Ready to Serve Aces for Title Industry
ALTA President Bill Burding NTP Eager to Defend Industry
Talk to Bill Burding NTP and you’d never know he was born and raised in New York. A move to Arizona while in junior high not only led to him ditching his goalie mask for a tennis racket, but it also opened the door to a successful career in the title industry.
“There wasn’t much hockey in Arizona at the time,” Burding said. “I went from about 20 minutes outside of New York City to an extremely rural part of Arizona. We lived in the middle of nowhere and attended a three-room schoolhouse. It was a culture shock.”
The change of scenery and solitude provided the perfect opportunity to help Burding develop his tennis skills. At the age of 15, he took a job as a tennis pro teaching other kids his age.
“Play tennis is kind of all I did,” he said. “You could play people at all varying ages, and when you didn’t have anyone to play, the club had a ball machine so I could hit for hours.”
Spending time on the court, Burding had the opportunity to face off with players with varied backgrounds and skills. One player he recalls was Ken Rosewall, a professional tennis player who had won Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and the Australian Open.
“He would just hit with me and offer tips,” Burding said.
Over the years, Burding would have the opportunity to hit balls with tennis royalty, including John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors. He also was able to play with celebrities such as Elton John, Clint Eastwood and Charles Shultz.
Burding’s work ethic on the court easily transferred to the principles he has followed during his career in the title industry. Serving as general counsel for California-based Orange Coast Title Co., Burding was installed in October as ALTA’s 2020-21 president.
“Bill has the confidence, resilience and legal acumen that is essential to leading ALTA and its members through a global pandemic and economic recession,” said ALTA CEO Diane Tomb. “He will help enhance the understanding of the title insurance industry with government agencies and policymakers focused on federal real estate and housing policy and collaborate with industry stakeholders and partners on laws and advocacy efforts regarding data privacy and digital closing adoption. The challenges we’re facing require Bill’s experience and foresight to help our member companies excel in an ever-changing business and regulatory environment.”
Finding the Right Fit
Coming out of high school nationally ranked, Burding had numerous academic and athletic scholarship offers to play tennis at lower-tier Division I colleges across the country. He just wanted to find the right fit. Burding eventually enrolled at Claremont in Southern California. After deciding Claremont wasn’t what he was looking for, Burding planned to accept a scholarship offer at the University of California San Diego.
On the way to San Diego, Burding got in a car accident in Whittier. Without any money, Burding called Whittier College’s tennis coach to ask for help. The coach offered to let Burding stay on campus for free. Shortly after that, the coach let Burding practice with the college’s tennis team.
“I started warming up with the team, and I’m thinking these are really nice guys, I could do this,” Burding said.
After practice, Burding went to the Admissions Office and applied. Within a week he was enrolled and playing tennis at Whittier.
“What was nice is that we were Division III, but we played against a lot of Division I schools,” Burding said. “I got a chance to have a really good level of competition without having to get to get on a plane and fly all over the country to play.”
In the classroom, Burding studied political science and Russian history. Why Russian history? The first reason, according to Burding, was that the professor’s wife was an amazing cook. With only three students enrolled, the class would often be held at the professor’s house and they would be treated to some home cooking. The second (and more relevant) reason was that Burding was considering going to the Harvard Kennedy School.
“I just thought Russia was our major adversary and it would be beneficial for me to know what our major rival was doing,” he said. “If I was to get into government or go into the state department it would be beneficial for me to understand the psyche of our major foe in the world.”
After graduating from college cum laude, Burding attended Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. With his law degree, he spent the next five years in private practice. But much like his experience at Claremont, Burding wasn’t enjoying what he was doing. After handling two major trials involving RICO and federal racketeering charges, he decided a change was needed.
“I couldn’t see doing it for the rest of my life,” he said.
An offer to serve as the attorney for the Village of Vail tempted Burding. “That would have been an amazing lifestyle. Lot of skiing. I gave that serious thought before I declined it,” he said.
‘No Idea What I Was Doing’
Then he got connected with a family member who owned a Denver-based title company, but was considering dissolving it. Burding looked at the financials and thought it sounded a lot more interesting than practicing law, “even though I had no idea what I was doing.”
So, armed with the basic knowledge of real estate he learned in law school, Burding bought a half interest in National Title in 1993. He jumped right in—answering phones, conducting searches and doing examinations. He then turned to the escrow side of the business.
“I did almost everything and learned the business from the ground up,” Burding said.
The title company almost exclusively handled commercial transactions. This meant Burding was often jumping on a plane to handle high-profile hotel deals in New York or Las Vegas. One notable deal was the Ritz-Carlton in Aspen.
“I learned a lot, but eventually sold the company after five years and didn’t know what I was going to do with my time afterward,” Burding said.
He planned to take some time off, but his rest didn’t last long. Through sheer blind luck, Burding’s resume made its way to Rich Macaluso, president of Orange Coast Title. Less than two weeks after interviewing, Burding was running Orange Coast’s operations in Arizona.
“I didn’t even know Orange Coast at the time,” Burding said.
He spent a year commuting for the Arizona job, before relocating back to Southern California. It’s been his time at Orange Coast over the past two decades that cemented his passion for title insurance. There’s a reason why everybody jokes that the title industry is Hotel California, because once you’re in, you’re in.
“You can check out, but you can never leave,” Burding said, riffing off the Eagles’ song.
With nearly 30 years now in the industry, Burding views Macaluso as his industry mentor.
“Rich allowed me to create my place at Orange Coast. I’m forever grateful for that,” Burding said. “He has given me the freedom to do what needs to be done for the company. He’s allowed me to color outside the lines.”
Macaluso volleyed back the compliments, saying how proud everyone at Orange Coast is of Bill’s work at ALTA.
“He has provided our industry with a lot of energy and time, along with all of his great integrity, skill, knowledge, experience, leadership and understanding—the same qualities that have made him a great general counsel for Orange Coast,” Macaluso said. “Bill’s contributions to Orange Coast and ALTA have been enormous and will continue to be this year and beyond.”
The two were instrumental in developing the title company’s core values, called The OCT Way.
“We’ve done a series of videos, it’s on the walls of our of our offices and it’s how we think about getting deals done,” Burding said. “The OCT Way permeates every single decision that I make, from when we talk to clients, how we talk to clients and how we deal with underwriting. All those core bedrock principles are utilized every single time that I work on something at Orange Coast.”
Mike Marconi, chief operating officer for Orange Coast Title, also recognized Burding’s loyalty and commitment to do whatever it takes is at the core of his contributions to their company.
“It shows in everything he does, from his work as general counsel to serving on the board of our title insurer,” Marconi said. “This includes finding creative yet safe ways to close each transaction for the consumer. Bill also has a firm understanding of local issues that affect all states such as remote online notarization and working toward a national solution.”
What’s the day in a life of a general counsel?
According to Burding, “There’s so much that I do that’s very non-general-counsel-ish.”
He’s handled mergers and acquisitions, managed companies and handled underwriting. He also oversees the company’s HR department and chairs its COVID-19 task force.
Having been a goalie when playing hockey during his youth, Burding compares his role in the industry to his time between the pipes.
“I feel like a goalie because every day I go into the net and never know what’s going to be thrown at me,” he said. “I love that. I absolutely love that.”
Like most ALTA presidents, Burding has been also heavily involved at the state level with the California Land Title Association, where he was awarded the 2010 and 2016 President’s Awards for outstanding contribution to the California title insurance industry. In 2007, Burding helped negotiate the state’s current anti-rebate legislation. His efforts garnered the attention of Anne Anastasi, who served as ALTA’s 2010-11 president.
“We were at the CLTA convention and playing golf,” Burding said. “She asked if I’d get involved at ALTA. We had a nice round of golf and we did not win. I think I’m the only person who doesn’t win a golf tournament with Anne.”
Already participating in ALTA’s Title Counsel, a round of golf with ALTA’s then CEO Kurt Pfotenhauer led to Burding becoming more involved at the national level.
“I thought I was just going to be chair of one of the committees. I didn’t think I was going to be on the Board,” Burding said. In addition to the Board, Burding has served on the Agents Section and numerous committees. He also served as chair of ALTA’s Title Insurance Political Action Committee (TIPAC).
“If you’re in this industry, you’re vested in it. Contributing to TIPAC gives you access. Without access, we can’t tell our story. And, unfortunately, that’s just the way things are.”
Amazed at how resilient the industry has been during COVID, Burding praised companies for how they retooled business models to meet the needs of customers.
While remote online notarization hasn’t been utilized on a large scale by lenders (California doesn’t have RON legislation), Burding said his company is having customers sign many of their documents prior to closing. This has allowed closers to spend more time on the phone working with customers.“We’re never going back to the old way of doing business,” Burding said. “It doesn’t make any sense. We’re going to continue doing what we do now. We’re so much more efficient. I think the consumer wants the transaction to be completely painless.”
Areas of Focus
Putting the pandemic aside, Burding said wire transfer fraud remains a top concern for the industry, especially since fraudsters have upped their game during COVID.
“They know that we’re running huge volumes through the trust accounts, so the number of attempted frauds has gone up astronomically during the health crisis,” he said. “If you’re not careful of what you’re doing, you can lose money out the back door as easily as it comes in.”
This is one of the major reasons why Burding was such a proponent of the development of the ALTA Marketplace, which is an online repository that helps connect members with vendors that provide essential services such as solutions to help prevent wire fraud.
“Most small agents don’t have the luxury of a sophisticated IT department,” he said. “I wanted to make sure that these agents had a resource to find vendors. Marketplace basically has done the research for you and provides the contact information of people to call. Small title agencies are so vital to what we do as an industry because they cover most of the rural locations. I know with the amount of resources that I have, I’m very fortunate. I want to make sure that small agencies have the same access to resources, or at least the same access to information that we have.”
Another key priority is to continue the success of ALTA’s Tell Our Story initiative, which is a public awareness campaign launched in 2020 to communicate with target audiences about the industry and the value it provides.
“ALTA has done a phenomenal job, even before I came on the Board,” Burding said. “Now when we meet with members of Congress, they know who we are and ask for our opinions on bills. We have become the middle ground and voice of reason because of our expertise.” ■
Jeremy Yohe is ALTA’s vice president of communications. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Six Questions With Bill Burding
Tell us something that others in the industry may not know about you? I was “detained” by the U.S. Secret Service for hitting Alexander Haig, the Secretary of State at the time, in the head with a tennis ball.
What are some of your personal and professional highlights? I missed my personal goal of getting to all 50 states by the time I was 50 by six months, but at least I made it. I also had a goal of 50 countries by 50 and that I achieved. I am also working at going to every NFL and MLB stadium. I think I can do it in the next few years. During my senior year in college, I won the Political Science and History awards, and I was the Scholar Athlete of the year for Whittier College and made Academic All American. As a practicing lawyer, I argued a case of original jurisdiction before the Colorado Supreme Court. Professionally, I am proud of receiving the President’s Award twice from the California Land Title Association for service to the association. One thing I enjoy every year (pre-COVID) is a trip with my daughter Alissandra to see a New Orleans Saints game. It is always a highlight of the year.
If there was an emergency and you could grab only one item from your house or office, what would it be and why? Nothing. We came close to losing our home to wildfires a couple of years ago when I was at ALTA ONE in Miami. All I could think about was that everyone, human and canine, got out safely. It was amazing how irrelevant all material things became.
If you could have dinner with anyone, who would it be and why? Nelson Mandela. In college, I did Model United Nations and led the South African delegation. I got the opportunity to understand the perspectives of both sides of the racial tension. After college, I continued to read about South Africa and eventually was able to spend time there. What an amazing country. My favorite place in the world!
What’s your favorite book/movie/TV series? Book: I tend to follow authors instead of individual books. My favorites are Steve Coll (Ghost Wars), John Feinstein (A Good Walk Ruined) and AJ Jacobs (The Year of Living Biblically). TV Series: I love comedies and my favorites tend to be in the past, Seinfeld, Friends, Frasier and Married With Children. That said, I loved Santa Clarita Diet on Netflix. Something about watching those shows is relaxing. Movies: My two favorite movies are complete opposites. Spellbound and There’s Something About Mary. One very chilling and the other so very funny.
What’s in your music playlist? My playlist is stuck in the past. I listen to Genesis, Matchbox 20, Live, Go-Go’s, Collective Soul and Daughtry. The “newer” music I listen to are Imagine Dragons and Ed Sheeran. This may explain the “Happy” debacle, which I may never live down.