The dictionary defines manifesto as “a declaration of the intentions, motives, or views of an individual or group to promote new ideas with prescriptive notions for carrying out changes the author believes should be made.”

Every dealer will benefit who has and abides by a compliance manifesto. Key points describe the heart, soul, hope and future the dealer has strived to build into the business and its people.

Some dealers deserve to hang a copy on the wall. They want to preserve the results of hard work. They want to continue to provide a living for their many employees and to keep the customers they’ve won through business diligence.

But in many dealers’ minds, dealership compliance merits no love, little attention and minimal respect.

Even when regulators swoop in and bad publicity, fines and even lawsuits follow, some dealers remain indifferent about compliance.

At 20 Group, NCM and other peer-practice opportunities, dealers should ask counterparts with a compliance manifesto in place if it has helped them avoid, minimize or sidestep a data breach; kept workers healthy and safe; and ensured fair and honest treatment of all consumers through compliant F&I practices.

I think I know their answer.

Regardless of personal feelings about compliance pressure that governments, regulators and public opinion place on businesses today, complying with pervailing regulations and law is a reality.

I started my compliance consulting business after spending years as a dealer and working for dealers. I noticed how various dealers thought about, responded to and complied with regulations.

Few wanted or felt they had the time to understand the many rules governing so many nooks and crannies of their business and how to respond to them. Few are familiar with the verbiage lawyers and civil servants use to author regulations.

Many dealers thought they were too small of a player for regulators to care about and investigate for possible violations.

Compliance software is helpful, but only boots on the ground poking into files, evaluating deal jackets, scrutinizing security measures, examining documents and discussing situations and reviewing policies with management regularly will ensure the dealership is compliant.

Compliance means having in place a repeatable process that produces a trail (paper or electronic) of what products were presented in the F&I office that qualify for that customer, what the customer agreed to purchase and at what price. The results and the customer’s agreement to them must be memorialized on each relevant document.

While the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has emerged as the big dog when it comes to many dealer matters, OSHA, EPA, EEOC, FTC and states attorney generals are always nipping away.

Therefore, to help dealers make a verbal declaration of their renewed commitment to promoting compliant operations throughout the dealership and carrying for that promise, I present here the compliant dealers’ manifesto:

I, the individual charged with the wellbeing and furtherance of all assets and resources in my responsibility as dealer principal, dealer operator or owner of this automobile dealership, unequivocally will:

  • Accept the risk to my business that my ignorance or neglect of compliance will likely cost the business, its owners, and its customers. The buck stops with me.
  • Ensure the protection of privacy, financial information, and data used in the course of this business. This promise includes, but is not limited to, the security and safe handling and storage of customer data including social security and driver’s license numbers, credit score, personal address, and telephone numbers. This promise extends to our employees, to ensure them the same privacy levels we afford our customers. I ensure our data networks, are secured and protected.
  • Take responsibility for learning about and understanding compliance regulations. This does not mean I grasp all key issues, as there are many, and they change often, but that I have taken proper steps and made certain changes or investments to ensure my business complies and that a human being is accountable and responsible for implementing compliance.
  • Ensure all staff is properly and periodically trained about their respective compliance obligations; they are the dealership’s frontline defense.
  • Trust but verify. Humans are humans. Great leadership inspects what it expects. That’s my job. We will set up necessary controls with money handling, employee policies, work descriptions and work responsibilities and consequences. We can forgive many kinds of failures, but failures of the law, improper treatment of others, misuse and mishandling of company resources (including time) are grounds for reprimand and/or dismissal. Mulligans are for golf, not dealerships.

Former auto dealer Terry Dortch is president of Automotive Compliance Consultants. He can be reached at terry_dortch@compliantnow.com.