The agent segment has come a long way in the past 10 to 15 years. Today’s agents offer services ranging from traditional product representation to F&I training and development, long-term planning, and dealership technology implementation. Auto Dealer Today met with Bryan Nieves, vice president of national accounts at Napa, Calif.-based AUL Corp., to ask how dealers can go about finding a new agent and what they should expect to gain from the partnership.
ADT: Bryan, if a dealer is in the market for a new agent, what’s a good place to start?
Nieves: One of the best places to start is via peer inquiry — industry 20 Groups, factory meetings, and friendly conversations with other dealers at auction are always great places for dealers to get ideas for referrals, products, and tips. At AUL, I am consistently being referred to dealerships who’ve heard about our products at industry 20 Group meetings.
When I was an independent dealer, I made a point to build relationships with dealers that weren’t in my immediate market. We would discuss best practices and share ideas over a cup of coffee at auction or grab lunch after the sale and solicit ideas for new software systems, training, and financing options. Any of these conversations could lead to the question, “Who would I call to find out more?”
Administrators and product providers can also be good sources, as they typically have a good grasp on what products and services are being offered through the agents that represent them. Companies like AUL, whose products are exclusively sold through general agents, regularly refer dealer inquiries out to the field agents.
ADT: Is it fair to say the F&I training some agencies offer today has advanced considerably over the past five to 10 years?
Nieves: F&I training is a constantly evolving environment as is the consumer buying experience. As consumers are provided new tools for information, research, and buying options, so is the method in which dealerships must present their products to keep up with the times. Depending on the need, some dealers feel passionate about sending their staff to a training facility to get fully immersed or reenergized. If time or budget is an issue, there are also great online tools available on demand. A favorite provider or agent is a good resource for recommendations.
ADT: What should a dealer or F&I director look for in an F&I training program? What are the essential components?
Nieves: Dealers and F&I directors should be continuously reviewing opportunities and successes with every customer that walks through the door to measure program effectiveness. A good training program should be able to aide in this evaluation process and have flexible curriculum that brings the ability to focus on all aspects of the sales processes. More importantly, a good program will help identify those areas where the team needs additional practice or education, providing the opportunity to improve the process over time. Lastly, the trainer must understand the culture of the dealership and be able to work well with the organization’s core values.
ADT: Can an agent help a dealer sort through all the new technology on the market, including customer-facing solutions and dealer-facing solutions?
Nieves: Being a successful agent that brings value to his dealer clients is very difficult. Keeping up with all of the evolving technology alone is a near impossible task, but absolutely necessary. I would say that continually asking questions about the usage and awareness of new technologies, not only of your current dealer customers but also of your dealer prospects, will bring new ideas. This practice also builds value for the agency by reinforcing to the dealers and F&I managers that their agency is one that makes emerging technology a priority in this ever-changing environment.
I would also highlight the importance of an agent’s ability to bring value to the technology side from both a fixed and variable operations perspective. This has become a key factor in today’s market and all indicators are that this will be increasingly vital going forward.
ADT: What’s new at AUL? I know online claims submission and adjudication is a hot topic among providers.
Nieves: AUL recently implemented a new proprietary global software solution we call “Ocean” — a fitting name because it draws upon nearly 30 years of VSC and claims adjudication experience. Ocean has been designed with the input of our agents and dealers to provide the F&I industry’s most streamlined processes, while at the same time enabling us the flexibility to provide custom products on a dealer-by-dealer basis.
With Ocean, we can provide our agent and dealer customers with state-of-the-art reporting and claims submission tools that allow them to not only deliver better service but frees them to do more business as well. This includes online claims submissions and adjudication for which I can personally attest as I, unfortunately, had a claim on my own vehicle recently. The local franchise dealer’s service department handled the entire claim via Ocean’s new online portal and raved about it when I picked my car up after the repair was complete.