Driving digital innovation is among the responsibilities Douglas Timmerman assumed when he became president of Ally’s auto finance unit last year.
“There are a lot of creative digital ideas, and we spend a lot of time monitoring and participating in them when it makes sense,” he tells Wards. “We want to make sure we are placing the right bets on the right opportunities.”
One of those areas is presenting finance and insurance products online, before a consumer goes to the dealership. Some industry people say it is hard to digitally sell F&I, citing the need for human interaction between customers and F&I managers.
But Timmerman believes including F&I products on a dealership website and elsewhere can foster early customer interest in vehicle-protection products.
“F&I today is less about selling and more about giving the consumer the opportunity to learn,” he says. “How do you tie that to a digital experience? By finding touchpoints where the customer not only is looking at vehicle options, but also learning about protection products.
“Maybe they educate themselves online and go to the dealership to talk to a sales professional about questions they still have about protection products. But the important part is giving the customers the early opportunity to learn. It benefits them and the dealer, who usually will sell at a higher rate.”
Some consumers are drawn to online videos on F&I offerings. Others like to read about them. Timmerman thinks interaction is the best, in which online users type in information about their driving habits, such as miles driven annually, and get back specific F&I information that pertains to them. They also can learn details of online F&I offerings they’ve heard about but only vaguely know about.
“For example, with gap insurance, if something happens to a vehicle – if it is wrecked or stolen – there is a gap between what the vehicle is worth and the customer’s loan balance. If they have that perspective, they can decide whether to take that risk themselves or have the peace of mind of not worrying about it.
“Consumers get the chance to learn and think about products and their value. As the customer discovers that early on, it makes for a better customer experience, including with the F&I manager.”
F&I managers once had a hard-nosed reputation of hard-selling aftermarket products. F&I remains a dealership profit center, but the presentation approach has become more consultative, something that resonates with most people, Timmerman says.
“Buying a vehicle is a big event, a significant commitment and not something a person does every day,” he says. “It can be overwhelming to some people. That’s why it is important to give the information upfront and online. Sometimes, people end up asking for the products when they get to the F&I office.”
Timmerman is a 33-year veteran of Ally. Before taking his new position, he was president of Ally Insurance. Since joining Ally in 1986, he has worked in commercial lending, consumer lending, collections, sales and marketing across the country. (Doug Timmerman, left)
“I’ve held a lot of different jobs at Ally,” he says. “That helps. You know the operations, the employees and the dealer customers. We try to think from a dealer perspective, because that’s how our business rolls.”
Ally provides financing and F&I services for General Motors, Fiat Chrysler, several other new-car brands and independent used-car dealerships.
What are dealers telling him these days?
“More dealers are thinking about how to get better on the used-car side of the business,” he says. “New-car affordability definitely is an issue. Dealers recognize there might be more customers interested in a used vehicle rather than a new one. “But business is relatively good from a historical perspective. The good news is, this industry is resilient.”