Compliance Keeps Pace with Technology
Compliance Keeps Pace with Technology

Attendees of the eighth annual Agent Summit found a friend in Gil Van Over III, who pulled double duty for the second year in a row: In his role as the executive director of Automotive Compliance Education (ACE), Van Over led the five-hour review and exam for Automotive Compliance Specialist certification — which was open to any registered Agent Summit attendee — on Sunday, May 20. He then presented “Compliance Jeopardy,” a featured presentation, the following day.

Agent Entrepreneur caught up with Van Over on the eve of Agent Summit to learn more about the origins of ACE and how its directors keep up with an increasingly digital industry.

AE: Gil, most people are familiar with you as the founder of compliance consulting firm gvo3 & Associates. How did you come to establish ACE?

Van Over: As a long-time compliance consultant, I’ve had a front-row seat to observe where compliance efforts fell short in the real world of dealerships. It was easy to see why. How can people be expected to follow laws they don’t even know exist? And while I was aware of certification programs on the market, they tended to be “one and done.” Once you got certified, that was it. But in real life, people forget things, and laws change. We sensed a desire for someone to build a better certification mousetrap. We just didn’t think it would be us.

Then, in the summer of 2016, one of our large dealership groups asked if we could put together a certification program that addressed what they saw as shortcomings in the program they were then using. That same week, Agent Summit contacted me with the same question, as that show was committed to providing a certification session in connection with the event, and the original certification partner dropped out on short notice. So, it was that alignment of the stars that really got the ball rolling.

AE: You say you wanted to “build a better certification mousetrap.” How does ACE differ from other certifications?

Van Over: ACE was built to address the evolving digital world in the automotive space. Back when I was a college student, I made a quarterly trek to the bookstore and amped up my parents’ credit cards by hundreds of dollars to purchase required textbooks. I’d study the textbooks, attend lectures, then take a final exam. Today’s college students study online or with ebooks, take validating quizzes throughout the learning experience to confirm comprehension, then test.

The ACE model is like today’s college model. All our training is provided online in modules lasting 10 to 15 minutes. The student must pass a quiz on the short module before moving on. Once all modules are completed, the student takes an online certification test.

ACE requires an annual recertification. The compliance world is ever-changing. Consider the Military Lending Act as the latest challenge. We have also taken on some recent clients who did not realize they were required to have a Safeguards policy in place. ACE looked at other professional industries and their required continuing education. Four of the top five trusted occupations in the United States require periodic continuing education and testing. The lone exception is the military, and being a military brat, I can confirm the military highly encourages furthering education of its members.

ACE also recognizes that compliance in the variable operations process has mistakenly been saddled with the “F&I compliance” moniker. Many of the issues we note in our compliance reviews either occurred or germinated in the sales process. We decided that each of the participants in the variable process deserved its own curriculum. There are seven different curricula, from sales and BDC to accounting. For F&I, sales, and BDC managers, “Compliance Officer Certification” is the comprehensive course. And, of course, agents have a dedicated curriculum.

Another big issue to address was cost. There was a general feeling that certification cost too much, so we priced the core F&I certification at around half the price of the best-known existing certification program. We deliver the content in the dealership, so training can be accessed during normal business hours at the candidate’s convenience.

AE: Can you give an example of new topics that have cropped up since ACE was founded?

Van Over: Sure. Last year’s “new” topic was the revised “Used Car Buyer’s Guide” that dealers had to migrate to before January of 2018. And this year’s update module will address the impact of U.S. Department of Defense’s reinterpretation of the Military Lending Act.

AE: How does ACE deliver its content?

Van Over: We deliver the video-based content over the Internet, using a learning management system that tracks candidates’ progress and test results.

AE: Other certifications require examinations to be taken in person, with proof of identity. ACE does not. Why?

Van Over: The only reason we could think of to require in-person testing was that you don’t trust the candidates not to cheat. We believe that 99% of those who take the time to learn the material and take the exam are honest people. We have faith in our members. Testing centers are expensive. Why penalize 99% of the candidates for the 1% who might want to take a shortcut? It just didn’t make sense. Besides, we know from our participating dealer groups that they generally proctor the exam in-house anyway to demonstrate the seriousness of their commitment.

AE: How long does the ACE certification program take?

Van Over: That depends on the certification a candidate signs up for. The sales associate program shouldn’t take much more than 90 minutes. The compliance officer training could take 10 to 12 hours.

AE: How long does the certification exam take?

Van Over: Most people who sit for the “F&I Specialist” exam, our most popular certification, finish the test in about an hour and a half. There are always some stragglers who take almost two hours.

AE: What do successful candidates receive?

Van Over: We offer a framed diploma that is really nice. Seriously — it’s nicer than most college diplomas I’ve seen! We also have heavy magnetic lapel pins that we distribute to those who successfully complete the exam when it’s offered at the Agent Summit or Industry Summit. And over the past year, those who took the exam at the Summits got an autographed copy of Jim Ganther’s book, “Compliance for Green Peas (and Old Dogs Who Think They Know It All),” on the way out the door, whether they passed or not.

AE: About that book. Does ACE plan on regularly publishing compliance-related books?

Van Over: Yes, and thank you for bringing that up! Another benefit we wanted to provide to the automotive segment was a source of high-quality books and other resources that support compliance. Jim had a book in the works, so we signed him as our first author. ACE just released its second book in conjunction with the NADA convention in Las Vegas, which I authored: “Automotive Compliance in a Digital World.” Jim has a sequel in the works, “Compliance for Old Dogs (and Green Peas Who Want to Keep Learning),” which we expect to publish later this year. And Randy Henrick has one in the pipeline as well, so we are rapidly building up a solid list.

AE: How much does ACE certification cost?

Van Over: Prices range from $95 for the sales associate certification to $695 for the compliance officer certification. F&I specialist certification costs $495.

AE: How much does recertification cost?

Van Over: Recertification costs 10% of the original certification. So if you earned the sales associate certification, the recertification would cost you $9.50.

AE: Have any major dealer groups adopted ACE certification as their standard?

Van Over: Yes, and more are coming on board every month as news of our value proposition gets out. Although several of our publicly traded dealer group supporters have asked that we not use their names, we can say that the John Elway Group and Phil Long Group in Colorado are on board, as well as the Atlantic Auto Group in New York.

In addition to dealer groups, F&I providers and administrators are getting behind ACE as well. American Financial & Automotive Services, for example, has incorporated ACE certification into the curriculum of their F&I University, and requires all their field force to become ACE-certified. And independent F&I agencies are following suit.

AE: How does ACE fit into an overall compliance strategy?

Van Over: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau requires the industries it regulates to have a documented compliance management system, or “CMS,” in place. Although the CFPB does not have oversight of franchised automotive retailers like the Federal Trade Commission does, many expect the FTC to follow suit in requiring a CMS before we retire. At gvo3, we started implementing a CMS with each of our clients as part of the client’s overall risk management strategy almost 17 years ago. A critical component of a CMS is to train employees on policies and procedures to ensure compliance with applicable state laws.

It’s important not to confuse ACE — or any other certification program — with a compliance program. A true compliance program includes several key components, and a minimum would demonstrate written policies and procedures, verifiable training on those policies and the laws they address, and an annual audit to confirm its effectiveness. ACE fits in as part of the training component, with the added benefit of the professional designation.

AE: Did ACE develop its own content and delivery software?

Van Over: No, we saw no need to reinvent the wheel. We license both the content and the LMS delivery system from Mosaic Compliance Services. They are far and away the leader in wholesale compliance services, so our respective business models meshed perfectly.

AE: Who came up with the acronym “ACE”?

Van Over: I’d like to take credit for that one, but it was the marketing people at Mosaic who came up with it. The logo was based on the nib of a fountain pen, because F&I personnel love their Montblanc pens! But that looked like an ace of spades, which led to the name Automotive Compliance Education for the entity. That’s what we set out to do, and its acronym — ACE — fit the logo like a glove. Besides, “ACE” has positive connotations that other terms lack. Finally, you’ll note the logo has a little bow tie at the bottom. Draw your own conclusions about who came up with that.

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