Williston Financial Group and its wholly owned subsidiary, WFG National Title Insurance Co., in June opened a national headquarters in Oswego, Ore. The company is a full-service provider of title insurance and real estate settlement services for commercial and residential transactions, and is currently licensed and operating in 33 states.
WFG President and CEO Patrick Stone recently spoke with The Title Report about the progress the company is making. In the first part of the interview, which appeared in the July 26 edition of The Title Report, Stone shared acquisition details, personnel appointments and expansion efforts. In the second part, Stone discusses the support WFG offers its agents and the efforts it’s made to structure the company in a way that insulates the company from head-to-head competition with its agents.
Q: Can you explain in more detail how you will avoid competing with your agents?
A: We are focused on having owned operations in seven western states. The only state in which we’ll have agents and owned operations will be Texas. The environment in Texas has been accommodating in terms of running owned operations and having agents. That’s the only state I know of in which all the underwriters successfully have agency networks and owned operations without a lot of conflict. Other than that, in the other six states where we’ll have owned operations, we’ll have a couple of national agents in them but those will be national agents. We will not be actively soliciting local agents in those states.
Q: With your entrance into the industry on a national level, do you see WFG as a competitor to the Big 4?
A: We are a very, very small player. Like everybody, I have an ego but I am not delusional. We are a minor nuisance at best. But we will be client-focused to a level that’s unseen in the industry right now. Our logo is three C’s — communicate, collaborate and coexist. It’s all about the client, constant communication and an effort to collaborate with the client in any manner that we can. We have a mantra — it’s a culture we’re developing and people are embracing it — and that is we do not exist without our client.
One self-delusional thing that happens to organizations is you grow and you start to think you’re an institution and somehow you are valid in and of yourself. This industry is part of the real estate services process. We need to align ourselves with the people who drive the process, be a part of their team and we believe that’s going to be a very effective culture in terms of getting client acceptance.
We’ve had a great deal of initial positive response from clients. If we don’t answer the phone, you get a return call as soon as possible. We’re all about figuring out what makes the client successful. If the client is successful, we’re successful. We believe that will allow us to be very competitive. Concerning how large we get, there are a lot of factors that play into that. We plan on being successful, but we’re not in the game of trying to have the largest market share. That’s not even on my radar. What’s on my radar is making money and doing a good job for the clients.
Q: Do you find that with the current environment we’re in right now, this is the kind of service agents are seeking from their underwriters?
A: What’s happened is when you contract from an expense point of view, you become inward-focused, and the clients have not received the level of enthusiastic support that they need. One of the things we tell our clients, and I say it over and over again and sometimes my employees go nuts when I say it, is if you’re happy with the service you’re getting, don’t change. If you’re happy with your escrow office, if you’re happy with your national lender group, don’t change. Business is tough right now and you want to have dependable, good-quality service.
If you’re not getting it or you think there is something left here, we’d like the chance to show you what we do. We tell them we’ll kill ourselves to make them happy, and they’re receptive to that because, by and large, most of them are not getting a high level of service and enthusiasm, as the industry is probably at an all-time low. It’s unfortunate. I’m not trying to criticize anybody; it’s a byproduct of the market we’re in.
Q: So what’s next? How does the rest of the year and beyond look for WFG?
A: We’re looking at acquisitions. We’re growing the Portland, Ore., operations. We’re very happy with the reception we’re getting for the national lender group. We’re happy with the amount of agents we’re talking to and the agents we’ve been able to sign. We’re growing as rapidly as we can to do so prudently. At all times, I think a good businessman must be cognizant of the fact that this is a tough environment and that you need to take steps you can sustain and support. As a company, we have zero debt and we’re going to be financially prudent as we grow. We’ll grow as rapidly as we can in a financially sound manner.