Why Ford Credit is more frog than swan
Silverstone: "We want to be repetitive, reliable and consistent."
Ford Motor Credit Co. appears unchanged compared with the morphing that the former captive finance companies of General Motors and Chrysler underwent as a result of those automakers' bankruptcies.
GM's former captive, GMAC Financial Services, is now Ally Financial Services, and Chrysler Financial became TD Auto Finance.
Bernard Silverstone, 57, Ford Credit's new CEO, says that in today's economic environment, dealers want a lender that's predictable.
But, he notes, Ford Credit has made changes, too. For instance, it regained its investment-grade credit rating last year for the first time since 2005. That makes it cheaper for the captive to borrow money to make new loans.
Silverstone, who is British, took the helm of Ford Credit on Jan. 1, succeeding Michael Bannister, 63, who retired. Silverstone had been the captive's COO.
He spoke with Special Correspondent Jim Henry at the American Financial Services Association Vehicle Finance Conference in Orlando last month.
When asked about change, Ford Credit typically says it stays the course. Are you like the duck so often mentioned in business presentations -- above the water you're calm; under the water you're paddling frantically?
We are very focused on: "Have you delivered what you said?" We are very focused on not doing anything different for the sake of difference -- keeping in mind how you got where you are. But studying benchmarks, keeping all that in mind, there is a lot of change.
I think it's a swan you're thinking of with all the foot paddling. At Ford Credit there is a lot of activity, but it's not frantic. There is a very clear plan. There is a degree of intensity. We are relentless in staying on top of what's changing out there.
... To use another analogy, it's like boiling the frog. If you turn up the heat a couple of degrees at a time, the frog never notices. If you ask what's changed, actually a lot has changed, but you might not notice it because it's only happened a little at a time.
What are some examples?
There have been changes to our funding model. There is the whole engagement with the customer, the speed at which customers expect to do business and engage with you across a whole variety of channels -- online, through your call center, mobile, e-mail.
Probably day to day you don't see all those changes, but they add up to a lot of change. Five years from now I couldn't tell you where all that is going, but it affects where you invest, and where we're investing right now is in people and in technology. That can be your own technology or you can leverage generic technology.
What are dealers looking for from you?
Dealers are looking for solid decisions by a company that provides solid service. Our model is we want to be repetitive, reliable and consistent. Dealers want to know with reasonable certainty what's going to happen. They really are looking for someone they can rely on.
What about thin files -- first-time buyers with no credit history? Ford brand execs have talked a lot about attracting those buyers for the Fiesta or Focus. What's Ford Credit's role in that?
Provided you understand the marketplace, it is good business to have more of those coming into our brand. The core is consistency. We want to be their main source of financing. The percent of Ford customers we consider higher risk that we finance is around three-quarters. That is, Ford Credit finances three out of four Ford customers with a credit score below 620. That number was the same during the credit crisis and it's the same now. But it's never going to be four out of four.
You can reach Jim Henry at email@example.com.