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ALTA best practices and what they mean for Notary Signing Agents

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(Originally published in the December 2016 issue of The National Notary magazine.)

Renowned science fiction author Isaac Asimov once wrote, “It is change, continuing change, inevitable change that is the dominant factor in society today.” For Notary Signing Agents, this has become the mantra for their dealings with the mortgage finance industry.

During the past two years, NSAs — classified as third-party service providers — have felt some pain as the industry scrambled to comply with the mandates established by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Most lenders, title service providers and signing services, among others, have attempted to implement their own security and compliance systems. That has resulted in NSAs having to meet different requirements and follow unique procedures, for each company they work for.

But in October, the American Land Title Association (ALTA) took a bold move to try to bring some order out of the chaos.

For the first time, the Association that promotes professional standards for the title industry updated its Best Practices to include recommendations for vetting and overseeing Signing Agents — creating a uniform industry framework for member companies to leverage.

“We’re going into a compliance management world,” said ALTA Chief Executive Officer Michelle Korsmo, explaining the need to update the Best Practices. “Title insurance and settlement companies need to have strong consumer protection programs that they talk about with their business partners.”

The hope is that companies will use ALTA’s best practices as a framework to adopt standardized requirements and rules for hiring NSAs, underscoring the importance of maintaining a current certification, background screening and insurance.

Bringing order out of confusion

“Title Insurance and Settlement Company Best Practices”  is ALTA’s attempt to write its own playbook for how its 6,200 members manage third-party vendors to meet regulatory requirements and consumer expectations.

By meeting the Best Practices, title insurance and settlement companies will be able to show that they are in compliance with consumer financial protection laws and their contractual obligations. Because ALTA’s members rely on the tens of thousands of Signing Agents to facilitate loan signings, it’s only natural for the Best Practices to extend to that business relationship.

Diane Evans, Vice President, Land Title Guarantee Company in Denver, Colorado, and chair of ALTA’s Best Practices Task Force, said the NSA sections came out of comments from the Association’s membership about the different state standards for licenses, errors and omissions insurance and surety bond requirements.

The goal was to leave the Best Practices broad enough for each company to tailor them to meet their individual requirements. The NSA sections recommend that companies maintain written procedures to ensure that the NSAs they use “possess the appropriate qualifications, professionalism and knowledge.” Among other things, ALTA specifically recommends that title and settlement companies:

  • Take reasonable steps to select, retain and oversee Signing Agents who are capable of appropriately safeguarding consumers’ Nonpublic Personal Information (NPPI);
  • Verify that NSAs are covered by E&O insurance and, where required by law, a surety bond;
  • Require Signing Agents to provide evidence of any required state licenses or any recognized and verifiable industry designation; and
  • Require NSAs to acknowledge that they comply with the contracting company’s instructions and information security program.

ALTA also has published a set of Assessment Procedures to help its members implement the standards. For NSAs, that means:

  • Reviewing the results of background checks; and
  • Reviewing compliance with security programs.

The impact on NSAs

But what does this mean for Signing Agents, and what can they expect to see in the coming months and years? In all probability, more of the same.

“Companies will expect signing professionals to show evidence of insurance coverage, that their licenses are up to date and prove that they have some kind of training or belong to an association that has some kind of verifiable, professional designation,” Evans said.

However, companies will decide for themselves how to apply the Best Practices. Some companies have their own training programs while others rely on verifiable professional designations such as the NNA’s NSA Certification. Many NSAs who work with companies that currently do not have vetting and training policies in place could be asked to provide proof of their qualifications and certifications in the near future.

Korsmo said that the Standards for NSAs drafted by the Signing Professionals Workgroup  will help because they include detailed recommended best practices for Signing Agents. Korsmo also believes companies increasingly will want to meet directly with Signing Agents to interview them and discuss their requirements. But all these changes are not taking place without a certain amount of pain and frustration.

Embracing the change

“I’m all for checking Signing Agents’ qualifications and making sure they have experience,” said Kristine Hall, a Signing Agent from Pottsville, Arkansas. “But it needs to be coherent.” She hopes that ALTA’s Best Practices will bring more coherence to the vetting process.

NSA Lisa LeCastre of Buffalo, New York, agrees. “What satisfies one company should satisfy another.”

One thing that is likely to remain unchanged is the requirement for regular renewals and ongoing training. “It’s not one and done,” Korsmo said. “It will happen on a continuing basis. I would anticipate at least yearly. That would be a Best Practice.”

With such an emphasis on protecting consumers, “none of us can risk sending loan documents off to someone for whom they have done no verification or validation of experience or knowledge,” Evans said. “The world demands more.”

Korsmo encouraged NSAs to step back and look at how the industry evolved to the point where it is now. “Protecting consumers is something we all should take seriously.”

Jill Bernshouse of Costa Mesa, California, took that advice to heart when she hung out her NSA shingle in September 2016. “I just knew that protecting people’s data was important,” she said. One of the first things she did was to sign up with an encrypted email service. She also has written down her day-to-day security practices to align herself with ALTA’s Best Practices.

“One comment that I have heard is this could make it hard on Notaries,” Evans said. “It was never the intent. The intent was to make it better for all parties in the transaction, including the Notary.” Evans encouraged NSAs to “enhance their professionalism and marketability by taking more training. People will recognize how seriously you take the profession.”

Related Articles:

FAQ: What is Notary Signing Agent certification?

NNA moving to online-only verification of Signing Agent credentials in 2017

What companies look for when hiring Notary Signing Agents

Additional Resources:

Notary Signing Agent Resources


Add your comment

21 Jan 2017

I have a question. is it okay to cross out information on a document if it is incorrect. i work at a bank and the notary's are from different counties. The standard practice is to put a line through it and put the correct information. I feel uncomfortable with the practice since I cannot find any information in the notary law primer. Any clarification would be greatly appreciated.

National Notary Association

23 Jan 2017

Hello. If there is incorrect information in a notarial certificate, it is a standard practice to correct the error by lining through the incorrect information, writing in the correct information, and initialing and dating the change. However, the Notary should only correct any errors in the notarial certificate wording, not in the main body of the document. For more information, see here:


24 Mar 2017

Who is protecting the notaries? What about our NPPI...It's gets really agravating having to pay for all these background checks and so on only to have the background report be demanded, cause the lender said so, according to one title company most of us do not have the means to go around the country making sure our information is not being abused....So what about it? Why say you accept a background check from a vendor but tell the notary who bought it that the certificate of passing said check is not enough? That they have to put their NPPi out there with ZERO ability to know it's not being abused......

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