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Ex-Navy man plans GMAC growth in UK

Barry Willson is no stranger to confronting obstacles and carrying heavy weights over them, a technique learned as part of a Royal Navy team manhandling heavy cannons over walls during the 1983 Royal Tournament.

In his new role as UK brand manager for GMAC Financial Services, his challenges may be less physically daunting but they still demand anticipation, coordination and team work.

Responsible for developing retail finance programmes for Vauxhall, Saab and Chevrolet, Willson has helped prepare retailers for the new Consumer Credit Act regulations, which have been revamped for the first time in three decades.

Systems and processes had to be in place by May 31, marking the latest instalment in a series of new legislations enveloping the sector, from FSA insurance-selling regulations to revamped F&I advertising requirements.

Central to the revised Act are more precise finance contract details covering duration and cost of settling agreements at particular points of those deals. Finance companies must now provide a settlement sum with an interest rebate from a particular date, with no optional two months’ delay.

This information is incorporated in pre-contract information documents, to be signed before overall finance packages are initialled.

Diplomatically, Willson says: “The changeover timetable could’ve been easier but, overall, I welcome the changes. We now have upgraded systems making us responsible for having the right documents with the right figures in the right boxes.”

The latest legislation within a hectic 12 to 18 month period presented “yet another business challenge” admits Willson, who acknowledges “the clarity it gives the industry, which has had a very mixed reputation, combined with bad financial sector press”.

When the dust settles, Willson maintains there will be enhanced consumer confidence in GM retailers’ point of sale F&I operations. “We have to learn to live with it and there have been no heads buried in the sand. In some ways the regulations alter the landscape to our advantage due to network professionalism,” he says.

“Some newer direct lenders have day jobs selling groceries or holidays for the over 50s. They must decide if it is worth the benefit and cost. It will eliminate some on the fringes.”

Covering 800 UK GM car brand locations, representing 500 companies meeting FSA insurance edicts, dictates a dedicated GMAC manager for the processes.

GM’s ‘younger brands’, Saab and Chevrolet, are the focus for a push to increase GMAC’s captive finance factor, having raised it by nearly 12% this year on Vauxhall’s new retail sales to an anticipated plus 40% rate.

Internet specialist Willson is keen that accumulated online experience gained selling specific Vauxhalls should spread to its Swedish and Korean counterparts.

This is Willson’s 21st year with GMAC. His first “exciting, never dull” job involved knocking doors, re-possessing cars and re-financing as a debt collector. He appears to have paid his dues.

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