In the ten years since Frontline Solutions was founded in 2003, it has become a firm fixture in the UK motor finance landscape. But what’s next for the ambitious software provider, and who’s running the show? Fred Crawley finds out.
In 2008, Frontline Solutions caught the eye of Correlation Risk Partners, the UK trading style of a South African- managed private equity fund with interests in automotive businesses Budget Car Insurance, Autoprotect Warranties, and Smart Insurance, as well as high street giants Nandos and Gourmet Burger Kitchen.
With Correlation’s backing, the last five years have seen the business grow at a blistering pace. After an initial period of planned investment and relatively low returns, the business made a record net profit of £400,000 last year, on top of a year-on-year turnover increase of 170%.
The company moved into new premises in Wakefield in July 2011, and currently employs 15 staff there. From this base, it now works with more than 70 dealer groups – including the top three independents: CarShop, Carcraft and The Car People – and more than 190 different F&I providers, including bank-owned and captive lenders, insurers, brokers and lead providers. Some 19 manufacturer brands subscribe to the DealTrak product.
Now the next phase of Frontline’s growth is beginning. Its Rosetta product, first piloted on 1 February this year, allows users all the functionality of the DealTrak system, but integrated with their own interface – “DealTrak without the DealTrak”, as managing director Andy Shuter puts it.
In the words of Mark Bailey, owner of CanCan Car Finance, the joint venture with Frontline which aims to partner with 100 dealerships by the close of 2013, and Trade Centre Wales: “Initially, as with many of my peers in the F&I world, we saw Frontline as just DealTrak. How wrong we were! Although the DealTrak123 system is an integral part of both of our businesses now, the expertise and knowledge across the spectrum of F&I is mind-blowing.
“Frontline has also proven it can successfully broker deals with providers right across the board, the most significant being with Equifax, who would never have even looked at our CanCan venture without them. Their reputation in this industry, not just in my opinion, but everyone else’s is impeccable.”
To Shuter, this product evolution, as well as the company’s growing stature in the market, has the potential to propel Frontline from “being all about DealTrak” to “a one-stop shop for all things F&I”.
In order to realise this, Shuter has bolstered Frontline’s management team with new appointments, aimed at fostering a more comprehensive and consultative offering for customers, as well as facilitating a greater volume of business for the company.
In this feature, Motor Finance talks to the team at the helm of Frontline to find out who’s who, and how the growth campaign will play out in the months to come.
Andy Shuter – managing director Andy Shuter is not just bullish about prospects for his own business, but for the motor finance industry as a whole. A self-described F&I evangelist, he has often and publicly shared his opinions on the growing popularity of finance as a facilitator for consumer car purchase, pointing to soaring penetration rates into motor retail over the past three years.
As well as foreseeing growth in the size of the car finance market, he’s keen to increase the share of that market covered by Frontline. At present, he estimates that somewhere between 10% and 15% of the UK’s consumer car finance proposals go through frontline systems. By the end of 2014, he says, the aim is to increase this proportion to 35%.
As already mentioned, he believes the Rosetta product will be the driving force behind this growth, but stresses that breadth of offering will also be a major part of the Frontline proposition.
“It’s not just DealTrak anymore – we’re championing the Frontline brand. We want to be recognised as the experts in F&I technology, and our recent messages to the market really stress that anything you want to talk to us about, whatever part of your service you want to concentrate on, we can help.”
Ian Beardmore – head of special projects From 2005 to 2012, Beardmore acted as head of F&I at the Co-operative Motor Group, where he was well-known for developing the group’s finance penetration in recent years.
Having integrated the DealTrak system into more than 20 of the group’s sites in 2009, Beardmore became familiar with how the Frontline product suite operated, and especially how it worked as a management tool from a head office location.
As such, when he left the group last year, he embarked on two major pieces of consultancy work with Frontline; one in relation to the development of Rosetta’s documentation offerings, the other in respect to Frontline’s long-term ambitions to bring elements of the F&I market into the leisure industry.
From March this year, Beardmore took on the role of in-house project manager for Frontline – his work will entail, as he describes it, “putting a commercial edge on the development side of the business”.
Shuter adds: “Ian will be responsible for evaluating exactly what our clients want, and putting specifications together for big projects. We’ve always been very flexible, but we’re taking on some really big projects now and we need to take on a more structured approach.”
Martin Hill – national sales manager Martin Hill has been involved in the motor finance industry for 20 years. Coming from a legal and compliance background, he spent a number of years in showrooms as a business manager, before going on to work for a major lender for eight years, and then run a compliance company for a further three years, before moving into the software side of the business in 2008.
In November 2012, Hill took on the role of national sales manager at Frontline Solutions, a role he says will involve “supporting dealers in conjunction with colleagues to make sure we’re giving people solutions that match their needs.” While Hill says there will be smaller dealers who can use frontline products “off the shelf”, the majority will need bespoke efforts, necessitating close work with Beardmore.
“From a new business angle, what we are providing isn’t a case of one size fits all” says Hill. “Our solutions have to match people’s own brand values, so we need to understand how a business wants to work, and how we can fit that.”
As well as growing frontline’s user base, Hill will also be growing a team, including sales support, development and new business staff. “We’re looking to grow a field team,” he adds. “There are careers here.”
Mark Spink – technical director Mark Spink joined Frontline soon after it was founded in 2003. He is the company’s resident technical expert, and was the driving force behind the development of the Rosetta product.
As well as software development, however, Spink is in charge of meeting Frontline’s hardware needs. “Considering the size of the company,” he explains, “we have more servers than we need. We’re very scalable, with lots of headroom in the systems as they stand”.
Next on his development list will be further web services for Rosetta, as well as work in conjunction with Garton’s support team.
Spink says: “One way we’ll be increasing support efficiency is by seriously feeding information back into the product. We don’t run a versioning approach. As new features become available, they go out to everyone – the product automatically updates as time goes by.”
Stephen Garton – operations director Stephen Garton has been with Frontline for six years, having joined to ease the growing workload of the company’s support desk.
Having shown aptitude for the technology side of the business and talking to end users, he took the role of operations director in February 2012.
Garton’s responsibilities, he says, focus on “what goes on day-to-day, in terms of interaction between our clients and our systems”. He is in charge of Frontline’s support team, and – much like Hill – will be working closely with Beardmore to make sure they can cater for the expectations and scale of current and future clients.
Part of his work will entail improving Frontline’s technology to boost the efficiency of support services, from systems to alert his team of potential problems before they happen, through to comprehensive call analysis to identify common issues.
? Shuter hints that as Frontline grows over the months to come, there may be room for a sixth member of the core management team: “We’ve always been stronger on the ‘F’ side of F&I, and we have definite plans to focus on the insurance side of the business. Watch this space!”
Backing the Frontline “It’s great to see all the hard work that Andy and Mark have put into Frontline really paying off. I don’t think anyone in the F&I world would deny these two guys the success they richly deserve. Significant further investment in resource, marketing and infrastructure for Frontline is in the process of being implemented and we are very confident they will surpass our expectations as shareholders.” Alex Lugt, head of motor products division, Correlation Risk Partners