The bridges that connect credit unions to their local auto dealers should be well-paved, with few potholes and no speed bumps, industry officials said.
And they should have no speed limits, according to Robert O’Hara, vice president of strategic alliances at GrooveCar in Hauppauge, N.Y. Transactions need to move as quickly as possible, he said.
“Really smart, successful dealers value their credit union relationships,” added Marci Francisco, vice president of sales at CU Direct, an Ontario, Calif.-based CUSO that specializes in lending, automotive and strategic solutions for credit unions.
And credit unions value the relationship as well, according to Meaghan Brown, member loan center manager at the $2.5 billion Washington State Employees Credit Union in Olympia, Wash.
“I believe that it's imperative to have strong relationships with your dealer network,” Brown said. “Relationships are key in increasing and/or maintaining volume as well as knowing your dealers and the type of business they send you. It allows for you to identify trends and catch fraud, and it's a lot easier to hold your dealers accountable when something does go wrong.”
Those relationships are becoming even more important to credit unions since auto lending has grown tremendously at cooperatives. One in four vehicles sold are being financed by credit unions – a 20% year-over-year increase, CU Direct reported in May. And new car sales are expected to increase by 3.3% this year, reaching 17.7 million by the end of the year. CU Direct also reported in May that new auto loans comprise one-third of credit unions’ portfolios and are the fastest-growing part of their portfolios.
“Auto loans are a core product,” Francisco said.
Auto dealers and credit unions should be natural friends, experts said, as credit unions want their members to be able to shop for a vehicle as easily as possible and avoid the haggling that often accompanies such a purchase.
And credit unions want to steer members to responsible auto dealers, she said.
“I know they [will] treat my member right,” Francisco said. “They’re inside that circle of trust.”
In return, the credit union wants that member to obtain their financing through the credit union.
Auto dealers are typically on board with this – they want to know that they can call a credit union and easily reach a familiar voice. Plus, they have something else in common.
“Many of our credit unions are local lenders that invest in their communities,” Francisco said, noting the same can be said for auto dealers.
Organizations such as GrooveCar and CU Direct provide services aimed at ensuring friendships between credit unions and auto dealers blossom.
“The dealers, for the most part, control the point of sales,” O’Hara said.
That means credit unions are tasked with finding ways to ensure dealers funnel loans to them.
For credit unions doing business with GrooveCar, for instance, members can gain access to automotive resources by clicking a link posted to the credit union's website or by visiting GrooveCar.com. All pages are branded with the credit union's name, and members can gain access to participating auto dealers and their inventories.
“We act as the bridge between the dealer and the credit union,” O’Hara said.
If GrooveCar establishes the links between dealers, credit unions and car buyers, the next steps are up to the credit union, O’Hara said.
“Credit unions need to make sure that they have quick underwriting,” he said, adding that the entire process should take no more than 15 minutes. The process should be as automated as possible, he said, as dealers do not want buyers to leave their showroom with a deal pending.
GrooveCar can also customize a credit union auto buying website to label certain dealers as preferred, O’Hara said.
“It's also important that you’re getting that deal funded within 24 hours,” he added.
Francisco agreed that speed is vital – adding that the key is “fewer clicks, fewer screens, instant decisions.”
CU Direct, which also offers credit union-branded services, allows cooperatives to ease the car purchasing process by giving members access to a network of dealers nationwide. Dealership inventories show up on the credit union's website, establishing a link between the member, dealer and credit union. CU Direct has connections with more than 12,000 dealers.
“Everything is designed to connect seamlessly,” Francisco said, adding that it's designed to allow members to spend less time in the finance room.
For its part, WSECU has three dealer account executives that manage relationships with dealers in various parts of the state, Brown said. That allows credit union officials to visit dealers on a regular basis and build relationships with them, Brown said.
She added that in the past, the credit union has partnered with dealers to donate money to local charities, support associations, and hold golf events and trade shows. In addition, the credit union has done preapprovals for special sales at select dealerships.
The goal, she said, is for dealers to remember WSECU when they consider which financing options to offer to buyers.
“Being open to supporting their needs and budgeting for those keeps WSECU front of mind when they’re considering financing options,” she said.
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