A Cleveland Startup Wants to Modernize the Vehicle Title Industry

screenshot of CHAMPtitles.com Screenshot of CHAMPtitles.com

How CHAMPtitles is bringing an old process into the 21st century to help states and companies

One of the most confusing parts about buying a new car is the title, a piece of paper that establishes the legal ownership of a vehicle. In most cases, the bank financing the car takes possession of the paper, sending a copy to drivers that can be used for the BMV (or DMV) process. As you might expect, the logistics of vehicle titles are often just as complicated and antiquated as the method itself. But Cleveland startup CHAMPtitles wants to fix that.

“We digitize the process of managing, transferring and handling all things related to your vehicle titles,” said CEO Shane Bigelow. “That can be vehicles like cars, boats or anything movable. These processes weren’t digitized until now. Rather than a federal system that everyone can use, states instead have all developed their own. There’s been a lot of duplication of efforts and states didn’t see a reason to move to a fully digital option. Then COVID hit and states started asking, ‘Why do we have people show up in person to do this?’”

Although nearly every industry and process in the country is digitized in some way, the method of issuing, organizing and accessing vehicle titles has largely been stuck in the 1900s. Just two years ago, the U.S. Department of Transportation finally allowed the odometer statement portion of a title, the only federal part of the document to be digitized. That began to open up the options that led to CHAMPtitles, but the processes involved can still be extremely difficult.

“The DMV or BMV is the system of record for your state, which can be good because there’s a government entity that’s determining when something is titled,” Bigelow said. “But what is difficult about government is when the processes are paper-based or labor-intensive. We’ve created a way to leverage the new digital paths states are providing so that other entities can submit digitally. We are the mechanism tying all these processes and entities and governments together. We understand state rules, create the evidentiary support and get it off to the state in a form that’s acceptable to them.”

The goal of CHAMPtitles is to provide their service for the entire country. Bigelow said he wants to create “a central place states can come in order to move their titles around.” But for the company to reach that point, they’ll need to keep growing and see legislative shifts from some slower-moving states. In some areas of the country, old laws mean extra work, restrictive processes and an even greater need for CHAMPtitles.

“There are some states that are 100 percent on paper, even today,” Bigelow said. “In many states you have to show up and physically hand in a title. In some places, for instance, they only let you hand in five at a time. So if you’re a big insurance carrier or a lender and you’re processing hundreds or thousands of these, you literally have to have a courier hand five in, go to the back of the line, get five more off the stack and hand five more in. There are people whose job it is to do that all day long. CHAMPtitles is about putting the technology into the company’s hands so that some of these inefficiencies can be moved away from the process.”

Fortunately for CHAMPtitles, their project started in Ohio. Bigelow said the state’s willingness to embrace innovation and its understanding of small businesses and how to help them succeed enabled the company to grow in a state that fully embraces its mission.

“It’s a massive undertaking to be capable of doing this across all 51 jurisdictions, and we’re not there just yet,” he said. “Our goal is to try and get to as much of the population as possible as quickly as possible. We were fortunate to start here in Ohio, where there was a very forward-thinking view of the way to enable government to get out of the way of business. Through a paperless titles initiative that was put in place through InnovateOhio, there was a path for people to leverage technologies around title and registration and other BMV-related items in Ohio that was unique to the state.”

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