Using technology such as Skype, eBay, and Airbnb to connect with our peers has been so engrained in our society that it has become second nature, and so it’s only natural that would feed into the world of lending as well.
The peer-to-peer (P2P or marketplace) lending market is growing quickly. According to PwC, P2P platforms issued $5.5 billion in loans in 2014, and the market is expected to reach $150 billion by 2025. With P2P lending, consumers apply for a loan through an online portal and the loan process is completed virtually.
The top four loans types - small business, student, real estate, and unsecured consumer loans – have been the early focus of these lending platforms. But it has been suggested that the next explosion will be in auto finance. One example of growth is LendingTree, a leading P2P lender, who reported 22 percent year-over-year auto loan growth in the first quarter of 2015.
While auto financing is growing in popularity with P2P lenders, some established players in the auto industry appear well-equipped to compete with this move to more technically-savvy, virtual lending practices.
This is especially true for Up2Drive, a division of BMW Financial Services. They’ve been making pre-approved car loans direct to the consumer since 2007. Up2Drive allows BMW to provide consumers with a similar benefit to marketplace lending platforms: an online portal to request and receive a loan, and the freedom to use that loan at any car dealership.
Among the many features that Up2Drive offers car shoppers on their website, one stands out as unique in the industry (marketplace and traditional lenders alike): a virtual assistant called Assist.
An intelligent virtual assistant is a digital persona who delivers personalized customer service via a human-like conversation: either on a mobile device or on the web. This allows customers to receive help navigating a complicated website, ask questions, and get a quality customer service experience no matter what time of day – or night.
Using a virtual assistant brings reduction in customer care costs, increase in sales conversions, and brand differentiation. In a study with 1,000 Americans, Wakefield Research found that more than 57 percent of inbound customer service calls come from consumers who fail to resolve their issue on the company’s website. When customers call in to receive support, it takes time and money to help them resolve whatever problem they’re facing. So in order for customers to solve problems, find information, or answer questions themselves, providing them a way to interact online is vital.
Up2Drive Assist provides a personal, immediate solution to that online support for self-service. Assist is available at all hours, knows where a customer is in their car purchase journey and when to prompt to see if they need help. And while Assist provides a fun, human-like interaction for customers, it’s also a scalable solution that can be expanded and can learn as Up2Drive adds more features and products.
“One of the reasons for our success is we have tapped into a fundamental change in how customers purchase a vehicle,” said Pawan Murthy, General Manager, Online Business, BMW Up2Drive in a webinar co-hosted with Nuance.
I took Up2Drive’s Assist for (forgive me) a test drive today, and came away both better informed and extremely impressed.
“Up2Drive [Assist] fills what I call the customer advocacy gap. You need to have three things to inform the customer,” said Murthy. “You need to have objectivity, you need to have expertise, and you need to be an enabler – and we can do all three of these things. We can enable them with the financing they need to buy a car. We can provide them with objective information to go into a dealership and to negotiate the price. And we can also provide them with expertise on that [negotiation process].”
Using a virtual assistant allows Up2Drive to provide not only the convenience of a P2P lending platform, but additional value by helping customers navigate the often confusing landscape of auto finance. Assist is able to empower borrowers with all the information they need to make a more educated decision when purchasing a car – and Up2Drive ensures they keep their freedom to choose where that purchase happens too.
For more information and to join in a lively discussion of how to help humans harness the power of virtual assistants, stop by Opus Research’s Intelligent Assistants Conference from October 13-14 in New York City. You can also hear more about up2Drive Assist from Murthy, who will be presenting on Wednesday at 3:15pm. See you there!