The former president and chief operating officer of Fidelity National Financial, Patrick Stone, has returned to an active role in the title insurance business and is looking to turn WFG National Title Insurance Co., Lake Oswego, Ore., into a national player.
In the six months since Stone's firm, Williston Financial Group, acquired the pieces that now make up WFG, it has become licensed in 33 states, with another 16 pending. Stone is a veteran of more than 35 years in the title business. After leaving FNF, he became a board member at rival firm First American Corp.
He said he was watching the market since he left FNF, and because his company was starting fresh, it saw an opportunity to "refocus, streamline and put money right up where the client lives," as opposed to having to support an existing infrastructure while hoping the market comes back in order to feed it.
The market will come back, but maintaining a large, national hierarchal organization in a down market is expensive and not necessarily client-oriented, Stone said.
When Stone raised the money for the venture, one of the hurdles it had to face was the acceptability of a new player in the market. The demise of LandAmerica at the end of 2008 brought the title industry down to four national players.
Because many agents write business for two or three different underwriters and "they are not necessarily happy with the support they have been getting in this down market," Stone said.
WFG has 90 agents writing policies and is looking to grow that number "selectively but enthusiastically," he said.
That means market share is more fluid than many people believe.