No matter the speed of technology, the process of creating something lasting and worthwhile is usually evolution not revolution.
That's what BMW Financial Services found while expanding a new paperless e-contracting service to BMW dealers.
The captive finance firm for the German luxury auto maker has tinkered with the system for nearly four years, invested $3 million during that time and beta-tested it first with New Jersey area dealers.
Now it believes it has a keeper with e-contracting, a process that expedites the financing process at dealerships and aims to make customers happier.
The company is expanding the service deeper into the BMW dealer network.
BMW dealers in nine states were onboard with e-contracting.
“The goal is to have 243 of 338 total BMW dealers nationwide up and running by the end of 2011,” says Shaun Bugbee, vice president-sales and marketing, BMW Group Financial Services, Woodcliff Lake, NJ.
The captive lender's e-contracting process is in use at BMW dealerships in Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Michigan, California and Florida.
BMW plans to include its Mini-brand dealers in due time, Bugbee says. He declines to give a definite timeframe for Mini, which has 100 U.S. dealers.
E-contracting can cut about 30% of time in the credit and contracting process, he says. Dealers also can save on various expenses, such as overnight shipping. They also can get paid on sales contracts the same day.
From a customer standpoint, “it's astonishing,” says Dominic Hughes, business director at Open Road Auto Group, a 15-store dealership group in New Jersey and New York. “We don't scramble around looking for contract information and there's no error-jamming.”
In about 45 minutes, a complete financial package hits the finance desk as a customer looks on. “It cuts the time well in half,” Hughes says. Simple transactions can take less than 30 minutes, aiding the cause of customer satisfaction.
“The e-process simply makes the customer transaction go much more smoothly,” says Jason Baker, business and finance manager at BMW of Mt. Laurel in New Jersey.
BMW is ahead of the curve on e-contracting, he says. “No other auto maker is currently in the forefront of this technology.”
Brian Blum, business manager at Prestige BMW in Ramsey, NJ, has helped develop the e-contract system for his dealership.
Customers are very comfortable with electronic tools, he says. “They're so used to signing digital pads at grocery stores and elsewhere, they think nothing of it. I like the accuracy; it doesn't let you make a mistake.”
The old system had many steps: inputting data, faxing and mailing, resulting in days of delays in getting approvals and payment for the transaction.
Bugbee calls the new technology leading edge. “We're creating a model for the e-community as we speak.”
He acknowledges dealership acceptance initially was a hurdle. “The biggest challenge was around dealer change — it took a while to get to 60% utilization.”
On a busy day, it is human nature to revert to more familiar old ways, he notes.
BMW Financial also enters a new phase in paperless e-signature processing by using the Apple iPad to capture electronic signatures on digital pads.
The captive group says the U.S. is in the forefront of the e-contract technology, outpacing Asia and Europe, a continent that often leads in technical initiatives.