Another thing to watch carefully is the transformation of the prime and nonprime market segments. The line that has traditionally separated a primary auto finance lender from a secondary lender is blurring. Several companies including Wells Fargo Financial Acceptance now operate, to some degree or another, all the way from super prime to subprime. In addition, over the past couple of months, several captives announced their intention to migrate down from their prime buying patterns into more of the nonprime market.
Risk-based pricing and changes within the dealerships have contributed to this trend. It is difficult enough for an experienced buyer at a finance company to determine if a customer falls into a prime or nonprime credit grade; it’s even tougher for an ever busy F&I person to master many different credit programs under a changing rate environment with multiple program modifications. Compounding matters is that a high percentage of the larger dealerships have multiple F&I offices.
The theory exists that when these credit segments are offered by one company, it will lead to more business for that lender, as long as they can effectively, competitively service both. It should also mean better product and service options for the borrowers and more ease of use for the dealership. This theory will be tested throughout this year, but early feedback from dealerships shows that when done properly, it works.
The last storyline that I feel may help define the rest of the year and well beyond for the auto finance industry is the dealer community’s need for great service from lenders. This includes buyers and funders with the authority to get their deals done and attentive sales reps armed with a thorough knowledge of lender programs. I’ve spent time in focus groups, at industry events and on the phone speaking with dealerships about what they needed most from their lenders. While many dealers mentioned low rates and fast turn-time, what struck me most was that dealers’ still want a lender that will go the extra mile to help them do more business profitably.
With an increase in the use of scorecards and automation for credit underwriting, and as the auto finance industry has become more concentrated with large national financial services companies, the need for control has increased. However, with all the pressures that dealerships have on profits, they need lenders who cannot only out-national the local lenders but also out-local the national lenders.
Dealers still want the stability of a large lender. However, they do not want to give up the personal attention that goes hand in hand with a true dealer-lender partnership. The lenders that remember this will have many happy dealers as their reward.
In the first part of 2005, we’ve already seen some interesting developments. There will be challenges but no matter how it plays out, it should be interesting.
Vol 2, Issue 6