Connecting Providers, Administrators and Dealers: Menu Systems – Part 2 of 4

By: P&A Staff Writer

Connecting Providers, Administrators and Dealers: Menu Systems – Part 2 of 4

In today’s dealerships, the menu systems in use have become the means for not only presenting the dealership’s financial and aftermarket options in a consistent and compliant manner, but have become the new portal for connecting to many of the third party systems available to the modern F&I manager.

F&I’s importance as a primary profit center underlines the need to be informed of the current integration state-of-the-art in the business office. The challenge is to integrate the ever increasing number of third party systems the F&I manager must access to reduce their workload. This will enable more time for productive selling, and is a role that the menu systems have assumed beyond their original design.

P&A contacted a veritable Who’s Who of menu system providers, including Innovative Aftermarket Systems (IAS), Ristken Software Services, MaximTrak, MenuVantage, and VisionMenu. Our intent was to profile the companies and learn which third party systems menu providers are connected to now, and which third party systems they plan to connect to in the future.

Perhaps even more important, does connecting to and integrating third party systems actually streamline the workflow? We will also discuss the menu providers’ availability and utilization of bi-directional integration.

Lastly, menu utilization becomes critical when the software connects to a growing list of third parties. What is being done about menu utilization and are menus being used consistent with their design? It is important to know what the menu providers and other parties are doing to keep menu utilization rates as high as possible.

Connections

If there was ever any question about the multitude of third party systems an F&I manager may have to access in the normal course of business, the following general list of systems our menu providers connect to should put that to rest:

  • DMS Providers like Reynolds & Reynolds, ADP, and DealerTrack DMS. Some menu providers connect with Tier 2 and Tier 3 DMS providers as well.
  • Lender portals like DealerTrack and RouteOne.
  • Aftermarket product providers: VSC, GAP, and other ancillary products.
  • Rating and enrollment providers like PEN, F&I Express, F&I Admin and StoneEagle for e-rating, e-contracting, and e-remittance.
  • Bi-weekly payment providers.
  • Sales and compliance training.
  • VIN decoding.
  • Electronic identity verification systems like OFAC and Red Flags.
  • Credit bureau aggregators like Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
  • CRM systems.

Our menu respondents did not indicate individually a connection to all of the above third parties, so the following is a brief summary of specific connections.

IAS integrates with DMS providers Reynolds & Reynolds, ADP, and DealerTrack DMS with certified interfaces. The system also integrates with about twenty different VSC and ancillary product providers for e-rating and e-contracting. IAS connects to identity verification systems to verify customer identity and prevent fraud.

Ristken connects with Reynolds & Reynolds, ADP, DealerTrack, and RouteOne with certified integration. Ristken also integrates with other Tier 2 and Tier 3 DMS and DSP providers, in addition to the Provider Exchange Network (PEN), bi-weekly payment provider Equity Driver, OFAC, and Red Flags.

MaximTrak connects with the major DMS providers, credit aggregators TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax, and adds a connection with RouteOne for credit application submission. The company recently added connections to PEN and F&I Admin for e-contracting and e-rating. Rounding out MaximTrak’s portfolio of connections are bi-weekly payment calculators, numerous product vendors, VIN rating, insurance calculations, e-contracting, OFAC, and Red Flag scores.

MenuVantage blends a comprehensive suite of integration to include point of sale providers, credit aggregation, lender submission, automated compliance screening, and DMS. The system allows for multi-directional deal flow as not all deals follow the same path.

VisionMenu integrates with most DMS providers, connects to over thirty product rating and enrollment providers, and offers both sales and compliance training plus a CRM connection for Powersports dealers. VisionMenu will connect to any bi-weekly payment provider that has an available web service.

Future Connections

Selecting a menu provider should include individual inquiries as to exactly which third parties they connect with or plan to connect with. Looking to the future, the strategy among menu system providers is to accommodate as many third party systems as possible so as not to limit the eligibility of a system to any dealership based on who they do business with.

The technology is evolving as this is written, and the universe of possible third parties that could conceivably connect through the menu is a moving target. The “menu as a portal” idea, aggregating many of the functions listed above on to one screen, offers a fascinating look at where we are headed with this technology.

All of our menu system providers are aggressively chasing this herd of cats and our entire industry will benefit from their efforts.

A brief look into the future is IAS’s plans to add functionality whereby video recordings are stored alongside tiered and final menus within their menu system for a true historical perspective. IAS’s newest tablet application will also integrate with their menu to provide interview results electronically to F&I managers before the customer enters the business office.

Ristken, cautious not to integrate for the sake of integration, carefully chooses their third party connections based on the value it provides to their clients. Ristken is always looking to integrate with third parties that provide a mutual benefit to the dealers they serve.

MaximTrak already integrates with over seventy-five companies today. The company envisions a future where as technology advances to allow for more functionality, the goal is to stay on the cutting edge and facilitate higher CSI scores and sales by aggregating all of the functions into one application.

MenuVantage believes providers with exclusive contracts with third party delivery systems, those that do not allow the dealer to choose which vendors they do business with, may be forced to accept a more open architecture. According to MenuVantage, the trend in the industry appears to be one where closed arrangements that limit the dealer’s choices will be replaced with an arrangement where the dealer retains control.

VisionMenu sees the menu as a hub between the DMS and other product providers, and plans to connect to anyone with a web service that helps eliminate dual data entry, saves time, and encourages the F&I manager to use a tool that has proven to make them more money.

Deal Flow and Integration: Pull and Push

From a practical standpoint, it has been established that the menu is fast and efficient compared to traditional methods. Custom menus can be generated and modified in seconds. The choke points are in populating the menu with deal data, rating contracts, re-populating DMS with finalized deal data, printing forms, and electronically remitting the sale of aftermarket products.

Streamlining deal flow begins with populating the menu with customer data, vehicle info, and deal structure. Menu systems integrate with DMS and/or lender portals to pull this information and populate the menu deal screen, eliminating duplicate data entry from the outset.

A connection with VIN decoders and product providers’ rating engines can then supply a list of eligible products. The F&I manager only has to select time and mileage bands based on the consumer’s driving habits to populate a custom menu. No fumbling with rate matrixes or forgetting surcharges are possible when only eligible products are presented to the F&I manager to select from.

Once the final deal structure and product selections are agreed upon, the next step is to update DMS and print forms. Here is where things get really hairy with integration. MaximTrak, Ristken, and MenuVantage offer bi-directional communication with DMS. “Pushing” finalized deal data back into DMS and updating a deal record, however, is not allowed by all DMS providers.

MaximTrak postulates that bi-directional functionality will become more integral to the overall process because aftermarket contracts will stem directly from the menu sale. Ristken has found that the majority of their dealers utilize DMS integration capabilities even though some F&I managers still choose a manual input process. Either way, Ristken’s menu retains full functionality. The majority of MenuVantage’s dealerships benefit from a bi-directional interface, customized with line-by-line detail.

IAS’s certified DMS integration is not bi-directional at this time, but the company has not seen this to be a complaint from actual users. Although the company believes that theoretically bi-directional integration makes sense, “in the trenches” it’s not a true concern.

VisionMenu pulls data from DMS. When the company first established DMS integration, it was believed integration needed to be bi-directional – pulling and pushing. They have found that a dealer has no problem manually updating a few products in DMS. According to VisionMenu, this is all a push accomplishes, since the F&I manager has to go to DMS to print forms anyway.

Most F&I managers are accustomed to manually updating DMS with finalized transaction data, even if offered the option of electronically updating the record in DMS. Why? Chalk it up to old habits dying hard when a finance manager is unlikely to wait more than a few seconds for the update process to complete.

Forms for sold products can be printed the old-fashioned way with impact printers and multi-part forms, or with e-contracting right from the menu. Which path is chosen here is determined primarily by the product provider and whether or not they connect with companies like PEN, F&I Express, F&I Admin or StoneEagle to facilitate e-solutions.

The expense of supplying multi-part forms and not having transaction data electronically will ultimately drive late-adopting product providers to join the e-contracting club. Every participant in the supply chain, from the provider to the consumer, will benefit from 100% adoption of e-rating, e-contracting, and e-remittance.

Menu systems are becoming the de-facto hub through which third parties connect in the F&I office.

Utilization

If you agree with the above statement, then menu utilization becomes an important factor in order to gain the efficiencies, cost savings, and increased profits menu systems are known for, particularly when access to third party systems is built-in to the menu process.

Utilization for any software application is dependent upon factors like ease-of-use and accountability. For menu systems, industry usage statistics are unclear as to the percentage of deals with a signed final menu. Nor is it clear if menu systems are being used properly.

For IAS, generating a nightly report compiling menu usage data and emailing it to the general managers and agents is a first step. Next, IAS’s staff reviews menu usage statistics for every store on a weekly basis. IAS then personally contacts every F&I manager whose usage has dropped off. Ascertaining the reason for the drop off has resulted in an improvement nearly every time.

Ristken evaluates each enterprise and their needs to develop a strategic utilization plan. As dealerships become more comfortable with technology, combining effective training, collaborative sales tools, and valid results has improved utilization rates.

MaximTrak’s research has shown that when a menu is used consistently, PVR will increase an average of $200 per vehicle and VSC penetration will rise an average of 14%. MaximTrak believes the best way to enforce menu adoption is through management buy-in. Once management sees the potential for increased profits, directives and pay incentives will help finance mangers follow suit.

MenuVantage has incorporated several processes to ensure menu utilization and continuously works with dealers and agents to maximize the experience.

VisionMenu focuses on ease-of-use, believing the F&I manager will take advantage of the profit opportunity it gives them. The agent is often paying for the software, so menu usage is mandated because the system adds income and is part of the agent’s value proposition.

It is interesting to note the different approaches the various menu providers take when it comes to utilization and accountability. One thing is certain, menu utilization will not magically happen on its own. In most cases, it will take hands-on involvement and constant monitoring to get the desired results.

It is clear that many of the innovations in the finance office are built around the powerful application the menu has become. Our industry is fortunate to have some very bright people willing to push the integration envelope, transforming a sales tool into a commerce hub.

If you missed Part 1 of P&A’s connectivity series, click here for “Connecting Providers, Administrators and Dealers: Administration Systems”

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