As executive vice president of Ford Pro Finsimple, Jim Drotman oversees Ford Credit’s commercial customer strategy as well as financial products and services, and is charged with improving productivity and operations through technological solutions.
“When Ford Pro was created, it was about vehicles but also software,” Drotman told Auto Finance News, a sister publication of Equipment Finance News, during the recent Auto Finance Summit 2023 in Las Vegas. “We want to be able to support [vehicles] with telematics, fleet management software, vehicle parts [and] service. The main thing is to wrap it all together to create this one-stop shop for commercial customers.”
Drotman, who began his career as a dealer credit manager with Ford Credit more than 30 years ago, became executive vice president in November 2021. He discussed FinSimple’s goals, technological advances and ability to tap into the commercial vehicle financing market during the summit. What follows is an edited version of the conversation.
Auto Finance News: How does FinSimple address commercial customers’ financing needs?
Jim Drotman: Commercial customers aren’t the same as retail customers. Many of the vehicles they look for are used as tools; they have upfits such as racks, bins and cherry pickers to bring that all together. It is not the same transaction as with a Ford F-150 or a Mustang.
Often, those transactions require coordination with the dealer to ensure they’ve got the upfitter lined up, or they’ll have it ready for when customers are going to come pick it up and have the financing arranged as well.
We thought about what’s the process to ease the customer experience for these commercial customers. We looked at what our processes were and there was a lot of opportunity. A lot of it was manual. There was a fax machine still because you’re dealing with the small businesses who don’t have a lot of technology that are running one, two, three or four vehicles. We created this one-stop shop with Pro. We started to put a lot of work into changing the customer experience, and we’ve seen great receptivity from the customers about making their lives easier.
AFN: How did Ford Credit leverage customer feedback to improve Ford Pro’s operations?
Drotman: The great thing about commercial businesses is that I can have a call with my customers right now. I don’t have a relationship with retail customers until they sign the contract and they come through the dealer. For these commercial customers, we’ll go out on sales calls with dealers. We’ll put a package together and spend time with them with the Ford Pro team.
When we went out to talk to a lot of those customers, we asked how we can make their life easier. The tech stack that we had didn’t really work. We got product organization together with the technical team, and we said, “Let’s change the way that customers submit an application for a commercial line of credit,” where the customer can ask for not just one vehicle, but for many vehicles, and they will take the next vehicle when they’re ready. We made that a digital experience. It went from 0% a few years ago to more than 80% of customers using digital channels to submit their applications.
AFN: In what ways is Ford Credit working to improve FinSimple?
Drotman: We still are in the early stages of integrating the complete workflow. We got the digital hit where they go to the website setup, we’ve got commercial insurance and we’re spending a lot of time on customer experience, and that’s all on the digital side. Then also doing some marketing.
Traditionally, Ford Credit hasn’t been able to talk with customers directly. We’ve never really done search engine optimization, that was a Ford thing. With FinSimple, we are talking with small businesses on a regular basis. There’s a lot of opportunity that we haven’t even tapped yet with that experience of growing the receivables.
AFN: What’s your view on the economy headed into 2024?
Drotman: The commercial vehicle is a tool, it’s not just a vehicle that somebody wants to get updated. The order banks for commercial vehicles are full, and customers still need those vehicles for their businesses. The commercial segment seems like it is in a pretty good space, aside from some black swan event or some change in macroeconomic situations.