LAS VEGAS – Paperless transactions are coming to car dealerships, however slowly.

“This is not a dream,” David Robertson, the Association of Finance and Insurance Professionals’ executive director, says of future e-transactions. “This is a reality that will come, if not quickly.”

Paperwork is a mainstay of a car purchase. Customers affix their signature to numerous documents. Robertson foresees a time when they’ll do that electronically. He also speaks of dealerships ultimately storing deal jackets in computer files rather than filing cabinets.

“Modern technology is radically changing methods,” he says at the 2012 F&I Conference here. “What’s not changing is the process.”

For example, any disclosures dealerships make on paper need to be done electronically. Data-security vigilance will remain unchanged, although Robertson argues it’s easier to protect e-information from identity thieves.

“It is tougher to steal information if it is electronic,” he says. “It’s not going to be sitting on an F&I manager’s desk. Paperless transactions go a long way in fighting ID theft.”

Dealerships ultimately converting to paperless transactions is not a new topic, but full implementation is taking longer than some people had thought. Some legal technicalities still need addressing.

And in some respects, it’s a circular argument of who goes first with paperless, particularly in auto financing, says a conference attendee. “Dealers say they would use it if offered. Lenders say they would offer it if dealers used it.”

Although a full conversion to e-transactions is not at hand, some dealerships are beginning to use devices such as computer tablets to enhance product presentations and expedite deals.

Information technology companies offer software that allows dealerships to show electronic F&I menus to customers. But some F&I managers who won top-performance awards at the conference say they prefer using paper menus.        

“I’m a paper person; it’s more interactive,” says Dina Wilson of Timbrook Automotive, a dealership in Cumberland, MD. “Paper is better for returning to something on a menu.”

Chris Bell of Freehold Buick-GMC in Freehold, NJ, agrees. “I’m a fan of paper. You can flip through a paper menu and write stuff on it. When you do, people will read it. Some of our older customers don’t know what an iPad is.”

IT companies say their menu software is designed for interactivity. “Anything you do with a paper menu, you can do electronically, including returning to previously presented material,” Matt Parson, a senior director at ADP Dealer Services, tells WardsAuto.

Then there’s the same old story about slow acceptance of new technology.

“Some people adapt slower than others, but everyone eventually adapts,” Ron Lamb, president of Reynolds and Reynolds, tells WardsAuto during an automotive event at Northwood University in Midland, MI.

“I remember when we introduced electronic parts catalogues, and a lot of people wanted to keep using the paper books,” he says. “Now, everyone uses the electronic version.”

Use of computer tablets and other mobile devices eliminates barriers between dealerships and their customers, especially during an F&I product presentation, Lamb says.

Mobile devices and accompanying software allow customers to drive the process, he says. “They are the ones hitting the ‘continue’ button. You can engage better with customers.”

Customers want greater control, says Rick Kurtz, vice president-dealer sales for Protective Asset Protection, an F&I product provider.

“They want to be part of the process, not just walk into the F&I office,” he says at the conference. “Regardless of the technology, as much as we can involve the customer, the better.”

sfinlay@wardsauto.com