A new title insurance company in Chattanooga is offering services built on a foundation of tradition and innovation. While Jones Raulston is standing on old school title insurance principles, it’s prepared for the sweeping regulatory changes the industry will undergo in 2015.
William D. Jones (who goes by Bill) gives the company its roots in tradition. A Chattanooga native who’s never left his hometown, Jones spent the early years of his career in the savings and loan industry. After earning a law degree at the advice of an attorney with whom he worked, Jones went to work for veteran title and insurance workhorse Wiley Woods. There, he was trained in the old ways.
“You had to go to the courthouse, and open the books, and run your finger through the names,” he says, moving a pointer finger across an imaginary page. “The industry was paper-oriented, and everything was done manually.”
The title insurance industry of yesterday was also steeped in business ethics. While digital record keeping is replacing the reams of paper once used to ensure the validity of land titles and insure against financial loss, Jones says integrity and conservatism cannot be replaced. “We don’t do a lot of publicity, so we rely on word of mouth and the relationships we build,” he says. “When people have confidence in the way you do business, your business grows.”
While Jones keeps his company planted in the fertile soil of tradition, Matthew W. Raulston (who goes by Web) gives it its modern edge. Like Jones, Raulston grew up in Chattanooga, but when the time came for him to attend college, he went out of state. He earned an undergraduate degree in real estate finance at the University of Mississippi, and then spent two years working in the International Insurance Department at Caterpillar Financial Services in Nashville before attending and graduating from the Charlotte School of Law in North Carolina.
While in law school, a mutual friend put Raulston in touch with Jones, who took the younger man under his wing one summer. “I told him the only way he’d be able to learn what we do would be to sit at my desk and do it with me,” he says. “I wore him out.”
Although exhausting at times, the work appealed to the detail-oriented Raulston, and the following summer, Jones hired him full-time. “Title insurance requires you to use a combination of your legal and business backgrounds,” Jones says, “and Web’s a natural at that.”
Preparing for change
That was 2011. In January of this year, the pair started a new title insurance company focused on professionalism and preparing for the regulatory requirements going into effect later this year.
“We’re going to be facing a lot of challenges in this industry,” Jones says, “and we wanted to create a new company that would fit the new ways of doing things.”
Many of the changes being imposed on the title insurance industry are intended to help the U.S. avoid another mortgage collapse and prevent the mortgage fraud that led to the breakdown, says Jones. For example, the newly instituted Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will be treating title insurance companies more like financial institutions. In addition, significant changes in the forms being used in real estate closings are on the horizon, and are sweeping enough that they will change the very way title insurance companies, lenders, and Realtors do business.
“Throughout my career, I’ve seen three major changes to the business. This has been the most dramatic and life-changing of them all – and there have been some tough changes,” Jones says. “Every aspect of our business will be affected.”
While Jones says the regulations will be a burden on small title insurance businesses, the changes will be a good thing for consumers. “It’s going to make transactions safer for them, and hopefully make the process more understandable,” Jones says. “Most home buyers want to see what their payments will be, make their down payment, and get their key, but a lot of documentation goes into all of that.”
Raulston agrees that the changes will benefit clients. “Consumers were harmed because their loans contained misleading terms, and either they didn’t understand those terms, or they didn’t know what was involved,” he says. “A lot of the regulations are geared toward avoiding that.”
While major changes to the forms are coming, not all of them will involve paper. In fact, some of them will entail a lack of it as the industry goes digital. Jones Raulston already has a system in place that complies with these new requirements.
“Our industry doesn’t like paper anymore because it’s not secure. Someone could walk in and then walk out with everybody’s information,” says Raulston. “So, we’ve invested in a secure, encrypted system, and no longer keep paper at the office. This company has allowed us to start fresh and get that system in place from the beginning so we can be at the forefront of compliance in our industry. We’re the first in town and the fourth in Tennessee to undergo a best practices certification by an independent third party auditing firm.”
While the title industry faces a mountain of regulations requiring monumental changes, its core purpose remains the same: protecting consumers. And with Jones’s long history in the business and Raulston’s fresh outlook, they’re prepared to do just that.
“Title insurance is a good service. It allows someone to buy a home and then move into it and enjoy it,” Jones says. “The combination of the two of us gives this company a good balance and allows us to provide an important service to customers. We make a good team.”