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Joseph Agresta and Benzel-Busch featured in Automotive News about Remote e-Signatures

Remote e-Signatures

If Joseph Agresta had one concern about delivering a vehicle to a customer early on in the coronavirus pandemic, it was handling the contract.

Agresta's Benzel-Busch Motor Car Corp., which has three franchised dealerships in New York and New Jersey, came up with a contactless strategy. First, a dealership employee would spray Lysol on the contract and seal it in a plastic bag. Then, the customer would use his or her own pen to sign the documents, spray them once more and seal them back in the bag.

"That's not really a great experience for anybody," said Agresta, the group's president. "It's not how we should be doing business in today's age with the technology we have." Agresta's stores are now trying a new way to collect customers' signatures at home that doesn't involve spraying paperwork with disinfectant: electronic remote signatures.

Both CDK Global Inc. and Cox Automotive's Dealertrack launched products this spring that allow customers to electronically sign deal documents outside the dealership. The companies said the arrival of the coronavirus sped up the rollout as customers sought to limit exposure to the coronavirus by avoiding face-to-face interactions.

Access from anywhere

Before remote e-signing, customers were able to electronically sign vehicle paperwork, but they had to do it at the dealership on a store device. Likewise, remote signatures generally meant sending a dealership employee to the customer's home, for instance, so the buyer could sign documents in wet ink. Now, technology enables the dealership to securely connect to a customer's device and receive an electronic signature from anywhere.

Post-pandemic, vendors, auto lenders and dealerships say remote e-signatures will make vehicle purchases faster and more convenient.

"This is something that we are convinced, once we get into the recovery mode, will be something that is utilized in the market," said Anthony Bandmann, CEO of Volkswagen Credit Inc., the automaker's captive finance arm in the U.S.

Volkswagen Credit has completed about 1,900 remote e-signings to date in a partnership with CDK's new Sign Anywhere product, Bandmann said. The captive began its test April 6 and went live in early May with 427 of the roughly 480 dealers who use CDK's dealership management system, he said.

Pilots accelerated

The lender had been interested in trying remote e-signatures for about two years to bring automotive financing in line with the industry trend toward digital retailing, Bandmann said. Before COVID-19 accelerated plans, he added, Volkswagen Credit likely would have started a pilot within the next 12 months.

CDK's technology is now active at more than 3,600 dealerships after piloting in March and April, said Michael Seeman, CDK's vice president of customer success and enablement. CDK said it has enabled more than 6,400 vehicle deals to date.

Mercedes-Benz Financial Services USA also is using the technology. Seeman said CDK plans to add more automaker captives and national lenders to the platform in the next 12 months.

Mercedes-Benz's captive financing arm piloted Sign Anywhere in April and made it available in May to all dealerships that use CDK's DMS, said Kelly Jones, its digital sales experience manager. It builds on an e-contracting system Mercedes-Benz Financial Services has used since 2016. In all, 170 dealerships that use e-contracting on CDK's DMS can use Sign Anywhere, she said, though data on how many are using it is not yet available.

"There was a need given the COVID-19 situation," Jones said. "However, we've been working on this e-contracting solution for some time, and it was just quite timely that this functionality became available for our CDK dealers in order to make that contactless, remote-signing solution possible."

Dealerships using Sign Anywhere range from single-point stores to large public groups, including AutoNation Inc. The nation's largest dealership group started using the product in late April and 21 stores have been trained to use it so far, Marc Cannon, AutoNation's chief customer experience officer, said via email. The company plans to bring more stores onto the system.

"The greater win for finance and lease deals will be once all lenders allow remote signing capability," he wrote.

Interest rising

Dealertrack​ introduced new tools in April that enable a secure digital contract delivery​ and assisted remote e-signing.

Cox said requests for digital contracting, which launched on its uniFI platform in 2019, grew 98 percent over two months starting March 12. Adoption of remote e-signatures also is growing but specific numbers were not yet available.

"I don't think that one size fits every consumer in how they choose to want to interact with the dealership and the purchase of their vehicle," said Cheryl Miller, vice president of operations for Cox Automotive's Dealertrack F&I Solutions. "I think that this allows the consumer and the dealer to have multiple avenues to continue to deliver and enhance the customer experience."

At RouteOne, remote e-signature sessions in April were 400 percent higher than in March, said Amanda George, senior vice president of product development, marketing and integrations. That increase accounts for about 5 percent of total booked contracts.

Despite being available since 2017, most dealerships continued with a traditional in-store signature process, George said. More than 10,000 dealerships use the F&I technology company's digital contracting system, while 3,700 rooftops have signed up for remote e-signatures, she said.

Benzel-Busch's two Mercedes-Benz dealerships have been testing CDK's Sign Anywhere since early May, said Agresta. Getting paperwork out of the way early is preferable, he added, because "the delivery experience should be about the excitement of the car."

To address pandemic safety concerns, both CDK Global Inc. and Cox Automotive's Dealertrack launched products this spring to allow customers to electronically sign deal documents outside the dealership.