ALTA Member Profile: Doma’s Chief Data Scientist Strives to Take Title, Closing to New Galaxy
Chief Data Scientist | Doma (formerly known as States Title)
How does a person with a doctorate in astronomy and astrophysics land in the financial services sector?
It’s not as uncommon as you’d think! Research labs around the country need many more graduate research assistants than there are future professor jobs available. Being two of the most well-funded areas, physics and astronomy produce hundreds of PhDs each year who immediately go on to do great things—like computing the value of complex financial instruments—in financial services! My own path was a little unusual in that I made the move after becoming a professor. Like most others who’ve made this switch, though, I was driven by a desire to get my head out of the clouds and work on something that could affect earthlings.
How long have you been in the title industry and how did you get started in this profession?
After helping launch a one-of-a-kind fraud prevention algorithm for Capital One Bank, I met Max Simkoff, CEO of Doma. He described a part of financial services that I had never heard of before, which was virtually untouched by decision science. Decision science is the set of mathematical methods used to predict the future in other areas of finance such as credit card lending or car insurance. If we could launch such a system for title, it would be a little like exploring a new galaxy. So, it was as exciting from a research perspective as it was potentially transformational for the process of home loan closing.
What’s a day on the job like for you? What excites you about what you do or what is the most challenging aspect of your job?
The best part of my job is definitely my team. I work with some of the most talented data scientists I’ve ever met, and it’s an exciting journey to be tackling the challenging subject area of settlement automation with them. When I log in each day, I have two main goals. First, are we doing everything possible to let machines do the boring and repetitive parts of settlement, leaving the complex and interesting topics for humans? Second, are my team members finding their jobs rewarding and satisfying? If I can answer “yes” to both questions, I consider it a successful day.
What are some innovative things Doma is doing to make it easier for people to purchase property and refinance mortgages?
Title and escrow professionals have a huge amount of subject matter expertise, but spend much of their time answering repetitive emails, checking mind-numbing lists of fees, or calling about irrelevant or invalid title defects, ad nauseam. By having machines do the most straightforward parts of these tasks, we have significantly shortened the time (and lessened the numbers of errors) involved in closing a home loan. This means that homeowners have a more streamlined closing experience already: an experience which will become smoother and faster as we continue to launch improvements regularly over time.
The title industry continues to innovate to deliver for its customers. What do you think the homebuying process will look like in five years?
I think in five years we could see many dramatic changes on the homebuying side. The idea of excellent service for millennials is very different than for past generations. For example, millennials value being able to conduct complex tasks purely via apps and without interacting with humans. So, I expect to see the likes of Zillow and Redfin grow in their ability to conduct both in-person and virtual home viewings and make offers (with and without lender integration), without the need to organize it all through a single person. I think we’ll also see greater adoption of digital mortgage closings and that this will help significantly improve the homebuying process.
Why is the title industry a great career opportunity for those entering the workforce?
Land rights, land ownership, and rules around the transfer and the encumbrance of land are a fascinatingly complex topic, with rules that vary state-by-state. There are still many challenging and satisfying problems to solve in terms of automating the processing, comprehension, and communication of these complex topics. We need both talented technologists with a passion for automation, as well as legal and title subject matter experts to help inform the algorithms the technologists will build.
What advice do you have for professionals starting their career in the industry?
At social gatherings, when someone asks you what you do, tell them you take people through the process of closing on their homes in a trouble-free way. Do not say the word “title.”
How has the industry evolved since you began your career? How has your company had to change in order to remain competitive?
We’re seeing the expansion of data services around real estate, with many more high-quality title data sources available via technologies such as REST APIs (application programming interface designed to take advantage of existing protocols), with ever increasing and greater coverage. We’ve needed to be constantly on top of newer offerings to make sure we are leveraging the highest possible quality data sources.
What have you learned about yourself or your company since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic?
That I can hire someone, trust them and become friends with them when all I experience about them is pixelated video and audio. That’s an incredible realization for the future of many jobs: that they can be carried out on what is truly a deeply human level by streams of audiovisual data.
Tell us something that others in the industry may not know about you.
I can make thin crust pizza from scratch in under 30 minutes.
If you could have dinner with anyone, who would it be and why?
Would love to meet up for dinner with Alexander the Great and learn more about his diplomatic prowess, influence and accomplishments.
What’s your favorite book/movie/TV series? Why?
Book: The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh: I thought meditation was bogus before reading this book.
Movie: The Matrix. Explored many of our modern ideas around AI and the human/machine interface while being extremely stylish. Still feels fresh.
TV Series: The Expanse. Well-crafted characters in a sci-fi setting with minimal pretend magic.
What’s in your music playlist?
Atmospheric/House/EDM music: Hybrid, BT, Unkle, Odesza, Driftmoon.