That's the way many stories of bygone times begin. So when ELISA* Hartung wants to know from her daddy Christopher in a few years' time how people "back then", i.e. up until 2020, used to buy a car, daddy Christopher can start his story with exactly these words: "Once upon a time, many moons ago, dear ELISA, people went off to the car dealer's and came back with a whole stack of paper which they had to sign with a pen many times over and then send back to the dealer's, and ..."
That's because today, when ELISA is still small, buying a car in German showrooms is still being handled completely differently than in the digital future. "Daddy" Christopher Hartung (to give him his full name) is head of the project "Digital Signature in the Car Dealership" at the Digital Unit (DU), the digital innovation hotbed of Volkswagen Financial Services (VWFS). The DU, which was founded in 2017 as an organizational unit of the company in Berlin, is busy working on the digitalization of the entire product portfolio of VWFS – a Herculean task, but a crucial one for successfully implementing the ROUTE2025 strategy. With it, Volkswagen Financial Services intend to become the best automotive financial services provider in the world. The members of the DU's 70-strong team are working together on an interdisciplinary and international basis to drive the digital transformation. The goal is to establish simple, secure, transparent and above all customer-friendly products and processes for purchasing a vehicle or for the services that go with it.
Many of our customers want to be able to conclude a leasing or financing contract at the dealership in a simpler and speedier manner and with full protection of their data privacy. And at the same time, our dealer partners can save a lot of time and money through the implementationof this project.
After all, customer behavior is changing and market conditions are shifting. Owing to the rise in online trading – especially in times of corona – the way we shop now is a different one. Today, customers expect to be offered a simple, fast service in digital form even when they purchase complex, high-grade goods like a motor vehicle. At the moment, however, the sales process in the car showroom involves a lot of time, effort and paperwork for both customers and dealers. But this cumbersome, old-fashioned, almost anachronistic way of doing things is now set to change with the implementation of the Digital Signature project. Stefan Imme, Chief Digital Officer at VWFS and therefore responsible for the digitalization of the company, stresses the following point: "Many of our customers want to be able to conclude a leasing or financing contract at the dealership in a simpler and speedier manner and with full protection of their data privacy. And at the same time, our dealer partners can save a lot of time and money through the implementation of this project."
The end result is to be nothing less than the first fully digital sales process in the German automobile trade. Its two main components are:
First: a digital authentication procedure, in which, for example, one's identity card is scanned and the data are further processed digitally and without any transmission errors. Second: the digital conclusion of contract, which, for example, requires only a single signature from the customer instead of the 14 signatures needed up to now.
The basis for this process is a digital customer identity – developed in cooperation with Verimi, the cross-sector European identity platform – that can be used independently of the respective touchpoint. This type of digital key is used as a convenient and secure log-in and serves to access all the digital self-services of VWFS. With this authentication of individual identity via Verimi, the customer can also log into the VWFS customer portal and call up all his or her documents. In addition, the digital key can also be used by customers for offers from other providers – Verimi also cooperates with other well-known companies in Germany. Security plays a central role here, of course. The Verimi platform has recently been approved by the German Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) for use within the scope of the German Online Access Act (OZG). Björn Steffen, Head of Digital Marketing at VWFS, points out: "It's a fact that manual activities are sometimes vulnerable to error, and the digital signature provides reliability and security in these areas."
Once established, the digital identity saves the customer cumbersome and repetitive registrations and further authentication procedures. It also fulfils the frequently expressed desire for the "one-stop shopping principle" – whereby, with only one log-in (single sign-on), all the corresponding orders can be placed or purchase transactions completed. VWFS, for its part, can use this method to interact with its customers across all channels, provide them with digital support and offer them a maximally transparent, uncomplicated and paperless buying experience via tablet and app. In the near future, digital vehicle purchasing via Verimi is to be expanded throughout Germany to all the dealerships of the Volkswagen Group partners.
The use of modern terminal devices not only has the support of dealers and customers, it also enables state-of-the-art technologies to be deployed such as OCR (optical character recognition) and/or NFC (near field communication), which contribute to the error-free capture of identification data. The matching app has been developed together with Verimi. The result is a highly time-efficient, secure and, incidentally, environmentally friendly purchasing process for the customer, since nothing has to be printed on paper anymore. The sales staff in the dealership can invest the time saved in advising the customer.
This new digital financing and leasing process offers enormous benefits for everyone involved – for VWFS, for our dealer partners, and for the end customer.
Project manager Christopher Hartung is certain in his conclusion: "This new digital financing and leasing process offers enormous benefits for everyone involved – for VWFS, for our dealer partners, and for the end customer."
… and so he might well end his story for ELISA with the words: "Yes, ELISA, that's how it was back then in the analog era."
*Christopher Hartung's daughter is of course not called ELISA. ELISA is an acronym that stands for the real name of the "Digital Signature in the Car Dealership" project: Electronic Legitimation Identification Signature Achievement.