Andy Menzyk was named president of Primus Financial Services last August, after serving two years as president of Ford Credit Canada. Menzyk steps into the Nashville, Tenn.-based auto finance company in a period of industry change. Started in 1991 as a subsidiary of Ford Motor Credit Co., Primus provides independent or private-label financing to Ford's affiliated brands, including Mazda, Jaguar and Kia, and to non-Ford retailers at Suzuki, Subaru and others. Menzyk faces a consolidating market - yet one with growing opportunities. Ford has placed Jaguar under the Premier Automotive Group umbrella, with Volvo - which has its own credit arm - and Lincoln-Mercury, which is not a Primus customer. Menzyk believes the key to success for Primus will be focusing on customer (that is, dealer) satisfaction. He recently spoke by phone from his Nashville office with Automotive News Staff Reporter Lindsay Chappell. Here are edited excerpts:
What's on Primus' priority list for the next couple of years?
We're trying to differentiate ourselves in the marketplace by the level of customer satisfaction we provide the dealer. That's something we monitor internally on a monthly basis with our own data, as well as through external dealer satisfaction surveys. There are certainly a lot of financial institutions where dealers can send their business. We prefer to differentiate ourselves by developing a loyalty for that customer to the individual dealership, and to the particular manufacturer.
Can you, as a finance company, help the dealer develop customer loyalty?
It's our belief that when a dealer sends us a customer, it's our responsibility to return the customer to the dealer - especially in the case of the private labels. Whether a Mazda customer sees the Mazda dealer, or Mazda the manufacturing company, or Mazda American Credit, to them we are all joined together. We are all Mazda. We have communication in one form or another on a monthly basis. They remit their lease payment or retail installment payment to us on a monthly basis. So we do have ongoing contact with them that way.
Our customer service center gets a number of calls every month on issues as simple as 'I lost my invoice,' 'I've moved,' or 'I've changed my address.' There are opportunities to build loyalty with the monthly invoice statement - just a simple messaging technique we can use on the invoice to make them aware of what a particular manufacturer might be offering.
In the case of a lease, at the end of the lease process, we have to be in contact with the customer about what his intentions are, whether he is interested in purchasing the vehicle, or interested in leasing another vehicle, or just what his needs are at that time.
And there's another opportunity, and that's having a lease or a loan that is customer-friendly. We make sure the lease or loan agreement is printed in simple English to be easily understood. That assures customers that there are no hidden fees in it.
How will Primus interface with Ford's new Premier retail organization? Will there be an expanded role for you there?
It's really premature to say at this point. We've been involved in one or two meetings. But they are very early in the process. At least at this point, the focus is on taking advantage of the best ideas and best practices in use among the Premier Automotive Group brands. But it's just not clear which direction we're headed.
How are you doing at landing business from non-Ford affiliates?
Roughly half, or a little over half, of our business is now with non-Ford affiliated brands. Some of that is through our private-label agreements. A lot of it is just independent dealers, or non-Ford dealers, I should say, signing up with us under the Primus label. That has been a significant portion of our business and continues to be a growth opportunity for us.
What's the incentive for a non-Ford brand to do business with Primus?
Really, for any non-private-label dealer, it comes right down to the issue of service: Can we service the account in such a way that the retailer sees value? That can be through our purchase policy. It can be through our timeliness or responsiveness to their request. We might have a Mazda dealer or a Subaru dealer who has had experience with us through that private label, they like what they see and so we've taken over their non-Mazda accounts. It's a way for them to gain some experience without putting everything with us at first.
Which way is the business moving? Will that 50 percent non-Ford share continue to increase?
It's our goal to increase it. We've certainly been able to grow that segment of the business since we opened in 1991.
You mentioned your private-label relationship with Subaru. But in recent months, General Motors has acquired a large interest in Subaru. Is that development going to affect you?
There is always that risk, considering what's going on in the automotive sector with the various mergers and joint ownerships. When you look at the auto industry, it's interesting that you might find one company manufacturing parts or engines and selling them to another auto manufacturer. We're really performing that same kind of service. We're not manufacturing anything, but we are providing a financial service
What about technology? What technological opportunities do you see on the horizon?
The Internet is another venue for us to handle customer inquiries and to communicate with the customer. Some customers will choose to communicate with us by paper mail, some by phone. There are some who will want to communicate via the Internet. If you're customer-focused and customer-driven, you have to be able to communicate on whatever terms your customers choose. So I see that as a whole expanding area for delivering our service and satisfying needs.
On the dealer side, we've had for a number of years the Credit Net or Credit Web system, which allows dealers to do loan and lease applications online, receive approvals online, execute electronic funds transfers - things of that nature. That's an area where I see more opportunity down the road. In essence, this technology allows us to be open for business a wider range of hours, particularly for things that are simple look-ups, or feedback on information that's already in the database. It doesn't matter. It can be available seven days a weeks, 24 hours a day.
Other financial companies are expanding what they offer, such as adding sub-prime services. Is there an opportunity for Primus to expand its products?
Within the Ford Credit organization, there is Fairlane Credit, which is a sub-prime lender. To any dealer who is flooring with us, doing their wholesale financing with us, we offer Fairlane Credit. They are the specialists in that area, and we recognize it as such. If it's a customer who's not a good fit for Primus, we have that option.
In addition, we're looking at expanding some extended service contracts for our various manufacturer customers. And another area we're going to be focusing on a lot is dealership training. How the dealership delivers F&I products is an area where I think we can help it improve its customer satisfaction.