Company, Commonwealth Land Title Insurance Company, United General Title Insurance Company, Lawyers Title Insurance Company and Fidelity National Title Insurance Company.
The turn of the century brought Curt to one of the most important personal and professional moments of his life. In 2000, he met Cathy Rairigh, the founder of Island Title Services, Inc. within the Tampa Bay area. The pair fell in love and ran the company together until Curt’s passing. Pairing great customer service with consummate professionalism and authentic care for others, they built a company that won them the respect of many. Outside of work, Curt enjoyed an enviable personal life as well, indulging in his great love of music, cheering on the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Tampa Bay Lightning, and caring for his dogs: Sailor and Dakota.
At around this time, Curt was also serving as an important advocate for the industry and a staunch antagonist of legislation that adversely impacted the state’s title agents. Curt waged, along with many other title professionals, an important battle against the “Butler Rebate” rule as just one example. Although the effort was in vain, his dedication to the cause was unsurpassed. Stemming from a Florida Supreme Court case from 2000, many believed that the Rebate might threaten insurer solvency. Curt’s efforts, along with many others, to prevent its implementation spoke directly to his passion for the industry and those who work within it.
In 2014, as Florida legislators debated the promulgation rule enacting “data call” requirements for title insurers, Curt once again acted alongside others as a vanguard for the field’s interests. The data call rule requires title agencies to submit records of their business transactions to the Florida Department of State. During that period, Curt drove from Tampa to Tallahassee once every 30 days to attend panel meetings and provide valuable input to protect the title agent from any negative side effects from the legislation. While Curt was not on the panel itself, he was instrumental in lobbying the legislature to protect the industry and those who rely upon it.
In addition to his lobbying work and advocacy for the industry, Curt was a huge believer in nurturing the next generation of title talent. He possessed a preternatural ability to identify promising young prospects and would routinely push for the hiring of young professionals. He always led by example, as well, never requiring anyone to do anything that he wouldn’t do himself. He would also frequently go above and beyond for those lucky enough to cross his path. As David Lanaux notes when discussing his own mentorship experiences with Curt:
“I knew nothing about title insurance when I met Curt in 1982,” says Mr. Lanaux. “I met him once, for two hours while visiting a friend in Tampa. He called me when I got back to New Orleans and talked me into moving to Tampa to take a job in the business. I learned everything from Curt that I needed to know to succeed in the industry.”
“Having worked with Island Title Services for many years, everyone at Alliant National had the opportunity to witness first-hand Curt’s generosity, his care for his community and, of course, his raw industry expertise,” said Debra Coffie, SVP and Alliant National Florida Regional Manager. “There is no doubt our field has been left poorer through his passing.”
For anyone who has built and maintained a career across multiple decades, the question of legacy will often loom large. But in Curt Niehoff’s case, there is no question that he not only lived up to the example set by his father, Robert Niehoff, but also added his own special and unique contributions to the field. Curt believed wholeheartedly in the promise of the industry, not to mention the essential role it plays for individuals looking to build lasting financial security in America. For Curt, title insurance was about far more than paper pushing or title searches, it was about helping facilitate the lasting dreams of individuals, families and communities.
“We didn’t just lose another title professional. The industry lost an advocate, a believer and a consummate professional,” said Lanaux, while summing up Curt and his impact. “Curt was loved and respected by many. He will be missed and remembered by all who had the pleasure of knowing him.”
Brianna Steel is a seasoned escrow officer, having worked for a variety of title companies throughout Florida. Her years of experience served her well recently when a suspicious transaction came across her desk at Coastal Title Insurance. By trusting her instincts, collaborating with her team, and following best practices, she was able to stop a fraudulent deal from going forward. She was recognized by Alliant National through its crime watch program, which incentivizes anti-fraud efforts by offering agents a $1,000 reward.
Numerous red flags
At first, the transaction in question appeared to be a normal purchase order. Initiated by someone claiming to be “a representative” of the property owner, Steel and the rest of the Coastal Title team got started on the file as soon as they received a request from the lender.
Yet according to Steel, it didn’t take long for red flags to emerge:
- Red flag 1: The contract was missing a signature. The representative promised both Steel and Coastal Title that it was coming, but excuses kept piling up, such as the seller being unavailable. While this was suspicious, Coastal Title continued working on the file to ensure that there were no delays, while repeatedly asking the representative to complete the paperwork.
- Red flag 2: Steel and Coastal Title were asked to “split” the proceeds with non-owners/non-lien holders.
- Red flag 3: Document signatures did not match other signatures available in the public records – a huge warning sign.
- Red flag 4: All communication was conducted through one person claiming to be “assisting” the parties involved in the order.
Further complicating matters was questionable behavior on the part of the transaction’s so-called “representative.” For one thing, the representative instructed Coastal Title to wire the transaction payment to several different accounts – including one belonging to the representative – which Steel responded that they couldn’t do.
All these suspicions were eventually confirmed when Steel made a call to the supposed seller. The property’s owner informed Coastal Title that the person who had been claiming to be her representative had been terminated and had no authority to speak for her on anything.
A strong team and the right policies
In reflecting on this experience, Steel had several insights. She noted that fraud can only be prevented through productive collaboration.
“At the end of the day, it comes down to talking with everyone in your office and sharing any concerns or even weird feelings about a file,” Steel said. “We are also very strict on following the rules and guidelines for preventing fraud.”
Steel listed some of Coastal Title’s fraud prevention policies:
- Never accept wire instructions via email.
- Never send unsecured wire instructions. No exceptions. If a client gets upset, explain that the policy exists for their protection.
- Call all clients and speak with them directly for introductions. This helps ensure communication with the correct person. Steel noted that a lot of fraud takes place via email and fraudsters try to not answer the phone.
- All employees must complete annual Continuing Education classes on fraud, even if they are not licensed.
- Inform colleagues when a phishing email is received. This helps all staff members avoid accidentally opening a malicious email.
- Show bogus emails to other employees so they can see things in real time. This has advantages over simply looking at fake emails in lender portals.
Another integral part of this collaboration involves Alliant National.
“Sometimes we are on autopilot and overlook the small red flags and warnings,” Steel noted, adding that Alliant National’s Crime Watch program “incentivizes people to take a closer look at their day-to-day tasks.”
Fighting Fraud: Challenging and Rewarding
As we’ve seen, beating fraudsters at their game is not easy, and it is often only possible through strong collaboration. Yet the time, effort and energy are worth it in the end. Thinking back on her experience, Steel noted that fraud isn’t always obvious.
“It’s surreal and infuriating […] but it’s also not as black and white as we would like to think.” Steel said. “Florida has an aging population and a lot of vacation homes. It is not uncommon for someone to be ‘helping’ a seller through the process. But it is also extremely rewarding to stop these transactions and to protect the real seller and future buyers.”
That’s one reason why Steel was eager to participate in this blog. By sharing information on best practices for protecting transactions, she can continue the collaboration far beyond the walls of Coastal Title. When asked if she had any final advice for title professionals involved in anti-fraud efforts, she shared:
- Trust your gut and talk with your team.
- If you have an intake person or processor complaining they can’t get a seller on the phone, listen to them.
- Look at the signatures on the contract and the last recorded document. If it was e-signed, make sure the email address on the verification is the same you are using.
- If you have a suspicious file, ask for someone else in your office to look at it and see if they notice the same inconsistencies.
- Don’t “call out” the person that you’re concerned about; instead, ask questions and play dumb. See if you can trip them up. If fraud is confirmed, share the information with your whole office and all your underwriters.
- At the end of the day, knowledge and awareness are key and will make all the difference.
If you want more information on how Alliant National incentivizes agents to detect and prevent fraud, check out our crime watch program.
In the fiercely competitive realm of title insurance, where underwriters often prioritize their own interests, one exceptional individual stands out for her unwavering dedication to putting Agents First: Donna Slomins, SVP, Senior Agency Manager at Alliant National. With more than four decades of experience and an unparalleled commitment to serving agents, Donna has played a pivotal role in building Alliant National’s Florida operations from the ground up. Her remarkable contributions have left an indelible mark on both the company and the agents she serves.
Donna’s remarkable journey in the title insurance field began long before joining Alliant National. With previous experience working for large underwriters, she was determined to find an organization that genuinely prioritized the well-being of its agents. Thirteen years ago, Donna’s quest led her to Alliant National, where she saw a rare chance to live her passion. As Donna simply puts it: “I chose to work for Alliant National because they allowed me to do what’s in the best interest of our agents.”
Donna’s unwavering dedication to the success of agents has been the driving force behind the company’s remarkable success in the Florida market. However, establishing trust among agents who had never heard of the company was no easy feat during Alliant National’s early days in the state.
“All my agents trusted me enough to sign with Alliant when we were just getting started and no one knew who Alliant was,” Donna remembers. “I was able to overcome the challenge and I succeeded growing the business in Florida based on their trust and loyalty.”
Debra Coffie, Florida Region Manager, was also among those tasked with building Alliant National’s Florida operations in the early days, and she remembers Donna’s contributions.
“Donna Slomins’ dedication to putting Agents First is truly exceptional. She was the first Agency Manager in Florida, covering the whole state in the beginning, and was part of the driving force behind our success in growing the Florida Region,” Debra says. “Donna has built deep trust and loyalty among our agents. Her personal connections with agents, her tireless efforts, and her ability to relate well to their challenges make her an invaluable asset to Alliant National.”
Today, Donna’s commitment to putting Agents First still requires a level of personal dedication that goes beyond the ordinary.
“Every day I strive to solve difficult problems and make life easier for our agents. Without them we have nothing,” Donna says, adding that she forges deep connections with her agents, spending time with them outside the office and connecting on multiple levels. To Donna, her agents are not just clients; they are friends and extended family. She understands their challenges and is driven to find solutions that make their jobs easier.
“I have worked or managed almost every aspect of our business, so I can relate well to my agents and their challenges,” Donna noted. “I work tirelessly to make them a priority, no matter the need.”
In today’s ever-evolving business landscape, agents encounter many challenges, particularly in navigating complex technologies. Debra notes that Donna sees each challenge as an opportunity.
“Donna leads by example and embraces challenges as opportunities for improvement, making a positive impact in the lives of her agents. She is a fierce advocate for the agent and partners with them to find a solution for each challenge.”
Donna’s deep experience and exceptional instincts have helped Alliant National in other ways. She shares a powerful moment when her intuition guided her to uncover and prevent a major defalcation.
“Something was keeping me up at night even when everything looked good on paper, I put everything on the line and would not give up,” Donna said. “In the end my gut was right.”
Donna’s achievements at Alliant National have been instrumental in driving the company’s success in Florida and beyond. However, it is the profound impact she has on the lives of her agents that truly fuels Donna’s passion for her job.
“Every day is an opportunity to be better and to make my agents better.” Donna affirms. “Whatever the challenge is, I am up for it and will give it my all.”
Donna Slomins is the epitome of an Agents First advocate, leading by example and making a positive impact in the lives of her agents. Her dedication, intuition, and unwavering commitment have propelled Alliant National to new heights, while ensuring that agents receive the support and care they deserve. Donna’s personal journey and extraordinary contributions serve as an inspiration to all who strive to prioritize the needs of agents above all else.
As part of its mission to provide valuable help to title industry stakeholders, Alliant National has launched a program incentivizing agencies to report any suspected instances of fraud. Firms that do so are eligible to receive a $1,000 reward.
Since its inception, the program has proven to be a model for how underwriters and agencies can work together to prevent financial malfeasance within the industry and help lower premiums. In the past year alone, Alliant National and its agents have successfully averted over $1.8 million in liability costs.
Those results carried over into 2023 with yet another successful example of how fraud can be effectively detected and prevented when different stakeholders work together proactively and in tandem. Marion Lake Sumter Title, an agency based out of Ocala, Fla., recently noticed a potentially fraudulent transaction regarding a roughly half acre plot of vacant land valued at $20,000. As per the agency’s protocol, Marion Lake contacted the seller about the sale and instructed them to call their office if anything was amiss and if they were not, in fact, selling the property. The agency’s suspicions turned out to be correct, as the owner called back immediately, provided two valid forms of photographic identification and scheduled a video conference call to discuss the matter. Conversely, the fraudulent seller was asked for the same items and never responded.
“As soon as we received a call from the real seller, we notified our underwriter as well as both real estate agents on the transaction,” said Heather Pierport, Manager, Licensed Escrow Agent and Post Closer at Marion Lake Sumter Title, who initially identified the suspicious transaction. When asked about why fraud detection and prevention programs are important, she said, “These types of transactions are emotionally draining and can put agents in a depressive state. Programs like Alliant National’s help keep morale up when dealing with fraudsters.”
“Heather has been instrumental in keeping our underwriting team updated on both the fraudulent seller schemes and fraudulent checks they have encountered. I wish we could clone them!” said Lisa Yates, AVP, Agent Training Manager, Fla., for Alliant National, when discussing the incident.
Lisa then addressed Marion Lake Sumter’s anti-fraud efforts more broadly: “The way they strive for attention to detail and research each order is such a benefit to customers, underwriters and the title industry as a whole. Heather and her team have the best ‘trust your gut’ reactions to questionable transactions. As fraud continues to plague our industry, it is very important to double-check transaction details to make sure they all match-up.”
For her part, Heather concurred with how important it is to catch fraud before it occurs for the larger title insurance industry, taking the time to explain how continuing education and digital solutions have also made a positive difference: “We are constantly learning about the latest fraud trends. We also use Positive Pay to catch fraudulent checks that may try to post to our escrow account. This November, for example, we had almost $90,000 in fraudulent checks try to come through our account. With Positive Pay, I rejected those items, and we never lost any funds. I truly believe that solution should be a requirement for every escrow account.”
Learn more about Alliant National’s fraud detection and rewards program.
Longmont, Colo. – (May 09, 2022) – Alliant National Title Insurance Company, the title insurer that is uniquely responsive to the needs of independent agents, announces the hiring of Justin Tate-Johnson as National Production Manager.
Tate-Johnson is a highly skilled professional with extensive experience in real estate, title insurance, closings and escrow. He has spent years working in title search and examination in both agency and underwriter roles and has led production and technology teams to develop unique, agent-focused solutions.
At Alliant National, Tate-Johnson will focus on implementing a nationwide title production solution that will connect agents with fast, reliable title abstracts and commitments to help streamline their processes and develop new efficiencies. He looks forward to helping the title insurance industry accelerate its technology adoption and digital transformation. He is also passionate about helping agents go from contract to close as effectively as possible and enjoys assisting them in solving or avoiding problems.
“Alliant National checks all the boxes of what I was looking for. With its underwriting capabilities and positive, tech-driven culture, Alliant National has developed a powerful reputation as a premier underwriter,” said Tate-Johnson. “I am thrilled to join a customer-focused company that never competes against agents, not to mention work with such an amazing team. I am looking forward to watching Alliant National grow its market share to ensure the independent agent wins.”
“Having Justin join our team is a huge achievement for Alliant National,” said Debra Coffie, SVP, Florida Regional Manager. “He is a true industry talent, with knowledge and experience that is deeply impressive. With his forward-thinking mindset, technical acumen and diverse skillsets, there is no doubt that Justin will play an important role in not only our current operations but our future growth.”
“Alliant National is committed to continually innovating processes and operations to deliver maximum benefit to our agents,” said David Sinclair, President and CEO of Alliant National. “By bringing Justin on board, we are better positioned than ever to align the various technology solutions used by our agents and quickly deliver scalable, integrated title production.”
Tate-Johnson is also a licensed Florida title agent. He lives in the Fort Lauderdale area with his wife and child.
Alliant National supports its independent agents by combining expert residential and
commercial underwriting with a passionate heart for service. The company delivers
uncommon help that promotes the wellbeing of agents and the communities they serve.
Visit alliantnational.com for additional information.
Capital City Public Relations
ABOUT ALLIANT NATIONAL TITLE INSURANCE COMPANY
Alliant National is on a mission to empower independent agents while protecting property owners with secure title insurance. The company partners with its agents and never competes against them with direct or affiliate operations. Alliant National serves thousands of title professionals as a licensed underwriter in 30 states and the District of Columbia.