Title Insurance

Fidelity National Signs MergerAgreementwith Stewart Information Services

Industry News

Monday, March 19, 2018

Fidelity National Financial, Inc. (FNF) has signed a merger agreement to acquire Stewart Information Services Corp. for $1.2 billion in cash and stock. If approved by regulators and stockholders, Fidelity would pay $50 per share of common stock. The compensation would be paid 50 percent in cash and 50 percent in FNF common stock. FNF said the closing is expected in the first or second quarter of 2019. Under the terms of the transaction, Stewart stockholders will have the option to receive their consideration in all cash or all stock.

“We are excited to welcome Stewart, its employees and its customers to the FNF family,” said FNF Chairman William P. Foley, II said in a release announcing the acquisition. “The venerable Stewart brand has a long and respected history in the title insurance industry and we see tremendous potential in working with the Stewart management team to invest in and grow the Stewart brand on a national basis as part of our long-time, successful strategy of operating multiple title insurance brands under the FNF umbrella.”

“I am extremely proud of Stewart’s legacy of high-quality underwriting and customer-focused service delivered by our loyal associates,” Stewart CEO Matt Morris said. “This transaction with Fidelity is an opportunity to continue building on this legacy, enhance innovation and create a more robust company for the future.”

FNF holds the largest market share among title underwriters, according to third quarter data from the American Land Title Association. Fidelity is first at 33.4 percent of the market with First American second at 26.3 percent, Old Republic National Title is third at 14.8 percent and Stewart fourth at 10.6 percent.

FNF CEO Raymond Quirk said there are multiple areas where Fidelity can assist and accelerate Stewart’s growth plan. “We also believe there are significant operational efficiencies we can bring to bear by leveraging FNF’s shared services infrastructure that will provide meaningful long-term value creation opportunities for our shareholders,” Quirk said.

FNF said it expects to achieve at least $135 million in operational cost synergies and expects the acquisition to be at least 15 percent accretive to pro forma 2017 adjusted net earnings per share at that operational cost synergy target.

The merger agreement stipulates that the combined company would divest assets or businesses for which revenues exceed $75 million up to a cap of $225 million in order to achieve required regulatory approvals. That would adjust the purchase price to a minimum purchase price of $45.50 per share of common stock.

FNF said it plans to fund the $1.2 billion purchase price through a combination of cash on hand, debt financing, and the issuance of FNF common stock to Stewart stockholders.

E-NOTARIZATION VS. DISTANCE E-NOTARIZATION

Did you know

E-Notarization has been here for some time
Effective July 1, 2006, the Minnesota Legislature enacted electronic notary legislation pursuant to Minnesota Statutes 358 and 359, allowing electronic notarization to be applied to a document so that the document can be fully processed electronically.
To apply for e-Notarization, applicants must be currently registered as an active Minnesota Notary and have the capability to notarize electronically before requesting authorization to perform electronic notarizations.
Physical presence of a person whose signature is being notarized is still required by law (359.01, subd. 5). And notarizing of any MN mortgage and/or real estate documents requires a Closing Agent License unless you fall under specific exemptions – see MSA 82.641.
Before performing electronic notarial acts, a notary public must register or in the case of a recommission, reregister, the capability to notarize electronically with the Secretary of State. There is no fee for this authorization with the secretary of State
To obtain the authorization to perform electronic notarization, complete the E-Notarization Authorization form and certify that you have proof of the filing of your notary commission with the county.

Distance E- Notarization is Coming
Generally, electronic, or e-signatures, use different methods
• In some cases, the signer can use the mouse on their computer to “write” their signature, like you do when you go to the grocery store and sign for your credit card (where it generally looks nothing like your signature;))
• In other cases, a signer types their name and choses their e-signature from an assortment of a type-sets (Script, Monotype, Bradley Hand, etc.)
• In other cases yet, the signer carefully writes his/her signature and takes a photo (likely with their cell phone) and creates a .jpg file that they can use to accurately represent their signature.
• In some cases, signers hold up their Drivers’ Licenses and other Identifying information for the notary to review
• in other cases, like the US Post Office, you must put in a credit card with identifying information
• Yet again, some systems require that you answer information as to the make of your vehicle, previous addresses, mother’s maiden name, etc. that likely come from credit reporting companies.
• Will the audio/visual session have to be taped and maintained in the notaries file to be legal?
• Can the notary keep a log instead? There is much to be worked out.
You can see examples of what’s coming in distance notarization at such places as
• Signix https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=50bMl3EZkz0
• Safedocs https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IPd_0gtlJ_0
• DocVerify http://www.docverify.com/Products/ESignatures/ENotaries/RemoteElectronicNotarizations

Distance notarization laws are currently in effect in only two states -Virginia and Montana. In these states the signer and the notary communicate online. Documents are electronically signed and notarized with the signing parties and notary meeting with audio and video communications similar to “facetime” or “go-to-meeting.” Here, the signer of the document might physically be in New York City and the notary physically in Virginia, MN.

But these state laws vary significantly. In Virginia a notary can perform a remote apostille for a signer that is located anywhere in the world. Montana allows distance notarization only for Montana property where the affiant is a permanent Montana resident.

As industries like closing, title insuring, mortgage lending, etc. are nationwide, dealing with various laws could be challenging. In response to that, The National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) are working on distance online notarization with a task force, as are ALTA, the Minnesota Land Title Association, the MN Bar Assoc., Mortgage Bankers Association, MISMO, and others. Hopefully they can come together, soon, with a clear solution that will fit us all.

Reimagining Land Records and GIS


An event, “Reimagine Land Records – Join the Conversation” orchestrated by the Legislative Committee of the Minnesota State Bar Association, Real Property Section, took place on October 20th. In attendance were an assortment of County Recorders and other County Officials, Land Surveyors, Abstractors, Attorneys, GIS Specialists, Teachers, Land Records Information Systems (LIS) Software Companies and Title Companies.

The session started out with a slide as to what constitutes land records and it was broken down three general categories and who maintains the records and uses them.

Objects (Improvements – roads, physical easements, buildings, etc.
Land Rights (Ownership, estates, government rights, liens, easements, restrictions, etc.)
People (Title, liens that tie to people, etc.)

Discussion revolved around Layers of Information needed by land title specialists and how they can be mixed and used by all most effectively. We all have a stake in this – Homeland Security; FEMA; DOT; Federal, State and local authorities; and hundreds of other entities. My takeaway of the future from the event is as follows:

CLOSINGS OF THE FUTURE

In the not too distant future, we will feel light-years ahead of today. For those of us who remember typing abstracts on electric typewriters, and getting fax machines in the office, it is truly amazing. Even those who daily toil creating and printing documents, watching people sign, making copies of the signed documents, preparing them for delivery back to the lender and to the respective counties, cutting checks, etc. will see an amazing change.

THERE WILL BE NO PAPER. Documents and closings will be “Born Digital.” They will be created in a secure electronic commerce cyber-system, and emailed to the client through a secure web portal. The closer, a licensed, e-sign notary (perhaps hundreds of miles away from the clients,) will see the clients using a web-cam, review their drivers licenses against the online faces, and e-sign their notary as the clients click through, and e-sign the mortgage, deeds, and other documents.

NO PERSONAL HANDSHAKES when meeting, no paper, no file folders, no copies, no notary stamps or checks, just cyberspace. If owners need information, it will all reside in the cloud, or on their computer or flash drive.

THE FUTURE OF LAND RECORDS AND GIS

The digitally signed documents will then be electronically submitted back to the lender, with digital copies for the title company, and of course an e-signed digital copy will go directly to the appropriate county (with e-fees) where the documents will move though departments to verify, and reside digitally.

Someday, when the owner takes a future home equity line or sells the property, a title searcher will simply go to a computer to look up the digital documents in cyberspace. But there will be only one place to look up all needed information for each piece of real estate.

A Geographic Information System, accessed by a PIN number (a smart number that ties to Sec- Twp-Rng-1/4 -1/4 and parcel) will open up a Pandora’s Box of information. We will be able to access anything you can imagine about real estate – the physical properties of buildings; terrain; topography; zoning; ownership rights, title and interests; roads; utilities; flood information; zoning; Homeland security; layer after layer.

Records from the – Treasurer, Auditor and Assessor that include current and delinquent taxes (Green Acres, etc.); type of property (single family 3BR, 3BA, 2 story, 2300 sq ft….home); Register of Deeds and Registrar office information (with the ownership, restrictions, easements, mortgages, etc.); District Court files (showing judgments, divorces and court filings against the owners); Death and Probate Court documents; Health and Human Services information (maps of wells and lien information); Federal District Court filings; Dept. of Transportation (updates on roads and widening of streets); Department of Natural Resources; Wind farms; Detailed utility information; FEMA flood maps; City zoning data; Trash bills; Photos of the property with GIS overlays and on and on.

And the records will solve problems besides title searches for many – FEMA, 911, DOT, Homeland Security, Minnegasco, Xcel, public utilities, – when a hurricane or tornado blows through, FEMA can overlay the GIS of the hurricane and know the owners names and rough amount of damage to the property. 911 will have better access to helping people,, because they will estimate number of people impacted, where the nearest hospitals are, and fastest routes to get people there. The DOT will estimate road damage will know where to concentrate their efforts. Gas and electric companies will know where the gas and power are out, and how to proceed as quickly and effectively as possible to make needed repairs.

It’s hard to believe, but the pieces are already there, it’s just (just???) that all the pieces need to be joined into one access point. The future of GIS is coming and it will be interesting.

CFPB Charges Title Company with $1.25 million Dollar Fine

The CFPB takes RESPA matters seriously. While many states, like Minnesota, require a disclosure form describing the relationship between lenders, real estate agents, title companies, appraisers, etc., those who do not disclose those relationships are up for serious fines.
Read the full article here CFBP RELEASE

FinCEN Advisory on Money Laundering Scams

FinCEN Advisory

See Advisory HERE

License Renewals for MN are Due by June 30th

Real estate agents, abstracters, closing agents and brokers are reminded that they must renew their licenses on or before June 30th. So please check your license for renewals.

Information from the Commerce Department on MN state licensing can be found here.

Pulseportal information can be found here.

OCC Adds Information for Third Party Vendors

On June 7th, the OCC added bulletin 29 to third-party relationships to clarify the way lenders should interact with third party vendors, to us, that means how lenders deal title and closing providers.

    Get the entire OCC bulletin here

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As a part of the lengthy bulletin, it stated the lender is responsible for ongoing monitoring.

Ongoing Monitoring
Ongoing monitoring for the duration of the third-party relationship is an essential component of the bank’s risk management process. More comprehensive monitoring is necessary when the third-party relationship involves critical activities. Senior management should periodically assess existing third-party relationships to determine whether the nature of the activity performed now constitutes a critical activity.
After entering into a contract with a third party, bank management should dedicate sufficient staff with the necessary expertise, authority, and accountability to oversee and monitor the third party commensurate with the level of risk and complexity of the relationship. Regular on site visits may be useful to understand fully the third party’s operations and ongoing ability to meet contract requirements. Management should ensure that bank employees that directly manage third-party relationships monitor the third party’s activities and performance. A bank should pay particular attention to the quality and sustainability of the third party’s controls, and its ability to meet service-level agreements, performance metrics and other contractual terms, and to comply with legal and regulatory requirements.
The OCC expects the bank’s ongoing monitoring of third-party relationships to cover the due diligence activities discussed earlier. Because both the level and types of risks may change over the lifetime of third-party relationships, a bank should ensure that its ongoing monitoring adapts accordingly. This monitoring may result in changes to the frequency and types of required reports from the third party, including service-level agreement performance reports, audit reports, and control testing results. In addition to ongoing review of third-party reports, some key areas of consideration for ongoing monitoring may include assessing changes to the third party’s
• business strategy (including acquisitions, divestitures, joint ventures) and reputation (including litigation) that may pose conflicting interests and impact its ability to meet contractual obligations and service-level agreements.
• compliance with legal and regulatory requirements.
• financial condition.
• insurance coverage.
• key personnel and ability to retain essential knowledge in support of the activities.
• ability to effectively manage risk by identifying and addressing issues before they are cited in audit reports.
• process for adjusting policies, procedures, and controls in response to changing threats and new vulnerabilities and material breaches or other serious incidents.
• information technology used or the management of information systems.
• ability to respond to and recover from service disruptions or degradations and meet business resilience expectations.
• reliance on, exposure to, or performance of subcontractors; location of subcontractors; and the ongoing monitoring and control testing of subcontractors.
• agreements with other entities that may pose a conflict of interest or introduce reputation, operational, or other risks to the bank.
• ability to maintain the confidentiality and integrity of the bank’s information and systems.
• volume, nature, and trends of consumer complaints, in particular those that indicate compliance or risk management problems.
• ability to appropriately remediate customer complaints.
Bank employees who directly manage third-party relationships should escalate to senior management significant issues or concerns arising from ongoing monitoring, such as an increase in risk, material weaknesses and repeat audit findings, deterioration in financial condition, security breaches, data loss, service or system interruptions, or compliance lapses. Additionally, management should ensure that the bank’s controls to manage risks from third-party relationships are tested regularly, particularly where critical activities are involved. Based on the results of the ongoing monitoring and internal control testing, management should respond to issues when identified including escalating significant issues to the board.

Title Agent Charged with Negligence and Compensatory Damages

A Connecticut title agent was held liable for $77,500 that was paid by a Title Underwriter to clear title to property it insured, as well as more than $20,000 in compensatory damages for fees and expenses incurred in negotiating the settlement. The case showcased liability by the agent for a negligent title search, and breach of duty to the underwriter.

Read the case here.

Minnesota Considers New Ag Tax Credit for Farmers

Author Comment:  In spite of Green Acre taxes, Minnesota Farmers face heavy real estate taxes on farmland, causing them to vote against independent school district referendums. So look for a new tax search to follow along with deferred Green Acre and Open Space  Taxes.   Lt. Gov. Tina Smith is working to help resolve this. 

Daily Globe | January 20, 2017

Smith called the current situation a perfect storm. Farmers are suffering from low commodity prices, high land values and, for many, crushing health care costs. The prospect of their property taxes increasing by hundreds or thousands of dollars sent many to the polls in November to vote down building bond referendums like the one for ISD 518.

“The farm economy has been struggling for the past few years. Rising property tax bills are not what’s needed across the state,” said Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner David Frederickson. Noting that property taxes have increased by 114 percent for Minnesota farmers in the past decade, Frederickson said a majority of levy referendums in rural Minnesota failed in 2016, while the majority of levy referendums posed to city dwellers passed.

Read More on this

Mortgage Bankers Assoc. Cuts 2017 Forecast

MBA Cuts 2017 Q1 Origination Forecast

MBA Forecast

Following the Federal Reserve’s decision to raise rates a quarter point, the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) lowered its origination forecast for the first quarter of 2017.

“We have adjusted the path of interest rates upwards a bit more quickly in 2017 reflecting the fact that the recent rate increase following the election has been sustained,” the MBA reported.

The total volume of one- to four-family mortgage loan originations is expected to reach $352 billion in the first quarter, according to the MBA’s December Mortgage Finance Forecast. This is down from the $365 billion in first-quarter volume the MBA had predicted in November. The lower forecast remains higher than the $350 billion in origination volume recorded in the first quarter of 2016.

The biggest drop off will be experienced in the refinance channel as rates have moved higher, forcing a more rapid decrease in an already slow refinance market. The MBA reported that refinance volume is now expected to reach $140 billion in the first quarter, down from the November forecast of $145 billion. The MBA also projected that purchase origination volume will total $212 billion, down from its prediction of $220 billion last month.

“We still forecast $1.10 trillion in purchase mortgage originations during 2017, an 11 percent increase from 2016,” the MBA reported. “Strong household formation coupled with further job growth, rising wages, and continuing home price appreciation will drive growth in purchase originations in the coming years.”

Info On Home Closing

Home Closing 101: An Educational Initiative of the American Land Title Association