Ally, more independent, can better focus on dealers

Jim Henry is a special correspondent for Automotive News.

It's time to stop thinking of Ally Financial as GM's captive finance company and get used to the fact that it's an independent bank.

It was natural to hold on to the notion of Ally as a captive. The company, named Ally Financial Inc. in 2010, is the rebranded GMAC Financial Services. Although General Motors spun off majority control of GMAC in 2006, for the next few years GMAC still looked and acted like a captive.

In fact, GMAC became a bank holding company in late 2008. GM gave up most of its stake as part of a government bailout. But as late as 2009, 58 percent of the lender's U.S. consumer auto originations were subvented loans.

In the third quarter of 2013, it was only 11 percent. Nevertheless, dealers and F&I managers still slip once in a while and call Ally "GMAC."

This month GM announced it was selling its remaining 8.5 percent stake in Ally for about $900 million. Ally still does a lot of business with GM and Chrysler dealers, but it's nowhere near as dependent on the automakers.

And this week, Ally secured U.S. regulatory approval to change its holding-company status from a bank holding company to a financial holding company, a move that will allow it to retain an insurance business and a vehicle-auction Web site.

Reducing U.S. government ownership is the last major hurdle before Ally is really on its own for the first time -- a process that began in 2006. After an IPO -- maybe in 2014? -- Ally can finally devote its full attention to its U.S. dealership business and to online banking.

You can reach Jim Henry at autonews@crain.com

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