Whoever said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks wasn’t living in the 21st century. People of all ages, especially in the business world, have had to embrace the age of computers and electronic technology with gusto or choose to be left in the dust. The evolution hasn’t been easy for many because any change is difficult and costly, which causes hesitance. However, advances in digital software systems, electronic tools and communication systems have placed automobile dealerships under pressure to accept and incorporate many of them into their way of doing business. Their acceptance and use of e-contracting is a case in point.
DealerTrack launched the e-contracting trend
The progression of e-contracting in the automotive industry has been almost revolutionary in scope. When DealerTrack launched its initial product in late 2002, it was met with skepticism by most dealers. The very thought of a paperless finance system seemed ludicrous, and no one believed that digitally produced signatures on contracts would be accepted by customers, banks and company attorneys. Most played the wait-and-see game. Over the course of three short years, DealerTrack has become one of the country’s premiere Web based platforms for the automation of auto financing, tripling their customer base. It connects over 21,000 dealers, which includes 80 percent of new franchised dealers, and over 160 financing sources, among them 20 of the largest independent automobile financing sources. Bank One Custom Finance, which merged with J.P. Morgan Chase in early 2004 to become the second largest bank in the U.S. providing indirect vehicle financing, has signed on with DealerTrack, as has Union Bank & Trust, one of the Midwest’s largest financial institutions. Mark O’Neil, president and chief executive officer of DealerTrack, has said that e-contracting is now an “everyday reality for over 90 percent of new car franchise dealers.” Older dealerships and independents are following in increasing numbers.
eOriginal, Inc. Signs on BIG
eOriginal, Inc. is another leading software provider providing complete e-contracting services, including legally enforceable documents signed via electronic signatures. In January of 2005, the company announced that Bankers Integration Group (BIG) would incorporate its technology as part of its finance portal. Mike Dunn, the CEO at BIGFNI, said at the time of inauguration that BIG had instigated “strategic agreements … with a number of major financing sources,” in order to automate online consumer credit application processing and approval. BIGFNI would use its patent-pending portal solution to not only automate the finance application process, but provide a tool for prescreening applications and matching them to various lender profiles. Snail mail transactions would become a thing of the past and both dealers and their customers would find the new system a good thing.
ADP Releases Its Own Digital Contracting System
Just this month—February of 2006—the Dealer Services Group of Automatic Data Processing (ADP) announced the availability of its new digital contracting software called Digital Contracting. It provides dealers with the entire digital package, including forms, lasers, secure electronic document storage and retrieval and electronic signature capture. As with the other digital systems available to dealerships, the ADP protocol provides clients with the ability to increase the speed and accuracy of the F&I process. Kevin Henahan, senior vice president of marketing for ADP Dealer Services said, at the announcement ceremony, that ADP's Digital Contracting solution minimizes “the delays and inaccuracies inherent in a paper-based system. Within a few years this paperless way of transacting business in the F&I office will be commonplace.” Chris Woerner, senior director of product marketing for ADP, said “A typical car sale consists of 25 forms, seven vendors providing blank forms, 20 forms that must be signed, and 75 forms, both originals and required copies, that must be shipped to sourcing vendors. ADP’s Digital Contracting solution streamlines the process. Now dealers can spend more time selling and customers can spend less time on paperwork.”
Several Factors Drive Interest in e-Contracting
According to various reports, proof is now available that the installation of an electronic contract protocol is well worth the time and investment. The approval process and the funding of the deal are completed so quickly that consumers can get into and out of the finance office in a significantly decreased time span and with less aggravation. The use of laser printing and electronic signatures has improved both F&I up-sell opportunities and CSI scores, the number of returned contracts is reduced, the once formidable paper trail is now manageable, shipping costs are practically nonexistent, and data accuracy is delivered with greater efficiency. As soon as the deal is finalized, finance clerks can transmit the signed forms to the aggregator, lender and other vendors with the press of a few keys on the keyboard. The finance officer has more time to devote to an increasing number of customers. Dealers who have already instituted e-contracting have also found they have better cash flow control and a reduction in errors, resulting in less risk. Combined these factors spell increased profits and amplified customer satisfaction.
It’s Time to Get Out of the Comfort Zone
In the past, many dealerships hesitated to jump on the electronic contract bandwagon. They were waiting to see that various lending sources would do about the issue and to see if the new system would be accepted by the majority of their peers and, especially, by the courts. Some feared law suits, if the contracts were deemed illegal. They were concerned about the cost involved in switching their office software systems and in training their managers and staff and about the acceptance of paperless contracts by their customers. Three years have produced untold changes. Most major lending institutions are now using the integration platforms of DealerTrack, Route One, BIGFNI, Curamax and other aggregators, to provide e-processing solutions for their dealership customers. Lending institutions and their dealership customers have learned that the seamless system increases efficiencies, reduces time-consuming errors and produces funding within twenty-four hours. Dealerships leaned they can further enhance the integration of their e-contracting procedures with the Reynolds dealer management system, which allows the avoidance of retyping or recalculating deal information. Obviously, this saves time and reduces the likelihood of costly errors. E-contracting was one innovation that was a win-win solution for dealerships, lenders and auto consumers.
In September of 2004, the American National Standards Institute implemented standards relating to various compliance issues of e-contracting, including contract vaulting, electronic signatures and authoritative copy standards. This was one of the last major hurdles standing in the way of dealership participation. There was no longer reason for delay. The e-contracting system and all its components has quickly become a well-oiled machine, fully compliant and cost-effective. It’s time for all dealerships to get out of their comfort zone and to modernize their finance deal system. E-contracting is here to stay.
Vol 3, Issue 4
Used-vehicle values fell by an average of 1.9% in October, the largest decline since January but on course with seasonal patterns, according to the latest report from Black Book.