Electronic contracting remains a much-hyped but elusive technology intended to speed up and simplify the funding of auto deals.
Cox Automotive believes it has updated software to close some missing links in the process. Now it needs to convince dealers to get on board.
The product, called uniFI, comes from Dealertrack, which Cox bought in 2015 for $4.5 billion. Among uniFI's enhanced features: the ability to move customer data from online leads straight through dealer software systems to generate a virtual deal. Cox is calling the process digital contracting.
Emil Banga, Cox's associate vice president of F&I dealer operations, said the project spanned four years and cost the company more than $10 million in r&d.
UniFI, launched in late 2018, is Dealertrack's second F&I platform. Dealertrack F&I, which some dealers refer to as the classic edition, was the first.
Data that customers previously would input into a lead, such as their name and email address, would not flow throughout the electronic documents, Banga said. Now, any information a customer enters online or that is entered into a dealership's customer relationship management software inside a store can populate automatically into documents for credit applications.
The data is then dumped into the digital F&I product sales process, where it can be deposited into another Cox product for paperless contracting.
"It's the full entity of the entire deal," Banga said.
He concedes that dealers may have concerns.
Among them, an understanding of how the technology works, where it integrates into dealership software and whether the software supports all the lender forms needed to finish a deal.
Lender availability with e-contracting is another obstacle. For a dealer to adopt electronic contracting, the process needs to apply to about 60 percent of its deals, Banga estimates.
Will Pollard, finance director of three Tim Short Chevrolet dealerships in Kentucky, helped pilot the uniFI update. He said dealers have been tempted by the promise of e-contracting for years but saw little progress.
Now? He said he can originate a lead, arrange a deal, get it approved by his bank and receive funding within 15 minutes.
"Cash flow is everything to the dealer," he said.
In the past, in a process that entailed shipping paperwork via express mail, payments could take up to 10 days.
The uniFI platform is currently connected to 18 lenders, including Capital One, Nissan Motor Acceptance Corp., Wells Fargo, Hyundai Capital America, Kia Motors and Chase Auto.
By the end of the year, Dealertrack says there will be 26 lenders on board and another 10 will join in the first quarter.
Some 22,000 franchised and independent dealers use uniFI or Dealertrack's original F&I platform.