Tag Archive | "agents"

Build Your Agency With Powersports

2016 marks the end of an uptick cycle with vehicle sales in the retail automotive market. This year, we can expect vehicle sales to slow down and plateau. Combined with increased regulatory pressure, 2016 will be a year in which many agents will need to stretch their capabilities and their market base as they prepare for potential economic challenges in the years to come.

The good news is that new opportunities are not out of reach. In fact, there is an often overlooked opportunity for agents seeking to expand their business volume, as well as increase their footprint in the marketplace, in the powersports industry.

Revving Up Product Sales

Now, it is understandable that discerning agents might be concerned with branching into a market they know little about. However, given that the powersports industry is still in the early stages of F&I development, agents might find that they know more than they give themselves credit for.

Your knowledge, particularly in the F&I space, can have immediate and dramatic impact on powersports sales and profitability. Most powersports dealers do not fully understand the F&I process, how to implement a strong F&I department or how to measure its success. Strong agents who have worked with dealers in this area have a wealth of knowledge to provide immediate benefits. This makes the agent value proposition that much larger and more tangible in the powersports space.

Beyond the potential ease of differentiating their services in the powersports market, agents with automotive industry experience may not realize that there is actually a shorter sales cycle and faster revenue opportunity in the powersports space. Think of it this way: You can spend 18 months going after one new-car dealership, all the while competing with 50 administrators. Or you can acquire several powersports dealer partners in that same time period with only seven competitors. That’s right, seven.

So what does it take to make the leap into this brave new world? When contemplating expanding into the powersports market agents need to take the following steps:

  1. Change your mindset from working in a “need to have” industry to a “want to have” industry,
  2. Do your research and
  3. Apply what you’ve learned in auto to the powersports space.

It seems simple when put on paper, but taking the time to really delve into these three steps can go a long way toward ensuring success in the powersports market.

Step 1: Mindset

One of the biggest learning curves for any agent will be operating in a space where the vehicle purchase is a “want to have” rather than a “need to have.” Most powersports owners buy motorcycles and four-wheelers for leisure activities, not for their daily commute. This means that, while powersports demand might be high, the number of people willing to invest in the purchase of a powersports vehicle tends to filter down to those who can afford both a car payment and a motorcycle payment, along with the required insurance payments.

Typically, powersports enthusiasts, who still have to put food on the table, will focus on paying off their car or truck before making a powersports purchase. This filter is the industry’s biggest challenge right now, especially with the rising price tag of new powersports vehicles.

That is not so say that powersports consumers are not heavily invested in their ride. In fact, powersports owners often show more care and concern for their motorcycle than their car. They tend to see the bike as more of an extension of their personality, whereas the car just gets them from one place to another. And as the economy grows, we can expect more powersports enthusiasts returning to dealerships to make a purchase, meaning there will be more opportunity for dealers to increase their profitability and for agents to expand their footprint in the space.

In addition, in this want vs. need space, many powersports dealers extend their thinking beyond pure profitability metrics to the brands they choose to sell. While they can be just as strategic and sophisticated as an automotive dealer, powersports dealers can often base decisions on emotion as much as logic. For example, a staunch Harley-Davidson dealer who is heavily invested in the Harley brand is much less likely to open an Indian store than a Ford dealer is to open a Honda franchise.

Beyond the fierce competition and sense of stewardship between brands, powersports dealers are highly sensitive to being compared to the automotive space. The last thing they want to hear is how they are less sophisticated or versatile than their automotive brothers. This means that while agents can provide powersports dealers with quite a bit of knowledge gleaned from the automotive space, they have to be very careful in how they broach the subject.

In essence, both consumers and dealers operate in a sense of “want to have.” A good comparison to this mindset is the luxury vehicle market. Their purchase decisions are not based on getting from Point A to Point B, but rather on how the vehicle reflects their personality.

Likewise, highline dealers take their sense of brand stewardship seriously, which is reflected in the level of customer service they provide and expect from their agent partners. They believe in the benefits of the luxury brands and shape their dealerships to further cement in customers’ minds that buying from their dealerships comes with a care and attention to detail they cannot get anywhere else.

Powersports dealers operate in the same fashion. They take pride and ownership in the brands they chose to sell and they take care to ensure excellent customer service within a tight-knit community where word spreads fast. In turn, they need the same level of service from their agent partners.

Step 2: Research

Just like in retail automotive, it is important that agents perform their due diligence by researching the dealerships they want to pursue as well as their competitive landscape. They need to perform the groundwork to investigate each dealer’s current provider. It is also a good visual aid to develop a report card, providing a comparative analysis of the current provider’s services. Find out if they provide training, rate comparisons andprocess development, for example.

Be a problem solver. Most agents are probably already used to this when maintaining their relationships with dealer partners. However, it is just as important to research areas dealers can improve upon and provide insight before active engagement, especially in the powersports space. Taking this one extra step can put a strategic agent miles ahead in winning dealer business. You will demonstrate a level of service most powersports dealers are unaccustomed to — but would take advantage of in a heartbeat.

A strong presentation should include:

  • An online and in-person mystery shop,
  • A comprehensive website and online inventory review,
  • Online reputation assessment,
  • Demographics and surrounding area overview and
  • A comparison with the target dealer’s competition.

Lastly, it is important to look at each dealer’s inventory and compare it to the coverage offered by their current provider. Often, anywhere from 40% to 50% of their inventory does not qualify for coverage from most powersports providers, which means there is ample opportunity for a strategic and forward-thinking agent to earn their business with one of the few providers that maintains expanded coverage levels.

With this research in hand, you should be well-prepared to present dealers with something interesting — or at least a new perspective on their dealership operations. The powersports dealership personnel should be more intrigued and interested in how an agent can make them more successful.

Step 3: Application

Agents already accustomed to fierce competition in retail have the potential to easily win powersports dealers by maintaining the level of service they already know how to provide. You do not need to be timid about branching into a new market as long as you trust and use the processes you have relied upon for so long to build relationships and increase a dealer’s reliance on the agent model.

In fact, agent success in the powersports space relies more on understanding F&I than on understanding the space itself. Agents positioning themselves as F&I specialists and helping dealerships implement successful and compliant F&I programs have ample opportunity to materially grow their footprint at a faster pace in this space.

Remember, just like in retail automotive, providing a constant flow of solutions that keep dealers thinking about increasing market share and profitability deepens and strengthens your overall relationship with your dealers. Agents looking to make the transition into the powersports space will also need to look to partner with a solution provider that understands and can support and help execute their powersports strategy.

Providers that already operate in the space often have a better understanding of the products and services most dealers find beneficial, as well as a strong ability to cultivate relationships and make introductions, giving agents a resource to lean on to ensure successful market expansion.

Because the powersports space has so little agent competition, you’d be surprised how much more effective agents can be. Dealers in this space are not used to someone outside the dealership being invested in their success. By building a relationship with them, understanding their objectives and hurdles and educating dealers on the intricacies of F&I, agents can provide an immediate and exponential impact on their business. Remember, this all stems from adjusting your mindset, doing the homework and research on each prospect and determining how to apply lessons learned from automotive retail.

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Leveraging Prepaid Maintenance

2016 marks the end of an uptick cycle with vehicle sales. Starting this year, industry experts expect vehicle sales to slow down and possibly plateau with little to no growth in overall unit sales. For dealers, this means customer retention and brand enhancement will become more critical to gain market share. Agents, in turn, can expect dealers to rely more heavily on them to help drive more service customers and expand in a stagnant market.

Meanwhile, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)’s influence will continue to grow among lenders. As more lenders implement flat-fee models or caps on dealer markup, agents will feel pressure to help dealers reduce their reliance on finance reserves. However, adding products to the already crowded F&I menu can be tricky. Balancing CSI, the speed of the finance process, and providing products that make sense for the customer, as well as the dealership, is a difficult task.

One way to address current dealer needs is through a cutting-edge, customer-centric maintenance program designed to increase F&I profitability and service drive retention. Yes, I said maintenance programs. We have all heard statistics around prepaid maintenance driving higher customer retention rates — and it remains true. According to J.D. Power, maintenance packages help drive higher repurchase rates among owners, with 72% of those who have a complimentary or prepaid maintenance package repurchasing the same vehicle make on their next purchase.

A Powerful Tool

Even with statistics to back it up, this category of F&I products is one of the most overlooked and underutilized profit drivers for dealerships. But with the right foundation, it could be one of the greatest customer-retention tools at a dealer’s disposal. So rather than discuss the benefits of prepaid maintenance, let’s discuss how to effectively utilize it, starting with evaluating your dealership partners’ current prepaid maintenance programs.

The next time you visit your dealership partners, assess how successful each dealer is in offering prepaid maintenance on the sales floor, in the F&I office and in the service drive. Ask them the following questions:

  • What is their profit per retail unit (PRU) on maintenance contracts? How many are sold compared to the number of cars sold in a given week or month?
  • Does the dealership give away any maintenance contracts as a brand-enhancing value proposition? If so, how many?
  • Do they offer different levels of maintenance coverage? Of the contracts sold, how many are upsells?
  • Where on the F&I menu is the program positioned and how it is it sold?
  • What benchmarks does the dealership use to hold its team members accountable for selling maintenance contracts?

The answers to these questions will give you a clearer picture of whether a dealer is utilizing prepaid maintenance to meet their profit goals. Use the answers as a baseline to determine where you can plug in to help your clients achieve greater results.

Not Just Any Program Will Do

Next, evaluate the maintenance program itself. Underutilization could be due to not having the right maintenance program in place, poor handling of claims reserves, negative customer service from the administrator, lack of training within the dealership or ineffective compensation incentives.

Review the dealership’s top-selling inventory, customer demographics and surrounding geography, and ask, “Does the current maintenance program cover the required maintenance for the types of vehicles sold and the conditions in which the vehicles are driven?” If not, customers might not find it valuable, which could be another significant reason for a product’s underutilization.

Beyond looking at the product itself, it’s also important to partner with the right administrator to equip the dealership with tools to sell it.

Is the administrator backed by an A.M. Best rated underwriter/insurer? This signifies the administrator’s ability to pay claims and create products beneficial to both customers and dealerships.

How does the administrator benchmark customer service excellence? The claims process must be incredibly efficient for the service department. Is their current process automated? If not, what is their average speed to answer claims calls and average call handle time? How quickly do they pay claims?

Dealers benefit more from an administrator with strong customer service standards and happy customers in a couple of ways: First, it signifies that the products the dealer sells will be better received and seen as more valuable by customers. Second, those happy customers who bought a maintenance program from your dealer partners will be more likely to return to the selling dealership for their next vehicle because of the positive ownership experience the dealership delivered.

Does the administrator provide ongoing training and engagement to ensure the program’s success? No F&I product is successful without the right support, training and dealership buy-in. Seems obvious, but when we are all honest with ourselves, we know ongoing training is sorely lacking in many dealership environments. And as an agent, there’s only so much training you can provide without the in-depth knowledge of an administrator. With that in mind, selecting the right maintenance product for your dealership partners also comes down to the engagement model of the product administrator. Ask whether they do any or all of the following:

  • Conduct formal product installation and market launches
  • Implement quarterly account planning and performance tracking
  • Work with dealerships to develop incentivizing pay plans
  • Provide ongoing F&I development and one-on-one training

Successful prepaid maintenance programs are backed by dealerships equipped with ongoing training and development. Solid programs are priced for both effective claims management and dealership profit, and they are deemed valuable by customers.

Creating a Supportive Culture

To further ensure successful dealership utilization, work with your product administrator to focus training on the differences of selling prepaid maintenance compared to other F&I products.

While it is common practice for dealerships to maximize profit on an F&I product like a vehicle service contract, this approach is not effective when selling prepaid maintenance. When developing F&I pay plans, and in training, it’s important dealerships don’t apply the same markup rules they do for other products. In fact, it’s better to almost give the product away for little margin. This will help F&I managers demonstrate the value to the customer and how the dealership is working to save them money, making it very easy for managers to sell.

Prepaid maintenance programs are designed to be sold for a small margin upfront, for the purpose of gaining customer loyalty and attaining a larger, long-term margin on repeat business in both sales and the service drive.

Now, at this point, most dealer principals and general managers might think, “That’s well and good for my dealership, but my guys won’t sell it if they can’t make something on it too.”

This is a very valid point. In fact, the No. 1 reason most prepaid maintenance programs are underutilized is because dealership employees aren’t motivated to sell it. You can overcome this obstacle by creating a supportive culture around the program.

Cultivating this culture starts at the top. General managers, sales managers, F&I directors and service managers must buy into the idea of making prepaid maintenance central to their operations. Sales and service-drive teams must be trained on when and how to tee up the conversation about prepaid maintenance during the sales process. F&I managers need in-depth product knowledge training. Everyone needs training on asking questions to help position the program as relevant and valuable to customers. Lastly, tie the program to the dealership’s values. If they tout being family-oriented, then train team members to position the program as another way the dealership takes care of its customers like family.

Beyond training, one motivating factor in any dealership is pay plan development. Review the pay plans for your dealer partners and walk them through a retooling process for F&I, sales and the service drive, all geared specifically toward prepaid maintenance programs. Have them consider paying F&I managers on the number of programs sold versus the margin increase.

Another alternative is pay the same flat dollar amount derived directly from the markup. This ensures consistency and prevents managers from trying to mark the product up to maximize a percentage of the gross profit payout, resulting in a lack of value for the customer. Use this same approach with pay plans for sales, paying them for every handoff to F&I where they proactively informed the customer about the program during the sales cycle and when the customer bought the program prior to leaving.

On the service side, it’s important to remember that the dealership isn’t looking to make a huge profit on the individual sale of each program. This gives dealerships the opportunity to empower service managers to sell the program to their customers outside of a vehicle purchase. This further cements in the dealership’s customers’ minds the value they can receive from the dealership, as well as the dealership culture of putting customers’ needs first. To motivate service managers to sell the programs, it’s important to pay them on the number of programs sold. However, it’s even more important to make it easy for them to get paid.

If dealership team members have to verify the number of programs sold in three different ways — and work with accounting to get paid — the service drive simply won’t do it. While sales and F&I might have more time in the day to complete extra paperwork, the service drive doesn’t. The average service drive manager handles five times more transactions than anyone else in the dealership, and is working at a much faster pace. They don’t have time to jump through hoops to get paid and won’t do something that makes their job more difficult. So more important than determining what a service manager will be paid, focus on making the process to be paid easy for successful deployment in the service drive.

As dealers place higher demands on their agent partners, we will see agents become more efficient with their clients. If you’re looking for a deep and long-term relationship, consider providing a solution that keeps dealers thinking about how to increase market share and profitability, like successful implementation of prepaid maintenance.

The topic of prepaid maintenance repeatedly comes up because it has a lot of potential. While industry insiders can probably list the benefits of prepaid maintenance off the top of their heads, very few know how to actually implement it effectively. Those agents who use it to differentiate their service offering will better position themselves in a crowded market.

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MBPI Launches Phone App

LEE’S SUMMIT, MO – Mechanical Breakdown Protection, Inc. (MBPI), an extended vehicle service contract administrator, has released a new mobile application for Apple and Android devices.

The introduction of this free app will improve customer service while also enhancing agent and dealer communication. Customers and agents will be able to download the MBPI app in seconds, and instantly take advantage of a variety of benefits.

Customer benefits include instant access to:

  • Dealership information
  • Purchased protection plan(s)
  • Vehicle information, terms & conditions
  • Log maintenance

Agent benefits include instant access to:

  • Dealership information
  • Customer claim information
  • Contract sales
  • Product production and goals

“Since 1981, MBPI has stayed at the forefront of technology and customer service,” said Barry Kindler, National Sales Manager at MBPI. “Overall, the MBPI app enables us to provide the best possible service at every point of contact.”

Mechanical Breakdown Protection, Inc. (MBPI) is one of the country’s premier extended vehicle service contract administrators. For over 35 years, MBPI has built its reputation on administrative excellence, solid insurance underwriting and long term client relationships. MBPI is proudly located in Lee’s Summit, Missouri. Feel free to contact MBPI at 1-800-325-7484 or by visiting www.mbpnetwork.com.


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Agent Summit Announces Agent Principal Giveaways

LAS VEGAS — Organizers of the upcoming Agent Summit announced that attendees of the pre-conference Agent Principals Only Breakfast & Roundtable will be entered into a drawing to win a Gibson electric guitar, a bespoke suit from Chalk Mark Custom Clothing or a $1,000 gift card.

The event will be held May 9–11, 2016, at the Venetian Palazzo Las Vegas, and the Agent Principals Only portion begins at 8:30 a.m. on Monday, May 9.

The first prize is a 2016 Gibson ES-339 semi-hollow body with black satin finish. The guitar, which retails for up to $3,149, is similar to the instrument played by Johnny Rivers in the music video for his 1966 hit, “Secret Agent Man.”

“Don’t miss your chance to be announced as the winner of this memorable Gibson classic during the Agent Principals Roundtable & Breakfast,” said Randy Crisorio, president and CEO of United Development Systems Inc. (UDS) and chair of the Agent Summit advisory board. “This private meeting looks to become a classic as well, as career F&I professionals meet to exchange thoughts on growing our value proposition.”

Second prize is a custom-suit made by famed tailor Greg Smith of Chalk Mark Custom Clothing, valued at $3,000, courtesy of PermaPlate, and third prize is a $1,000 gift card sponsored by Portfolio.

“We are thrilled with how this year’s Agent Principals Only session is shaping up, and these giveaways only sweeten the deal,” said David Gesualdo, show chair and publisher of Agent Entrepreneur and F&I and Showroom.

Registration, hotel and travel information for Agent Summit is available at the event’s website as well as by phone, fax and email. Click here to view the full agenda.

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Reinsurance and Loss Control

In a past issue of P&A magazine, we discussed the parties that agents represent and some key aspects of loss control. In this article, I would like to discuss the benefits and idiosyncrasies of reinsurance as well as how loss control fits in.

Our goal as agents is to sign a dealer and keep them forever. As farfetched as this may sound, it is entirely possible if you put the dealer on reinsurance. Once they start seeing the statements and receiving checks, they frequently will not even entertain seeing the competition, because they have their “own company.”

Vital Information

Your first responsibility is to ascertain whether the carrier you are using has the proper program for the dealer. In a panel I moderated Agent Summit 2014, we had a discussion among some of the sharpest minds in the industry. There was consensus on numerous items, including:

  1. Be sure your carrier has the support you need. The big box carriers have all the suits that can come in and put on a pretty good show, but this is frequently style over substance. You need a carrier that will not only supply you with sales support but is willing to have claims or accounting personnel come out and assist in the explanation of reports.
  2. Be sure that the carrier will supply timely reports and detailed loss data. I cannot stress this enough, especially having reports that drill down to great detail on where the claim was repaired and whether it included multiple components, among other details.
  3. Review the treaty. You should see an administrative fee, which includes your commission, as well as a reserve to pay claims and a ceding fee. Sometimes the carrier’s administrative fee and ceding fee are combined, so you have to look at them together as one expense. Under no circumstance should you have to pay a claim fee, and the structure should not change if the dealer were to quit writing with that carrier.

Expert Advice

The dealer is going to need accounting and legal support. Frequently, the dealer will say he wants to use his own accountant and lawyer. However, the dealers’ trusted advisers are not likely to be familiar with reinsurance transactions and thus are not qualified to advise the dealer on this transaction. In such cases, I would always just say “OK” and then call the dealer’s accountant and lawyer. I would explain to them that there are firms that specialize in these transactions and could prepare the tax return for less than $5,000. At this point, most advisers will be happy to have an “out” and will recommend the dealer use the specialist. The fact that the dealer’s trusted advisers are giving this advice, rather than the agent, is an important distinction.

To find these specialists, you can start by looking at some of the presenters and panelists at Agent Summit. You can also ask your carrier if they have any recommendations. Quality, fees, and service levels can vary, so be sure to get recommendations from other agents or industry professionals.

Proper Structure

The structure as to how to hold the shares and or equity of the reinsurance company can vary, but we have usually recommended an LLC be formed to hold the shares. This allows increased flexibility if you want to make ownership changes. It is highly recommended that minority ownership shares be issued to key personnel at the dealership and that it becomes part of their pay plan. The personnel should be selected based upon their ability to influence the operating results of the company and effect loss ratios. Recommendations include the service manager, new and used car managers, F&I managers and controller.

The operating agreement of the LLC should include “golden handcuff” provisions as well as an exit strategy in case one of the management personnel leaves or dies. Golden handcuff provisions include a vesting provision so that the shareholder may only be 100% vested after a given period of time (say five years) or a gradual vesting (such as 20% per year). The exit provision usually is at book value on a given date, perhaps at year-end of the exit or at the previous year-end book value if the exit is prior to June 30.

It is imperative that all relevant personnel, such as service writers, know that this is the dealer’s company that claims are coming out of. This will enforce good claim practices and further align the dealer with the fronting carrier in controlling loss ratios. We wish to avoid reconditioning used cars on a vehicle service contract, upselling multiple claims on the service drive or repairing a component that might break in the future but is currently operating within factory tolerances.

A dealer who truly understands reinsurance and is committed to the concept will reap significant financial rewards and be a great ally for the carrier and agent. We once had a dealer who did not want to pay any claims from his reinsurance company and wanted them all goodwilled. He understood that a goodwill claim is deductible at his ordinary income tax rate whereas as a claim paid from his reinsurance company is effectively deductible at his long-term capital gains rates, which is likely 20% or so less. The problem with this is the IRS would claim tax avoidance and there could have been serious repercussions. We had to explain to him that all legitimate claims have to be paid from the reinsurance company — but under no circumstances should he or his employees push to have a claim goodwilled out of his reinsurance company. Instead, it must be paid by the dealership, due to tax considerations.

Similarly, a dealer who understands reinsurance would push to have the highest reserves possible. This too moves income from ordinary to long-term capital gains. There is some wiggle room to increase reserves from some carriers, but they have to be justifiable increases. The IRS would again look at such increases as tax avoidance if they cannot be justified.

Such justifications could include a premium due to the dealer’s past experiences, the carrier’s history in the geographic area, the carrier’s history with a particular make or model, or simply the fact that the reinsurance company is starting out with a low capital base and there is need to build up reserves in case of a shock loss. In this case, the reserves would need to be revisited later and adjusted up or down accordingly. Most carriers file a rate with a variance acceptable to the state for these types of circumstances.

Reinsurance is a win-win-win situation. The dealer gets to participate in underwriting profits while enjoying the tax advantages of long-term capital gains. The agent wins because he now has a “sticky” client, who is looking to you, his trusted advisor, for guidance. You might make less per contract due to the exposure of fees, but you will sign larger dealerships and keep them longer. Finally, the carrier is a winner, because the dealer’s and agent’s goals are more likely aligned with theirs. So select your carriers, find the right accounting and legal firms, and enjoy increased success.

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F&I Admin Announces SCS Auto Now Integrated with Over 20 Menu Systems

CHICAGO – F&I Administration Solutions (F&I Admin), a provider of software solutions for the administration of automotive F&I products integrated SCS Auto with more than 20 menu systems for electronic rating and electronic contracting. All rating data and all forms are sourced directly from the F&I Admin administration system – SCS Auto – so there is no additional effort for a provider on SCS Auto to support the menu integration.

“Over two years ago we built an open, standard interface to connect electronically with menus and other dealer sales systems for both electronic rating and electronic contracting.” said Kumar Kathinokkula, COO of F&I Admin. “Since then, the adoption by both the menu systems and dealers has been unprecedented.”

The SCS Auto interface to menu systems eliminates any need for a provider to maintain data outside the administration system. This is because all connected systems, including the administration system, access the same database for rates and contracts, so no additional maintenance or effort is required. In addition, transactions are recorded in the same system, so when a dealer enters a contract through a menu, it is immediately visible from within the administration system and is also immediately available to the dealer for electronic remittance and reporting.

“We are very pleased with the way menu systems have embraced the connectivity, and we are especially pleased with the way it is helping our provider customers sell more products,” said David Trinder, CEO of F&I Admin. “When an agent selling one of our customers’ products enters a dealership knowing that the product is supported on just about any selling system the dealership may be using, it significantly adds to the confidence in the process. At the same time, it allows the agent to focus on products and not technology.”

SCS Auto is a fully integrated, Web-based solution built for automotive aftermarket product and service providers to automate and streamline the F&I product administration process. It is specifically designed to support vehicle service contracts, GAP, tire & wheel, appearance protection, limited warranty, theft, key replacement, prepaid maintenance and more. In addition to connectivity to over 20 menu systems, it is also broadly connected to other service providers in the industry, including parts databases, payment plan providers and a credit card provider for the payment of claims.

“This is yet another step in our commitment to connect to all possible partners in the industry to create efficiencies and savings for all parties involved,” said Trinder.

A full list of menu and other dealer selling solutions that are electronically connected to SCS Auto can be found under the “Partners” tab at www.fiadmin.com.

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