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FICO’s Ben Werner on the future of digital auto finance

  • FICO published the first-ever study of the auto finance experience.
  • Ben Werner, the author of the study, joins us to discuss the findings.
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FICO’s Ben Werner on the future of digital auto finance

I’ve heard online auto financing compared to teenage sex — a lot of people talk about it, but few actually do it. That’s actually a fact. In the first ever survey focused on the auto finance experience, FICO found that only 5 percent of US consumers applied for their loans online even though 29 percent plan to do it the next time.

The survey found other interesting tidbits — like the fact that 73 percent of US consumers obtain their loans at the dealership — more than any other country. FICO’s survey provides context to the growing interest and the capital and talent flowing to digital vehicle financing.

Ben Werner, director of solution marketing at FICO, authored the study and is our guest on the Tearsheet Podcast today. We break down his findings to better understand the challenges and opportunities of improving the automotive finance experience. The discussion is useful for incumbents and startups alike tackling this massive trillion dollar opportunity that is really still in its early days.

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The following excerpts were edited for clarity.

How did you get into this business?

My background is really in cloud, enterprise applications. I spent most of my career at Microsoft and Oracle. Before I joined FICO, I founded my own startup, raised venture funding, and grew the company to serve over 300 businesses. At my heart, I’m really a user experience guy, fascinated by consumer behavior, and love to use design thinking and a creative approach to solve business problems.

What’s your role at FICO?

I’m part of the solutions marketing team, tasked with a wide set of responsibilities: everything from working with our industry teams (in particular, the auto team) to make sure we can deliver clearly-articulated positioning to the market to developing compelling content, make sure we understand our buyers and the big industry shifts taking place.

What is FICO’s auto offering?

Everyone knows us for our ubiquitous credit score. In the auto space, we have the FICO Auto Score 9. Fewer people know we have solutions powered by machine intelligence, covering everything from risk, fraud, and other solutions outside the financial space.

Let’s dive in to the auto finance Experience survey FICO published. Were you the author?

Correct. I have a background in surveys and market research. My startup was a survey and customer insights company. Our current survey covered about 2200 respondents in nine different countries. It’s really the first piece of research that looked at just the auto finance experience around the world.

One of the things I first started looking at was whether there was existing research around auto finance. For those who are initiated, the auto finance space is fairly unique. You have captives like Nissan and Honda that manufacture cars and financing focused exclusively on people who buy their brands of cars. You have banks and credit unions that have existing relationships with customers. You have a third category called independents — they’re not necessarily banks and not associated with a manufacturer. These folks focus on prime or non prime or both.

There is a broad set of market opportunities in auto finance that we found in a related survey with the National Auto Finance Association. Competition feels intense but there are pockets of competition focused on the non prime space where some folks are doing really well and seeing great growth.

It seems people are interested in digital auto finance, but when you look at their behavior, they’re not using it. What gives?

There’s about a 23 point difference in terms of people who recently recently completed an online transaction for vehicle finance versus about a third of people who would like to do so for their next transaction. As we socialized the results, we spoke to the folks in the space. At first, some of them thought it was weird. In some cases, companies are just putting a web form out there or a mobile app that does basic information capture.

What they aren’t doing is end to end online vehicle finance — where data is captured, and advance analytics and machine learning are used to making a decision to automatically approve or decline a customer. The indirect auto finance space has been around for a while and there are new models and companies entering the space. There does seem to be a need to innovate to build an end-to-end system.

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