In an ongoing quest to build an end-to-end real estate services and technology platform, Stewart Information Services Corp. has another acquisition in its sights: Informative Research, a data and analytics provider that helps mortgage lenders and banks acquire customers and originate and process loans.
If the $192 million deal passes muster with regulators as expected, it will be the latest in a series of acquisitions aimed at expanding the ancillary services Stewart provides to lenders.
In addition to being the nation’s fourth-largest title insurer, Stewart’s ancillary services business segment provides appraisal management services, search and valuation, and online notarization and closing solutions.
A buying spree that began last year with deals to acquire United States Appraisals, Pro-Teck Services Ltd., and NotaryCam has continued this year, with the purchases of Signature Closers in February, and Cloudvirga, a digital mortgage origination platform, in May.
Those acquisitions have helped Stewart boost revenue generated by appraisal management, abstract, and other ancillary services by a factor of five, from $16.1 million during the first quarter of 2020, to $80.7 million during the second quarter of this year.
Growth in Stewart Information Services’ ancillary revenue
Title insurance premiums and escrow fees are still the company’s main source of revenue, totaling close to $2.1 billion in 2020. But Stewart CEO Fred Eppinger says the investments the company is making in talent, scale, services, and technology bolster its ability to provide end-to-end services.
“Stewart continues to invest in the creation of an end-to-end, customer-focused real estate services and technology platform,” Eppinger said in announcing Stewart’s intention to acquire Informative Research — or “IR,” as it’s known. “By bringing IR into the Stewart family of companies, we further reflect that commitment and advance our data and analytics capabilities.”
IR helps lenders streamline customer acquisition, origination and processing
IR will continue to operate as a standalone company, and CEO Sean Buckner said the company is “excited to be able to help drive the creation of a holistic loan and real estate analytical service and closing process at Stewart.”
IR provides services to more than than 3,000 mortgage companies, banks and lenders, helping them streamline the loan process by using data and analytics to acquire customers and originate and process mortgages.
The company’s customer acquisition tools include marketing datasets selected from a national database with over 220 million consumers and daily MLS alerts tracking new listings to identify sellers and their buyers who may be in the market for a mortgage.
Core products for loan originators include trended credit data and trimerge credit reports that merge credit data from all three credit bureaus and remove duplicate tradelines. Loan originators can help prospects boost their credit scores using IR’s CreditXpert Solutions Suite and prequalify them using SoftQual, a soft credit inquiry that can be used to match borrowers with the right loan without hurting their credit score.
When processing loan applications, IR helps lenders automate the process of obtaining property valuations and flood certifications, and verifying details like employment and income, assets, and income tax.
Stewart on track to spend $524M on acquisitions under Eppinger
When Eppinger came on board as Stewart’s CEO in 2019, he was looking for opportunities to transform the company’s business. At the time, Stewart was reassessing its future, after a failed $1.2 billion merger attempt by competing title insurer Fidelity National Financial.
In the 18 months ending June 30, regulatory filings show Stewart spent $332 million on acquisitions — $200 million in 2020, and $132 million in the first half of 2021. The $192 million IR deal is Stewart’s biggest bet on ancillary services, and it will bring the total spent on acquisitions during Eppinger’s tenure to more than half a billion dollars.
Which is not to say that Stewart hasn’t also continued to grow its title insurance business — in July it announced the acquisition of one of the nation’s biggest independent title agencies, Title First Agency. It also picked up Thomas Title & Escrow and Prima Title LLC during the second quarter, boosting the company’s presence in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.
But Stewart and other title insurers are clearly positioning themselves so they’re not left behind as the entire real estate transaction becomes digitized.
Title insurers catching the digitization wave
This year, the nation’s biggest title insurer, Fidelity National Financial, launched inHere, an end-to-end platform that provides transaction tracking, e-notarization and e-closing services for agents and consumers.
First American Financial Corp., which has invested $70 million in escrow and title-tech company Endpoint, recently made an automated title decision engine, Clear2Go, available to independent title agents, allowing them to offer same-day title decisions on eligible mortgage refinancings and home equity loans.
The big four title insurers undoubtedly have their eyes on a smaller but rapidly growing rival, Doma, which is breaking new ground by offering “instant underwriting” of title insurance for mortgage refinancing. Doma also offers streamlined remote and digital closing and escrow services for all types of mortgages.
Doma, which went public in July via a SPAC merger, says it’s able to offer instant underwriting by employing a predictive algorithm to assess the risk that a home’s title has unresolved liens or ownership issues. The algorithm search of historical property records. Doma’s enterprise clients include Chase, Fairway Independent Mortgage, Homepoint, PennyMac, Sierra Pacific Mortgage and Wells Fargo.