Car dealers now need to go digital

It’s a tough time for traditionally run businesses. For car dealerships especially, car sales in Singapore have been decreasing moderately over the past few years, a trend that is influenced by a paradigm shift in consumer behaviour. 

Many young adults in Singapore grew up during a time of rapid digitalisation, which significantly democratised access to information. With varied sources of information on hand, customers today can better make informed decisions on their purchases and who they buy it from. This is most visible in the retail sector which is facing huge challenges in overcoming rising competition from overseas and online rivals.

The auto market faces a more difficult task due to the nature of the goods involved. Unlike other segments like e-commerce and FMCG, automotive customers are buying big ticket items that come with heavy financial commitments, so they’d naturally be more discerning when making a purchase.

To distinguish themselves in today’s market, car dealers will need to first focus on customer experience. They need to get with the times and leverage on the digital tools available out there to create one that’s seamless and qualitative.

Expanding inventories and helping them grow digitally

One way for dealers to draw in more customers is to ensure that they have an inventory of cars that people want to buy.

I’ve worked with car dealers for many years and, from my experience, keeping inventories well-stocked – while also obtaining financing via auto loans – is their biggest obstacle. This isn’t only the case for their business expansion, but for even just keeping themselves afloat when faced with cash flow issues.

Many dealerships struggle with finding the right mix of new and used inventories, especially the latter as it depreciates more rapidly. On top of that, getting the right financing options from banks when buying cars from other dealers can be very difficult. The approval process can be burdensome and lengthy, and it can make a big impact on their business, as every second wasted means a car’s value is being depreciated or intended purchase being lost to other interested buyers.

It’s true that the financial services sector is undergoing a digital transformation but we’re mostly seeing this in more consumerist areas such as e-wallets and cashless payments. The B2B segment hasn’t really kept pace. This is especially for used car dealers who can truly benefit from using technology that improves access to capital, while relieving worries about stocking cars to instead focus on the people driving them. 

Fortunately, more industry players are warming up to the idea of a digital stock financing solution that’s tailored specifically to dealerships. At its core, this tech solution helps dealers manage existing financial commitments i.e. vehicles currently under financing and overall cash flow availability. This is done by aggregating the range of lenders and helping dealers make informed decisions on the financing options available.

However, there are more specialised platforms. These are ones that go beyond helping dealers source the best financing to also helping them to source and fund new and used vehicles on both physical and digital auctions. One example would be what’s provided in the UK by Secure Trust Bank’s V12 Vehicle Finance digital facility.

Reduce paperwork; spend more time with customers

No matter what business you’re in, keeping your back-end running tends to take a big chunk of your daily operation’s time – especially if most of your documentation is still in paper form. 

A study by the International Data Corporation found that over 20 percent of employee productivity losses were caused by paper-based documentation issues that businesses go through. If you’re a car dealer, wouldn’t the time spent on paperwork be better allocated to customer-facing areas instead?

Internally, dealers digitising their paperwork lessens their need to monitor their stock turnaround manually, to organise documents in rows of filing cabinets and of course, the tediousness of sifting through them manually and It also helps remove unnecessary clutter and reduce the risk of missing documentation. Additionally, their business could save costs as they won’t need to spend so much time and money on managing papers. Their cash flow issues are also resolved as they could take advantage of immediate funds transfers vs the traditional cheques issuance method. 

Digitising the Loans Origination Process

Digitisation can also benefit dealers when dealing with customers, especially those opting to finance their cars. Typically, the loan origination process is lengthy due to its reliance on physical documentation. Although much of the information is captured by computers linked to a dealer management system, the details captured would then be printed, faxed or enveloped before being sent to the lender via post. The paper trail ends up being long and adds to the complexity of the process and raises the risks of error.

In contrast, a digital loan origination management system would allow for a more direct digital capture of applicant information via scanners or mobile devices. The information would then be digitally combined and sent to the lender securely for processing. 

This alternative helps to counter the usual gripes consumers tend to have when spending too much time at dealerships to finance transactions. Indeed, a report by Cox noted that more than half of the time spent at dealerships during the purchase process is on negotiating or doing paperwork, which resulted in significant customer dissatisfaction over the time taken..  

Giving what customers really want

We now live in a digital first environment; one in which technology is catalysing efforts to overcome long standing physical hurdles in businesses that now must operate in a customer-first environment. 

Dealers now need to do what they can to cut down on inefficiencies that have been holding their businesses back. By going digital, they can save time and improve operational productivity to give their customers a more valuable experience.

Helen Neo is CEO and Co-founder of Genie Financial Services

Why IT Budgets are like bank loans

I first started work in computing and IT in 1985, before many of Concur’s team members were going to school or even born. Back then, IT budgets were big – millions of dollars for huge systems roll-outs that could take years to complete. If you were on the customer-side, you’d choose a vendor with a good reputation, wait, and hope for the best. Sometimes, you’d be waiting an awful long time!

Like the dinosaurs, those big IT budgets are heading towards extinction, replaced by far nimbler ways of adopting technology. Business leaders no longer have the patience to sink large fractions of their (increasingly tight) budgets into mammoth IT projects, then wait for years to see even the slightest trace of ROI.

And why should they? Their competitors, particularly start-ups, get results from their tech investments within weeks or even days, and if they don’t, they write off the costs as a learning experience and try again.

Nowadays, corporate IT budgets are starting to look a lot like bank loans. The C-suite lends you a little bit of money to demonstrate your idea at a smaller scale. If you can show real results, they’ll extend your line of credit, maybe with a slightly larger sum. Prove your concept again and they raise the size of the loan, and so on.

I believe this has three big implications for CIOs, IT teams, and anyone hoping to transform their business with technology (including other members of the C-suite).

First, you have to think big but start small. Your grand IT plan needs to include a 30- or 90-day roadmap with clear, measurable outcomes that it can achieve in that time. This is one of Concur’s sweet spots: a lot of our customers adopt our platform because it can deliver quick and extremely visible improvements to employees’ experience of T&E claims.

It’s important to have quantifiable outcomes to aim for as well. For my team, we tend to aim for around 70% of our customers’ organizations to be actively using our platform within the first 2-3 months of implementation. This encourages us to get down to details from the very start: in those initial few weeks, we’ll be talking constantly to our customers about user experiences, country-specific issues, and other seemingly small details. If you’re operating to a short timeframe you can’t afford to slack on any detail – that’s something most start-ups know and use to their advantage.

Second, successful IT projects depend on a steady buildup of trust. Non-technical executives are increasingly skeptical of the promises of IT (and no wonder, given the press that large-scale IT failures get). If you want the funding to keep flowing, invest in strong relationships with them as well as your end-users: the employees. The benefits and experience of any new technology should be as good as what they’d get outside the office – otherwise, why bring it in? The more you talk to those employees, the more likely you’ll be to get the results that justify a bigger “loan”.

Big IT budgets are dying out, but many CIOs still don’t seem to have come to terms with this. I’d encourage them to look at the startups that are nipping at their heels, and learn from their example to be smaller and nimbler with the very scope of their projects. I’ve been in the IT business long enough to be called a fossil by some, but I’m much more keen on evolving than living out the last of my days.

Madanjit Singh is the Regional Director – South East Asia at Concur Technologies Inc., based in Singapore

India’s central bank governor warns on stimulus overuse

Central banks and governments of rich countries are running out of ammunition for stimulating their economies, says Raghuram Rajan, the head of the Indian central bank – but they can never admit as much.

Speaking to the Financial Times at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business in London, Mr Rajan criticised efforts to use fiscal and monetary policy and infrastructure programmes to boost growth rates in advanced economies.

Long a critic of low interest rates in rich countries that can drive hot-money flows to poorer parts of the world, the governor of the Reserve Bank of India suggested that loose policies were also weakening the underlying performance of advanced economies.

Although Mr Rajan said there were limits on stimulus, he said central banks “cannot claim to be out of ammunition because immediately that would create the wrong kind of expectations, so there’s always something up their sleeves”. Mr Rajan said he was a supporter of stimulus policies to “balance things out” over short periods when households or companies were proving excessively cautious with their spending. But eight years after the financial crisis, we “have to ask ourselves is that the real problem?”. “I have this image of stimulus as a bridge,” he said. “As the economy goes down, there is an expectation it will come up. Stimulus is a bridge which smoothes over the growth rate of the economy and prevents damaging expectations from building up.”

If stimulus went on for a long time, if it did not work, he said, the adjustment would be sharp, indicating there was little room for further stimulus. Mr Rajan warned governments not to rely too much on fiscal stimulus through cutting taxes or increasing public spending. “If your debt to GDP is over 100 per cent, [and you] do more fiscal stimulus, you’d better have a pretty high rate of return in mind, otherwise your younger and middle-aged generations are thinking ‘This thing is not going to return enough, but I’m going to have to pay for it’.” Even spending money on infrastructure projects, the recommendation of the International Monetary Fund, where Mr Rajan used to be chief economist, came in for criticism for being vague in its analysis of the likely returns.

 

For infrastructure, the big questions are who plans it, who funds it, what does it do and what are the likely returns, Mr Rajan said, adding that these questions take time to get right. “There are lots of projects buried in drawers – shovel-ready projects – but these are projects that you think really were not worth funding unless somebody else was coming to put up the money.”

Central bankers were also under “stress” to stimulate more when inflation was below target. The most extreme forms of stimulus – such as “helicopter money”, where the central bank prints money so that governments can give a cheque to their citizens – were unlikely to work, Mr Rajan said.

 

The Bank of Japan and the European Central Bank are under pressure to consider such a move but Mr Rajan said there was a good chance households would see the move as a sign of panic rather than a sign to spend more. “Is the advent of helicopter money going to result in everybody going out and spending as though there is no tomorrow when they get a cheque? Or are they going to ask, ‘What kind of world are we in when the central bank prints money and throws it out of the window?’”

 

Mr Rajan said that instead of seeking stimulus, people should recognise that slower growth was probably a part of ageing economies and perhaps the result of low interest rates, which protected inefficient companies from going out of business. He also added that people should not be too disappointed with life because inflation was probably recorded wrongly in national statistics and real levels of prosperity were rising faster than official figures suggested. (www.ft.com)

Coaching people to master money matters

Nisreen Mamaji 

Popularly known as “solutions provider” Nisreen Mamaji has been in the field of Financial Planning and Advisory since 1993. Presently, she handles 150 relationships in the financial planning space. She has helped investors right from wedding plans to retirement funding to children’s foreign education and even to plan a foreign holiday or purchase a car. Nisreen has a certification in Life Planning that encompasses life coaching along with money management and her clients perceive her to be a friend & coach, not simply a financial advisor. “Let your dreams soar high- I will help you to make them a reality or fine tune them into achievable dreams”, says Nisreen passionately.

Nisreen is committed to helping women make their own financial decisions and conducts at least 4 annual investor awareness programs solely for women. Her corporate social responsibility targets include helping domestic workers and staff in starting systematic investment plans. These plans have been a source of comfort for many, since she has channelized their meagre earnings and ensured financial freedom in times of financial stress.

Nisreen started her career with the American International Group in Dubai. She became one of their leading sales personnel within a short span of 4 years. She worked with Lintas India as an Assistant Client Executive and upon return to India she became one of the first 2000 advisors with ICICI Prudential Life Insurance.  Her education is in sync with her career since she has completed her Bachelor of Commerce from Sydenham College ; LLB- General from Government Law College; Masters in Management Studies from Sydenham Institute of Management and Certified Financial Planning from Financial Planning Standards Board of India. Infact she is a Gold Medalist in FYLLB for the year 1986.

High point in career

“Making the switch from an Insurance Agent to a Financial Planner was the eye opener for me which pushed me to dream big and visualize myself as an expert on Investments and Personal Finance. Constant education and completion of the CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNING certification pushed me to realize this vision.”

Most challenging assignment so far

“Dealing with an HNI Non Resident Indian has been my most challenging assignment. His family had been dealing with a private bank for many years and had heard of me via my regular mails to them and my posts on social media. After regular meetings they decided to switch their investment account to my firm which is typically a boutique advisory firm with emphasis on knowledge, service and quick operational efficiencies.  This interaction boosted my confidence to a large extent and after that I was able to convert several HNI clients. My body language and mannerisms reflected this new found confidence and I discovered success breeds success.”

Greatest inspiration

“My mother is my greatest inspiration because of her ‘never say die’ attitude and her robust perseverance even at the age of 78. My strongest learning from her is that “Failures are the stepping stones to success” and one must rise at every fall. I’m hoping to pass on these techniques of life management to my children as well. Her joie de vivre is contagious and one yearns to be in her presence due to her positivity and magnetism. She has been a home-maker when I was growing up and became a business person after I left to get married. Till date she designs and sells customized jewellery pieces to her select set of clients. In her own words she keeps ‘Alzheimer’s at bay’.”

Most important milestone in life

“When my son went to Canada to pursue his BE in Materials Engineering, I had reached a milestone which filled me with exhilaration. My work entails creating Education plans for many families and ensuring that many children’s dreams are met. When I achieved that milestone for my own family I could truly understand the meaning of my work. The dreams that one can help materialize is a powerful motivator to not only me but countless others who I am grateful to advise.”

Women are the better halves. What does it mean?

“My opinion is that women fill their homes with grace, charm, colour and fragrance. She has the capacity to convert a house into a home, exude warmth, calm frayed nerves and be a confidante. The woman of the house necessarily has to play her roles with elan, and hence creates this wonderful positive energy for her family. A woman’s contribution to her family outweighs those of her partner simply because she is better at multi-tasking and is more intuitive by nature. She is a whole and a half at the same instant; that is the beauty of a woman.”

Experiences on being a woman entrepreneur

“I have been lucky since my husband has been extremely supportive of my ambitions and realized early on in our marriage that the only way to avoid a nagging wife was to help me realize my potential. He has wholeheartedly supported my endeavours and roles; been a hands-on father, decent cook and willing ear. The first step to being an entrepreneur is when the hygiene factors are taken care of, therefore my husband has played his part sensitively.

As far as my male clients go, initially they wondered if a woman financial advisor really could make the grade, but after successive meetings thought no more of my gender and completely trust my advice. Women clients typically find it easier to confide in women advisors and the trust factor is easy to establish.

Many women today find it extremely hard to balance their homes and careers/businesses since it is an accepted fact in Indian society that she has to be completely responsible for the family well-being. If she cannot manage to muster support either from her husband/in-laws/parents/staff; she feels she is pushed to giving up her ambitions.”

How did you believe in making dreams come true?

  • Wait for an opportune time to make your dreams come true.
  • Plan for every eventuality in detail
  • Always have an alternate plan in place
  • Network in every social or business situation
  • Constantly ideate
  • Regularly meet people who interest you and make you happy
  • Eat/sleep/exercise well
  • Stay happy

Challenges faced

I started my career in Financial Services with Insurance Sales in Dubai. This is an industry which is ruthless and can teach you everything about rejection and sales. Cold-calling in 45 degree Celsius temperature , facing doors being slammed, acquaintances not returning calls, walking miles since I could not afford a taxi are some of the challenges I have faced. On returning to India, I had two small children, little help and friends did not even bother to give me an appointment. I had to start building my contacts from scratch. I applied my learning’s from insurance sales and gradually expanded to provide comprehensive financial services.

Setbacks and lessons learnt

  • Follow a push not pull strategy. There are enough buyers for the service you are trying to provide. Let the buyer find you and not vice versa
  • Your best sales person is your client. Make that reference work
  • It’s not all about money. Service is the most important
  • Use technology effectively
  • Optimize your working hours so that you enjoy your non-working ones
  • Develop skills and hobbies which fill your hours post retirement
  • Be nice to people, everyone is walking the same tightrope
  • Go easy on your kids, childhood comes only once
  • Live your life by example