In document-ladden industry, Knight-Barry Title jumps into the e-world
By David Niles, of SBT
When Craig Haskins joined Knight-Barry Title Group seven years ago, the firm was using mouseless, DOS-based computers, had no Internet access and, thus, had no e-mail.
What a difference seven years has made.
The Racine-based company has jumped deep into information technology and now heavily relies on Web-based electronic documents in what has traditionally been a paper-laden industry.
The proprietary technology, developed out of the company’s Brookfield office, has helped the Knight-Barry Title Group expand its operations and, at the same time, reduce costs associated with the handling and processing of paper documents.
"We’re trying to position ourselves as the technology-oriented title company," said Haskins, the vice president of the company who was instrumental in developing the technology and who is the step-son of company owner and president Jeffrey B. Green. "Everyone we deal with now has computers and high-speed connections; we’ve just serving that market better."
The transition started in 1997 when, Haskins believes, Knight-Barry was the first title company in Wisconsin to transfer a real estate document electronically as an attachment.
There is commercial software that handles paperwork similarly to what Knight-Barry is doing, "but our software is tailored to our market," Haskins said, noting differences in state regulations over property documentation. He has had requests from others in the title industry to purchase the software, but he’s not selling.
Haskins worked with technology-savvy Realtors to develop the software, which currently serves Realtors and bankers but which will be expanded to serve the construction industry next year.
"We’ve made the customer’s job so much easier," Haskins said. "But it also has made it so much more productive for us; it cuts down on a lot of behind-the-scenes labor and reduces human errors."
Plus, it’s just plain convenient, says Haskins, noting a Realtor can log in to www.knightbarry.com at any time of the day to process electronic documents, and that Haskins himself could work from home rather than staying at the office an excessive amount of hours during the recent home financing and refinancing craze.
Additionally, by the end of the year Realtors and bankers should be able to electronically schedule financing closings in real time.
"They will have an actual real-time look at our scheduling book," Haskins said. "They can log in, pick a time and location, and it will show up right away on our master screen."
It’s a whole new way of doing things for Green, who acquired the company in 1979 and who was steeped in the personal relationships that became part of the industry’s personal delivery of mounds of paperwork.
It’s that paperwork, and the need to be near county courthouses where property records were kept, that fostered an industry of small, independent players.
Knight-Barry Title traces its roots to 1854 when Albert Knight started a title abstract business in Racine. Until a few years ago the company had just 30 employees. Today, the company has more than 100 people in six offices, with about 20 at the 10,500-square-foot Brookfield office at 14640 W. Greenfield Ave.
"The thing that has helped us expand the way we did is that we’re the only one that had this for the banks online," Haskins said. "So we rolled it out for the Realtors. A Realtor used to bring over 20 to 30 pieces of paper; now that’s all online, and we’ve made it pretty easy for them to go online."
One of those Realtors is Tom Didier of Re-Max United in Port Washington and Cedarburg.
Calling it a "sign of the times," Didier said the electronic documentation is "so much more time-efficient and cost-efficient for everyone involved. At any time I can track pending transactions. And you can share so much information with so many people at the same time."
And changes in documents can now be made "at the click of a button," he adds. "It’s just been great."
Haskins admits to upsetting the apple cart, noting he joined the company "with zero knowledge of the industry."
With technology knowledge from his studies at the University of Florida, Haskins said he would regularly ask the Knight-Barry people, "Why do you do that?"
"The industry was very set in its ways," Haskins said. "But the method of doing it is what we can change. We used to hand-deliver our files; if we had to do that now we would need three times as many people as we now have."
Green accepts the changes and praises the efficiencies and business growth they bring, but he misses the personal touch of the old days.
"You want to fight to the last degree to maintain relationships," Green said. "You’d hate to see the world evolve into one where everything is done over the Internet without any personal contact."
Having six local offices — Racine, Brookfield, Kenosha, Port Washington, Sheboygan, and West Bend, helps maintain some of the personal contact, says Green. who formerly practiced real state law. "Even with the Internet, you can still see us."
And with the technology-fostered growth, people may be seeing more of Knight-Barry Title Group. "The technology and volume does allow us to do things we otherwise couldn’t," Green said. "But you need to be careful how big you get. Larger isn’t necessarily better if it costs you relationships that sustain your business."
Still, in an industry that continues to consolidate, Green wants Knight-Barry to have a continued presence and impact. That could mean acquisitions of other companies to let Knight-Barry expand into other markets.
Oct. 31. 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee