The year 2020 altered the auto retail landscape in numerous ways. Dealers incorporated more financing steps in digital processes and dealership employees creatively navigated supply constraints. According to some of the nation's largest finance and insurance providers and administrators, 2020 is a year unlikely to be forgotten, one which galvanized change to the finance process. Here are a few notable trends that emerged over the past 12 months:
"Omnichannel" exploded: Digital retailing processes were by no means a byproduct of the coronavirus pandemic, though the adoption of these tools and processes by retailers this year certainly accelerated.
"We don't even know where the endzone is yet. Over the course of the last 10 months, technology has actually increased the business managers' value. You need somebody who can be versed front to back in a conversation with the consumer. We don't know yet what step of the process they're in [online]. You need somebody who can handle those questions and be equipped to help guide that customer down that purchase path. And business managers are really the most holistic staff members in the front end of the dealership."
-- Ritch Wheeler, vice president of training at American Financial & Automotive Services, an Assurant Company
"I can remember when a lot of F&I managers around the country said the menus are going to kill F&I. The consumer is going to actually see all the products that we're going to present and the actual cost of them. It actually helped them sell more products and a higher attachment rate. Not only does digital help them sell products, it also speeds up the pain points in the dealership."
-- Ash Bauer, executive vice president, Assurant
Retailers saw robust profits on fewer car deals: Finance and insurance profits on higher-than-normal transaction prices contributed to records at public retailer groups in the third quarter and at private stores across the country.
"Through the pandemic, we've managed to increase sales really across all of our lines, through all of our service contracts and our ancillary lines. Consumers are obviously very focused on protecting the car for the long haul and certainly making sure the interior is clean and protected."
-- Tim Blochowiak, vice president of dealer sales, Protective Asset Protection
Working remotely became a focus: Customers called in from home or remotely this year in record figures. Less common was the use of web conferencing by F&I managers outside the store, though several retailers report success with the strategy. Remote sales opportunities do come with unique challenges, however.
"[F&I managers] don't have the complete monopoly of the customer's attention that they would in the finance office. A customer needs to be able to look at the menu, remotely. On a tablet or smart device. They need to be able to sign it. Many dealers had perhaps a lot of the pieces of this technology, but then they were in a position where they had to learn to use it."
-- Paul McCarthy, vice president of national sales at AUL Corp.
More F&I training gravitated online: With non-essential travel shut down in the early months of the pandemic, F&I companies offered more online training services, many at discounted rates. For those with established digital training processes, companies reported high attendance. As business travel remains sharply limited, digital training programs remain in place.
"Retail training pivoted to support the shift in how dealers sell and who is selling, as well as a mix in training delivery from in-person & online to all online. Reservations for online training for brands on Safe-Guard's client roster continue to book 60 days in advance."
-- John Stewart, vice president of OEM field sales and training for Safe-Guard Products International
"We've been leveraging a lot of digital training. We've been able to see more F&I managers during the day, provide the training and support at a much more broad level than what we could do prior to it. That created a great deal of efficiency from the training and development side."
-- Tim Blochowiak, vice president of dealer sales at Protective Asset Protection