Last month, I had the opportunity to attend and participate in a panel discussion at the National Settlement Services Summit (NS3) conference in Phoenix, AZ. NS3 has been sponsoring this annual three-day conference for the past 15 years, and this was the largest and most successful to date. With over 700 attendees, vendors, and sponsors, title insurance and related conversations were bountiful. The information presented was relevant, timely, and extremely important. I would recommend this conference for any agents looking to increase their knowledge of the latest technologies and techniques in our industry.
I was fortunate to be on the “Independent Underwriter Panel” with David Townsend, president of Agents National Title Insurance Company and Mary O’Donnell, CEO of Westcor Land Title Insurance Company. Our wide-ranging conversation included our thoughts on innovative trends, customer service training, knowing your customer, reinsurance, the value proposition of the independent underwriter, and the qualities we look for in our independent agents. While we had similar ideas as it related to the independent agents, we each had different approaches based on our own company philosophies.
One of the areas in which I spoke out about was reinsurance. The reinsurance programs that the independent underwriters now have access to have dramatically changed the playing field. I emphasized that independent agents no longer have to rely on one of the big four underwriters to handle their large commercial transactions. As a matter of fact, First National Title Insurance Company (FNTI) can now insure transactions up to $200 million. Over the past two years, we have worked with our reinsurance broker in Chicago to connect with a London-based Facultative Reinsurer called Fidelis. Fidelis is an A.M. Best rated (A- excellent) reinsurer with capital and surplus of $1.3 billion. And its stated mission is to disrupt the domestic title insurance reinsurance market by providing options to regional title insurers like FNTI. This is an exciting development in FNTI’s growth strategy and will allow our independent agents an option to write more commercial business on us. I recognize that there will be a challenge every time an independent agent places FNTI on that $100 million commercial contract. And that challenge will be to convince the lender, lender’s attorney, buyer and buyer’s attorney that there are alternatives. We need to convince these clients that it is no longer necessary to simply check the Fidelity, First American, Old Republic, and Stewart Title “box.” It is my job and the FNTI staff’s job to change that habit. We have the marketing materials, the supporting documentation, and the desire to be market disrupters. Let us talk to your commercial clients and convince them that our reinsurance program is as safe and secure as any of the large underwriters. If we can disrupt this market, we can begin to loosen the strangle hold the national underwriters have on our industry. The independent agents and underwriters can chip away at the 85 percent national market share controlled by just four (maybe three) underwriters.
Our panel did reach a consensus on the value proposition of the independent underwriter. We all agreed that service levels, personal touch, and willingness to help close transactions were our greatest assets. The only way we can out-perform the behemoth national corporate giants is to out-service them as well and be the underwriters the independents look to for answers, solutions, and a willingness to partner with them. The future of a competitive title industry depends upon the success of the independent, entrepreneurial agent. And whether the nationals like it or not, we are here to knock them off their pedestals.
FNTI plans to disrupt the commercial underwriting market, and we need your help to accomplish this mission. Please consider the options when you get your next commercial contract, and let FNTI insure your transaction. As always, our company motto that we “…do business with those we know, like, and trust” still rings true. It is a motto we live by. We want you to know us, like us, and especially trust us. And thank you for your business.