Posts Tagged ‘title agents’

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How To Team Build Year Round

There is no off-season for building effective teams.

In our working lives, we hear a lot of chatter about team building. Yet, even though it is widely acknowledged that strong teams are the cornerstone of successful businesses, the exact mechanisms for how you build them are less clear-cut.  

For Stacy Stolen, HR Director at Alliant National, creating an environment where staff feel connected, safe and collaborative requires a holistic, year-round approach. She shared insights on how to successfully implement team building in your organization for impactful results.Team building: A critically important conceptWhile incredibly important, team building can sometimes feel cliché and superficial, evoking images of trust falls and three-legged races. Yet when done correctly and with genuine, year-round commitment, few things can be as impactful for creating high- functioning organizations. But why exactly should you prioritize team building? “The lone wolf is becoming an endangered species,” said Stolen, when discussing the subject. “From health care to hospitality, startups to big business, teamwork has become the favored way to get things done.” This view is echoed by those who study team building. “The world is so complex, no one person has the skills or knowledge to accomplish all that we want to accomplish,” says Susan McDaniel, PhD, a psychologist at the University of Rochester Medical Center who is known for her scholarship on team-based work. “Interdisciplinary teams are the way to make that happen.”[i]Here are some of the tangible benefits agencies can realize through investing in team building: ·         Enhanced collaboration: When teams understand and trust one another, it becomes easier to communicate openly and honestly, which reduces silos and promotes alignment.

  • Better employee morale and retention: Meaningful team building promotes safety, camaraderie, and care. This can lead to lower turnover and higher retention. Higher productivity and profitability: Close-knit teams promote the free exchange of ideas and faster, more impactful feedback, which results in higher productivity and profitability.Improved organizational culture: Team building creates a more affirming, positive and compelling culture. When teams like, respect and collaborate well with one another, businesses enjoy easier recruitment and competitive advantage in the market.
  • How to Team Build Year Round Clearly, team building can deliver big benefits, but establishing a year-round team building program can be a tall order, especially at a busy agency. Still, there is no need to feel overwhelmed, says Stolen. “Begin by breaking it down into bite-size steps. Start by defining what teamwork means to your organization and do your research. Also, never take a ‘cookie cutter’ approach to teamwork. Make it your own and ensure it is a good fit for your team.”This last point is a critically important one, particularly when viewed in the context of remote work. “As a new manager, or first-time manager, you now have the unique freedom to choose talent from all over the world,” said Stolen. “But you also face an equally unique challenge: Leading a team who you may have never met in person. This includes building trust and camaraderie between people in different time zones.”But whatever type of team building program you land on, make sure it’s sustainable. Without easily repeatable plays, you won’t be able to continue nurturing a strong team at different points of the year. Keep it simple and do not overthink it. Some strategies aligned with this philosophy include:·         Build “buffer time” into your meetings that leaves time to chat openly and informally. ·         Do ice breakers/team builders at as many meetings as you can. This creates increased cooperation, builds trust and creates a sense of belonging.·         Create “team rituals,” repeated actions or activities unique to your team and help them bond. Rituals can be as simple as “Meme Monday,” where everyone shares an image or GIF that captures how their weekend went. ·         Avoid communication gaps by scheduling a daily stand-up meeting for people to share updates. This process can also be repeated over digital channels like Zoom.·         When it comes to meetings, share the pain. Consider the different time zones your teammates are in and rotate start times so that everyone has a few convenient meetings on their schedule.·         Create an Employee Resource Group.Team building can be difficult but well worth the effort Finding time to develop new initiatives at a busy title agency can be a formidable challenge. Yet the importance of well-executed team building can’t be understated. Sticking to these tips can help you create a well-honed operation that delivers results. Better yet, says Stolen, you’ll create an ideal environment that meets your team’s “individual work preferences and needs.”

    Crime watch banner above a picture of Florida's Cherie Breitenbecker and Gina Preston Brick City and Alliant National's Chris Yates.

    Fraud Busting with Brick City Title

    Brick City Title, a full-service title insurance agency, is a loyal member of the Ocala, Florida, business community and dedicated to protecting the integrity of its customers’ transactions. This commitment served them well recently when a fraudulent transaction came across the desks of two of the agency’s title professionals. By working together and proactively communicating with other transaction stakeholders, the agency foiled the fraudster and received recognition through Alliant National’s crime watch program, which offers a $1,000 reward to agents who help prevent a fraudulent transaction from closing.

    A suspicious package

    When the package first arrived from the buyer, Brick City Title’s Gina Preston and Cherie Breitenbecker felt like it was a step in the right direction. For some time, their agency had been attempting to collect a deposit from a cash buyer of a residential property who claimed to be conducting the deal through a trust.

    Any positive feelings quickly dissipated, however, once they opened the parcel. While the sales contract for the transaction was included, there was no form of currency. Instead, the buyer had tucked several postal stamps inside the package.

    Alarm bells

    Naturally, receiving such a bizarre item immediately set off alarm bells for Preston and Breitenbecker, especially since Brick City Title had repeatedly clarified to the buyer about which forms of payment the agency could accept. “If we feel or suspect anything unusual, we dig into available resources to resolve any possible fraudulent dealings,” said Preston, reflecting upon the incident. The next step for both professionals was to get on the horn to the buyer’s agent and reiterate which forms of payment were permissible – including a bank wire or a cashier’s check. A three-way call between the agent, Brick City Title and the buyer followed shortly after.

    Any title agent who has been in Preston’s and Breitenbecker’s shoes will likely be able to predict what happened next. The buyer was incensed about being called out for the package and that Brick City Title was asking for more information about the trust involved in executing the transaction. After some back and forth, the buyer clammed up and ended the call. Preston, Breitenbecker and Brick City Title then took stock of what happened. A consensus quickly emerged that the whole transaction was highly suspect. The experience of other parties in the transaction further supported this view, with both the agent and seller having their own misgivings about the buyer’s behavior and demeanor.

    The final step taken was to send the transaction materials to Alliant National and to subsequently cancel the transaction – much to the relief of all involved. “The seller wasn’t surprised this buyer was fraudulent,” said Preston when discussing the aftermath, “and was glad that we uncovered what we found and cancelled the transaction so that [they] could move on.”

    Lessons learned

    As with any fraudulent transaction, the experience of Brick City Title provides important takeaways. It showcases how agents must not only adhere to their companies’ policies and procedures but also follow their gut instincts. In this case, the buyer’s behavior alone was a clear red flag. “I had a couple of conversations with the buyer and the conversations were not pleasant,” Preston explained. “This person had a very demanding and insulting demeanor which put me on guard.” Brick City Title’s experience also highlights how successful anti-fraud efforts are bigger than the actions of a single party. Instead, having a strong working relationship with every transaction stakeholder is the key to safe and secure transactions.

    Through interfacing with its partners in the transaction, Brick City Title gained additional information that backed up their original assessment. The transaction was indeed fraudulent, and the way it was prevented is an essential reminder of how stopping fraud requires all hands on-deck.

    Learn more about Alliant National’s crime watch program.

    Tia Hall - Meet Your Advantage Tam member spotlight graphic

    Your Advantage: It’s All About Community for Alliant National’s Tia Hall

    In a varied career split between law enforcement, real estate and title insurance, Tia Hall has been driven by a desire to provide support to her community.

    For nearly 25 years, Tia Hall has remained steadfastly committed to her community. From her early career in criminal justice to her current responsibilities at Alliant National, she has long been motivated by helping others. Well-versed in making departments and organizations operate more effectively, Hall’s work at Alliant National is invaluable to its Southeast operations.

    Hall’s career path wasn’t a straight line, but rather a winding journey that brought together seemingly disparate fields in a harmonious blend. For well over a decade, Hall served as a criminal justice specialist for Cobb County in Georgia. However, one of Hall’s main responsibilities during these years would prove advantageous to her later career. Hall’s focus in criminal justice often revolved around community outreach and enabling officers to engage more productively with vulnerable populations. “Working within law enforcement is very strenuous work,” Hall said, reflecting on why such work is critical. “You are dealing with a lot of people from different walks of life.”

    As fate would have it, Hall would come to interact with a group of people immersed in real estate. “I often interacted with lawyers and others in real estate,” she stated, “especially when I was working on real estate code enforcement.”

    While she was forming these connections, Hall was taking other steps that would eventually pave the way toward her joining the title insurance industry. Building from a foundation in criminal justice and psychology, Hall began studying real estate and became a notary public , working as a loan signing and closing agent. Throughout all these professional moves, Hall’s motivation remained the same: “I wanted more community connections.”

    In 2022, Hall made the leap into the career she has today, joining the Alliant National team as the Southeast Support Administrator. At Alliant National, Hall works with every department – from HR to continuing education to accounting – to ensure that agents are empowered to execute on behalf of their clients. Calling upon her long history of driving growth, as well as diverse skill sets in administration, resource management, data protection, team building and more, she acts as a one-stop shop for agents and employees throughout the Southeast.

    One important aspect of Hall’s day-to-day work is protecting the large quantities of personal information that are part and parcel with the title insurance profession. This is another area where she is well-served by her previous experiences in law enforcement. When working with the Georgia Bureau of Investigations (GBI), for instance, Hall developed an acute appreciation for data protection. “There is a huge paper trail in this work,” she said, emphasizing that the failure to protect such data could quite literally ruin lives.

    Now settled into her new career, Hall had several things to say when asked to sum up her experience, as well as the connection between her current responsibilities and yesterday’s roles. For her, helping the community is at the heart of both professions: “I love people. I love communicating. And I love to be a help for those in need.”

    However, it’s in title insurance that Hall has found an ideal platform to pursue this passion, even more so than in law enforcement. “This industry is more close-knit,” she said, before noting how new employees can benefit from leveraging the field’s strong sense of community. When asked about what younger or less experienced workers should know, she remarked, “Employees need a strong foundation, as well as support to not get lost.”

    For Hall, that communal support was what helped her as she made her initial foray into the business. It is also what continues to fuel her today as she works to deliver results for Alliant National’s agents. “At Alliant National, it is always easy to reach out if you need something. We’re always there for each other.”

    With community-minded employees like Tia Hall amongst its ranks, Alliant National’s agents can rest assured that someone will always be there for them too.

    Honoring Curt Niehoff

    Honoring Curt Niehoff (1954-2023)

    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.”

    Graphic with the words, Happy Independence Day against a background of the US flag and sparklers.

    Honoring You This Independence Day: From our CEO

    As we approach July 4th, we reflect on the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the birth of our nation. At this time of remembrance, our team at Alliant National also honors the remarkable contributions of independent agents like you, whose unwavering commitment to the American Dream empowers countless individuals to pursue homeownership and economic prosperity.

    In 1776, as the principles of freedom and self-determination were woven into a new experiment in government, the challenges were as profound as the ideals at stake. From the trials of its infancy, our nation emerged as an economic power, giving rise to the American Dream.

    Today, the mortgage and title industries stand as the cornerstone of this dream, and at the heart of every mortgage transaction, independent title agents work tirelessly to ensure the smooth transfer of property. Title insurance – and your integral role in the title transfer process – allows individuals to make informed decisions and gives them the confidence to pursue their dreams. Your expertise and dedication also contribute to the stability and growth of the communities you serve. You create employment and economic opportunities, support local businesses, and foster a sense of trust and security.

    Well over two centuries after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, our nation continues to face challenges that resonate within our industry. Economic and housing market uncertainty, political polarization, and the potential impact of AI are among the macro forces pressuring title agents, along with industry-specific issues such as the emergence of unregulated title products. At Alliant National, we are honored to partner with you in your noble work and stand as your ally in facing the challenges of the moment.

    Your work and dedication inspire us every day, but especially now. As we prepare to celebrate Independence Day, we honor your commitment to upholding the American Dream and our nation’s ideals. To you, we extend our heartfelt gratitude.

    Here’s wishing you and yours a happy 4th of July.

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