Live From the Convention . . . Part II

October 17, 2008

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Today's general session of the ALTA Annual Convention was kicked off by president Gary Kermott, who told attendees it was time to take our industry back and stop allowing others to define who we are.

"We must convey to our constituents the value we provide," said Kermott.  "Our industry, and the work it performs, is fundamental to our capitalist system."

Kermott commented on the unprecedented state of the economy, a state our nation has not seen since the Great Depression. 

"Now is the time to see the silver linings—in our companies and in our industry," said Kermott.  "ALTA is the silver lining in our industry. We're poised to take our industry back."

Kermott acknowledged the new energy dynamic with staff under the leadership of CEO Kurt Pfotenhauer, who has inspired a new sense of commitment and focus.  ALTA is a strong and reasoned voice in Washington, and is on its way to becoming a world-class association.

Kermott told the audience that the Principles of Fair Conduct, adopted by ALTA last year, are mere words on paper unless we embrace a culture of compliance. 

"Until we're viewed as an industry that takes market conduct seriously, everything we say will fall on deaf ears." 

Another significant milestone was ALTA's launch of The Title Industry Consumer Initiative.

 "The GAO report criticized our industry for failing to reach out to consumers.  Legislators and regulators want this.  Consumers need to understand and appreciate the value of what we do."

Kermott, in closing his remarks, said, "We are all part of a great industry.  Our members are honest, hardworking individuals.  I'm proud to be a part of this industry, and it's been a privilege to serve as your president."

ALTA CEO Kurt Pfotenhauer

"Eighty percent of the world's population does not have land titles; 80 percent of the world's population lives on less than $10 a day.  The connection between property ownership and wealth are clear.  This is a critical message we need to take to policymakers on Capitol Hill and to our state capitals."

These opening words by Pfotenhauer struck a chord.  After talking about his first year as ALTA's CEO, Pfotenhauer said he is struck by the idea that anyone would ever criticize the cost of title insurance. 

"How do you talk about price when you haven't established value?  That's the problem."

Pfotenhauer pointed to France, where it takes four to six months to complete the sale and transfer of property, something we accomplish in 30 days.  If you add just 15 days to our 30-day average, it would cost lenders approximately $10 billion a year.

"Our fight is not against ideology, it's against ignorance.  And the fight against ignorance requires credibility.  Misinformation continues to be promulgated by our critics at will.  We are going on the offensive with powerful, salient messages that are backed up with facts."

Pfotenhauer cited the many ways the reconstituted ALTA is creating value for its members.  There is more frequent and meaningful communication with members through his weekly advocacy report, stronger lobbying in the halls of Congress, stronger grassroots and grasstops advocacy efforts, stronger relationships and information sharing with state affiliates, and a thrust to stay ahead of legislative and regulatory precedence being set by state policymakers.

The new ALTA comes not a moment too soon.

"Change is happening rapidly," said Pfotenhauer.  "In D.C., you're either a shooter or a target."

Pfotenhauer wrapped up his remarks by sharing some observations about the current economic crisis: 

"We don't have so much a liquidity crisis as a crisis of trust, which is harder and takes longer to restore.  Too many have taken and too few have given.  Now we start the long hard task of mending what was broken."

And his thoughts about the industry:  "We must put the interests of the people we serve ahead of our own.  We must give something back to the industry that has given us so much.  And we must put our differences and competitiveness aside to stand together."

GENERAL SESSION:  "What Our Industry Means for the Free Enterprise System"

Jolyne Sanjak
Managing Director, Implementation Support
Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC)

Mark Winter
Executive Vice President, Public Policy, Stewart Title Guaranty
Chair, ALTA International Development Committee


When Jolyne Sanjak talks about the connections between property rights, land titles, capital creation and rule of law, people in the U.S. don't get it.  But it absolutely resonates in other countries. 

"Increasingly, leaders in developing economies are grasping the connections.  It's like plumbing—you don't question it if it doesn't leak.  But in other countries, there are huge leaks."

Another important connection made by Sanjak is between land disputes and violence. 

Millennium Challenge (MCC) provides large financial grants to countries that meet the test of promoting economic freedom, ruling justly, and providing for the peace and well being of its citizens.  MCC currently operates in 27 countries around the world, investing in such projects as infrastructure, agriculture, financial systems, and property rights systems. 

One example is a comprehensive land management project in Madagascar.  There, property was recognized by tribal registry but not as part of a legal system.

"When we go into a foreign country, we must recognize that systems don't all work the same way," said Sanjak.  "We need to understand differences and bring what we can to that process."

Sanjak says American businesses can get more involved by sharing best practices, meaningful lessons that are relevant to helping establish good governance and technology systems.  She sees a growing interest in public/private partnerships by foreign governments, with the incentive of long-term benefits down the road. 

"MCC is interested in synchronizing and collaborating on private sector initiatives by assisting with upfront legal reform to pave the way for land titling.  The ultimate goal is a more connected global marketplace."

Mark Winter chairs ALTA's International Development Committee, which for ten years has served as a "gateway" for gathering land titling information around the world.  Winter sees this as the right opportunity at the right time for the industry to become actively engaged in helping to create viable real estate markets globally.

Winter believes that, with appropriate modification to fit individual circumstances, the systems developed in the U.S. for the safe and reliable transfer of land can be provided to other countries. 

 "This is the basic underpinnings of what is needed to grow global economies," said Winter.  "It's not only good business, it's a wonderful legacy.  There's a sense of attachment when you own a piece of the rock.  You're proud of your piece of the rock.  And that pride spreads to neighborhoods, towns, communities, cities, and eventually an entire country, bringing peace to the region.  In effect, property becomes a currency for peace."

Stay tuned for more from ALTA's Annual Convention . . .

Contact ALTA at 202-296-3671 or

North American Title Insurance Company (NATIC) is a seasoned title insurance underwriter, helping title agents to achieve their individual business goals for more than 50 years. Today, the company conducts real estate settlement services in 39 states and the District of Columbia through a network of experienced, independent agents.