Compliance: Execute…or be Executed

by Steve Levine | Chief Legal Officer

As I write this, we at AutoStar we are breathing a collective sigh of relief after hosting our Innovate user’s conference last week. Close to 400 clients, vendors and speakers attended this year’s event, and I’m pleased to say we surpassed even our own grandiose expectations. We packed an incredible amount of information into two and a half days and I’m confident that every attendee returned to his or her dealerships with information that made a positive impact. Our curriculum included over 40 distinct classes across a wide spectrum of both AutoStar user-specific and critical industry topics. The compliance track alone had ten classes led by our own Auto-Stars and consumer finance industry experts in the legal and compliance areas.

If I’m going to be asked to cook the meal, I’d like to be able to pick the groceries

Although I made every effort to attend as many sessions as possible, I spent most of my time in the compliance sessions. Upon hearing the various presentations, I was struck by the fact that so many of them shared the common theme of stressing the importance of adopting robust policies and then making sure they are followed each day. This was a pleasant surprise. Although I had been involved in selecting the speakers and topics, there had been no pre-arranged plan to arrive at a common message. There had been no “group think”, rehearsal or effort to collaborate, which means that we each arrived at this place through our individual analysis of the current compliance landscape.

Ken Shilson, who gave the keynote address in the opening session, began this theme by saying that the first thing each and every dealership must do is appoint a compliance officer. I was sitting in the front row when he said this and it took quite an effort on my part not to stand up and add “and then give them proper training so they can do their job”. Thereafter, just about every speaker on the compliance track emphasized the importance of adopting compliant polices and putting them into effect in the far reaches of dealerships.

My own presentations included admittedly lengthy sermons on the subject. One of my anecdotes (for those of you that might have been napping and missed it) was based on the true story of a dealership that produced a policy handbook in response to a litigation discovery request and was alarmed to find out that while the handbook cover reflected its own name, the rest of the handbook referred to a different company from whom one of its employees “borrowed” the content of the entire manual. The bottom line is that in these days of increased state and federal regulation and audits, it is vital that dealerships invest not just their money but their time and focus on the basic “blocking and tackling” of adopting compliant policies and then making sure they are implemented. One of my favorite sayings is that “if you want to be in this business there are certain things you have to do when you fall out of bed”. Development of compliant policies, while not glamorous or exciting is certainly on the “fall out of bed” list.

The critical nature of this subject was made crystal clear for me when I had the opportunity to meet some of our clients at the various meals and receptions we hosted. Two folks in particular shared that they were attending the conference because they had recently been “promoted” to compliance officer at their dealerships but, other than our conference, hadn’t been given much in the way of training and support to facilitate their success in their new roles. As one of my favorite Football Coaches, Bill Parcells, likes to say, “If I’m going to be asked to cook the meal, I’d like to be able to pick the groceries”.

Granted, Coach Parcells is referring to player acquisition and not sales and finance compliance, but the message has meaning: Don’t just give someone the title and think your work is done; instead, follow up by giving them the resources to allow them to successfully do their job.

Don’t just appoint a compliance or privacy officer, both of which have become critical positions in the last ten years. Send them to conferences, supply books and manuals and give them access to the information they need to excel at their new position.

Don’t just be satisfied that you can pull out a copy of a policy if asked; instead, make sure the policy is the best it can be and that it is one your dealership can follow.

Don’t just strive to be compliant as a way to manage risk, but vigorously embrace compliant practices as a way to set you apart from your competition and ultimately increase sales and profits.
I’m sure by now it’s obvious that I’m thrilled with the success of Innovate as a whole and the compliance track in particular. I’m also thrilled that AutoStar had the progressive and aggressive vision to include this track. Our presentations and materials matched (and surpassed) the curriculum found at many continuing legal education events for lawyers and compliance professionals. For this reason, I want to thank each and every one of our presenters; you did an amazing job, and I can’t wait to do it again next year at Innovate 2013.

Leave a Reply