It’s not just the service industry or sharing economy. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, companies across the globe have been forced to rethink their businesses—and quickly. It’s difficult to imagine what “normal” will look like tomorrow or next week, let alone next year.
In banking, home lending, appraisals and title transactions, companies are contemplating how they’ve adapted to stay-at-home orders and how, exactly, they’ll come out of this.
In this installment of NEXT’s exclusive series of exclusive interviews with mortgage and tech market leaders, we asked Kevin Wall, executive vice president of First American Title Insurance Company and head of First American Mortgage Solutions and Docutech, now a part of First American, the question on everyone’s minds: What are the three ways the global pandemic has changed the way you do business?
Here’s what Kevin has to say.
1. Keeping it real with employees requires a new reality
Before the pandemic gripped the nation, we would regularly speak with employees at Town Hall events or travel to First American offices around the country. That, of course, has changed as our offices shifted to many working from home. I’ve always believed in regular communication with our people, but in this environment, we have increased the frequency of our internal employee-facing blog to enhance engagement, which reflects our new reality—one that’s more immediate and personal. Blogs have been a part of my regular employee communications, but we’ve taken a more personal approach amid the pandemic. Last week for example, we shared my binge-watching list and asked coworkers to share their recommendations, too, which helped strengthen the sense of community among our teams.
The response has been amazing and engaging with my teams across the country and around the world is even more rewarding! It’s interesting the kind of response you get; it’s really a new reality. The questions asked of me at Town Hall events were always centered around our business activity, but this new level of interaction is much more personal. This practice will continue, even as we return to our offices, as it’s a great way to build a stronger connection with our teams.
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2. The COVID-19 crisis has helped accelerate the industry’s thinking
For the past decade since the Great Recession, the mortgage, banking and real estate industries have been evolving to enhance the client experience. We have witnessed increased structure around lending practices, streamlined processes and collaboration. All of those improvements have served the industry well in the current situation. Many lenders were looking at ways to implement an end-to-end digital mortgage experience for customers. A lot of work was already taking place virtually.
But there were some hurdles to overcome.
For example, states had disparate rules for remote online notarization, a critical component to enabling a fully digital real estate transaction closing. The pandemic and social distancing guidance have forced the industry and its regulatory agencies to rethink those obstacles.
For us, First American was able to leverage several key investments to quickly adapt to the changing needs. We have long advocated for and invested in eClosing technologies as we have diligently expanded our capabilities on this front. We recently acquired Docutech, a leading provider of document, eClose and fulfillment technology for the mortgage industry. The acquisition further enhances our ability to provide our lender customers with beginning-to-end digital mortgage and settlement services and deliver a more digital experience to their borrowers. We had just completed the acquisition when the pandemic hit, so the business we had just bought immediately hit fast-forward to handle the acceleration in eClosings. So, this has been so exciting to be part of.
We also made investments in our core title automation engine, and COVID-19 accelerated the expansion across the company to respond to the rapidly changing customer demands. And the pandemic showed us the opportunity to further the industry’s digital transformation, and we’re well positioned to do that.
3. The impact of COVID-19 on mortgage lending is not behind us
Just because some social distancing measures are relaxing in parts of the country doesn’t mean COVID-19 is behind us, and we need to keep that in mind.
The pandemic created a situation where simultaneously many businesses had to adjust to stay-at-home orders and mortgage rates dropped to historic lows. In the midst of unprecedented refinance transaction volumes, First American Mortgage Solutions mobilized our workforce so we can continue to help lenders and consumers close on transactions. Our team has been offering a variety of low-contact and no-contact closing options that support the health of our employees, customers and communities. While it’s difficult to know when this will be behind us, I think the pandemic has changed the way consumers will want to interact. I think it will be a more digital, virtual interaction, and we’re ready to support that need.
I feel we are well-positioned to navigate this new normal. And as a company, we will continue to put our people first.