Automotive warranty specialist WMS Group was acquired by Opteven just ahead of 2020's first COVID-19 lockdown, welcoming new commercial director Craig Grant a month later.
Automotive Management (AM) editor Tim Rose sat down with Grant to find out what developments followed in the latest instalment in the '5 minutes with…' supplier interview feature series.
Since WMS Group was bought by Opteven, the second largest mechanical breakdown insurer in Europe, what has changed?
Opteven acquired the business on February 1 last year, I joined on March 1, and on March 23, of course, we all had to go home. So that was an interesting time. I had to spend time remotely getting to know the wider team. My responsibilities are sales, marketing and products, and the strategy is to grow market share from our traditional heartland of independent dealers, which are still very important for us, with a wider range of products and services that are compliant and relevant to a broader business-to- business customer base. I’ve been in the industry 28 years now, latterly with BMW Group Financial Services. With larger customers there is a higher expectation. To meet those expectations, we’ve been recruiting experienced individuals. We want to challenge the status quo, and those individuals need to know how to operate with the larger organisations and meet their expectations. With our clients such as The AA, Aston Barclay, and more broadly across Opteven in the UK we have Volkswagen Financial Services, the way we look after those is different to the way our business is traditionally done.
Do you see particular opportunities there that others haven’t?
Traditionally, warranty is warranty. But our parentage in Opteven, and the wider experience and product set that is there, will help us look at how can we build the right propositions. With certain dealers warranty is quite transactional, they need the warranty to fulfil standards obligations, but some other groups see opportunity for upsell and revenue generation. My team and I have ideas we want to develop, but we want to talk to larger groups to understand what solutions they need.
Isn’t some work required to take the WMS brand to large dealer groups though?
WMS was a well-respected business in the independent sector that was very entrepreneurial and fleet of foot. In trying to broaden that appeal, we clearly need to build the relevant procedures and governance. We are on a journey. We are talking to larger businesses that feel more comforted about what our aspirations are, what we’re doing now and where we’ll get to. We are getting very good feedback. But there will be growing pains. If you think you know WMS, do please think again. Some of the larger franchised groups in the AM100 don’t necessarily know who WMS is, and that’s something we need to work on.
What else will being part of Opteven mean?
We are going through an IT integration for its base system which was designed in-house; it’s what Volkswagen Financial Services use and is already in the German market. It will help us provide a more robust process for our prospective customers to use. At the moment, all the dealers can make claims online, automated in many instances for payments to be made, but there will also be a customer interface where they can make a claim too, speeding up that process. There’s a wider product suite at Opteven – for example service plans are a big part of the portfolio in France. We want to move away from just transactional product to provide solutions that take the pain away from large organisations. I now own all the WMS and Opteven UK relationships. Traditionally, that was managed out of Lyon but we’ve recruited people locally. We’ve about 20-odd OEM insurer partners in Europe that, again, we can work with more closely in the UK. We’ve an independent and financially strong parent to help us continue our growth aspirations and to provide the comfort and confidence for large partners.
The FCA has had general insurance in the spotlight for some time. What has that meant for the market?
There are organisations that really embraced it and have worked with it. There are others that think they’re okay at the moment. We’re trying to stay ahead of the curve to tell customers that in all sorts of areas there will be further scrutiny… there are certain things that will need to be done, and we want to help. Where I come from, it doesn’t really matter what you’re selling, you should do it in a really professional manner. I expect the consistency of delivery of service to be the highest it should be. And, given my training background, I think it’s important our people are equipped to do exactly that.
How can motor retailers improve warranty sales?
We deal with lots of businesses where it is part of the sales process, the owners see the value in it. There are others that clearly feel warranty is just covering their obligations and they focus more on selling the metal. We have to strike a balance. There’s an opportunity to build trust and loyalty and help drive greater value for the dealer. We are working on initiatives where we can help. As part of our research, we know customers understand the generality of warranty, that it makes sense to have the peace of mind of that protection, but it’s still quite complex to understand.