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Greenville, S.C.-based fintech company Earnnest is real estate’s go-to for digital earnest money in the U.S.

As a busy real estate agent, George Clements was constantly seeking new technology to replace time-consuming manual tasks.

“eSignature had saved me tons of time, and I was always looking for other ways to be more efficient,” says Clements. “Collecting earnest money checks was always one of the biggest time wasters for me and the buyer. Many times, I would end up meeting the client in a parking lot somewhere to grab the check from them. The last earnest money check I took from a buyer was the perfect example of how bad the problem was; my client drove 45 minutes in the rain to hand me a soggy earnest money check.”

Enough was enough, and in 2012, Clements began looking for a solution. As he quickly discovered, the technology possibilities were just not where they needed to be yet, so he tabled his attempts.

Fast forward to the beginning of 2017 when Clements was helping his client, Daniel Jeffords, purchase a home and the two started talking about the real estate process while sitting at the closing table.

“Daniel, who has a strong background in tech, mentioned the earnest money check and how much of a pain it was for him since he didn’t even really use checks,” explains Clements. “We both agreed that someone needed to do something about it, and a few months later, Earnnest was born.”

Today, the Greenville, S.C.-based company is the largest digital earnest money service in the United States, allowing buyers to securely and electronically deposit funds directly to an escrow holder. Earnnest eliminates the need to meet face-to-face to exchange a paper check and provides the convenience of completing earnest money requests and payments from anywhere, anytime. Absolutely no physical checks are required.

Clements’ friend, Dani Ezelle, who had just gotten into real estate when the Earnnest project was starting, knew he also wanted to get involved.

“I have a corporate sales background of almost 20 years, and George said he could really use my help. They brought me up to speed about the company and I soon came on board,” he says. “Earnnest has been blessed with the right strategy, the right people to execute the strategy and a supportive community in Greenville, S.C., to help fuel this machine.”

Thanks to talented developers and designers and an executive team that includes CTO Daniel Jeffords, VP of Engineering Andrew Elster, CEO Rick Altizer, CFO Kent Elmer, VP of Sales Chris Basinger and acting CMO Melissa Kandel, the company continues to grow month after month.

“Earnnest’s incredible growth is sustained through tens of thousands of agents from all over the country looking for a digital earnest money solution,” says Ezelle. “Our development team has done a fantastic job of making it as easy as possible for agents to create an Earnnest account and request money from their buyers. Even if the agent’s preferred escrow holder is not yet in our system, it’s easy for the agent to invite an escrow holder, and it’s easy for an escrow holder—once verified—to enroll.”

In addition to being part of the Earnnest team, Clements and Ezelle are both Greenville-area agents, so they understand the benefits that Earnnest provides to real estate professionals.

This includes an automatic earnest money receipt once the buyer authorizes the transaction; a safe and secure digital transaction as each escrow holder in the closed Earnnest system goes through a comprehensive vetting process; and a cost-effective way to complete an earnest money deposit. Earnnest is free to use for the agent and escrow holder, and Earnnest charges the homebuyer a flat processing fee for each transaction.

“The agent never has to physically handle the funds or be in possession of funds, which takes a lot of liability off the agent. It can also be a huge relief to brokerages where agents are receiving violations for trust fund reporting,” says Clements.

For clients, Earnnest offers a simple and streamlined 100-percent digital experience for paying their earnest money; banking-level encryption with no personal data stored; and the convenience of not having to drop off a check or send a wire.

When COVID hit, the company knew it needed to do something special to help the real estate industry.

“Real estate is in our blood, and we wanted to contribute in any way we could to help agents keep selling,” says Clements. “For the entire month of April into early May, we offered our digital earnest money solution at no transaction cost to help consumers in any way we could, especially with the initial shutdowns. Going digital when it comes to earnest money was on most brokerages’ and escrow holders’ lists, but with social distancing and stay-at-home orders, it suddenly became a top priority.”

Looking ahead, the future looks bright as Earnnest continues to add to its capabilities.

“We’re just at the beginning of what we can do,” says Ezelle. “By the end of this year, we plan to be doing cash-to-close, which is a real need as well, and also vendor payments and agent commissions.”

“There are so many ways we can help people with safe, secure and compliant payments,” says Clements. “We’re also excited about the new product releases and partnerships coming out that are going to make our digital earnest money platform even better. We’re a proud participant in the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) 2020 REACH program, and it’s exciting to be part of a new class of tech companies taking the real estate industry to a higher level.”

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Keith Loria is a contributing editor to RISMedia.