Chief Marketing Officer Melinda Welsh now oversees direct lending.
Chase Auto has handed responsibility for direct lending to its chief marketing officer, part of an effort to unify its customer-facing business and present services beyond traditional auto lending.
After four years as chief marketing officer, Melinda Welsh, 45, has added direct lending to her title. Combining marketing and direct lending is new for Chase Auto.
“What we really wanted to do was consolidate anything that touches our end consumer, particularly our Chase customers, and bring that into one umbrella,” Welsh told Automotive News. “That might be lending needs. That might be other types of car-buying needs. That might be you’re a customer of one of our private labels.”
Welsh replaces Jim Manelis, 51, as head of direct lending. Manelis is now Chase Auto’s head of strategic alliances, overseeing nonmanufacturer partnerships such as Chase Auto’s tie-up with AutoFi, an online car shopping and financing platform.
In February, Chase’s auto finance segment changed its name from Chase Auto Finance to Chase Auto to more broadly define its auto business.
“A number of our customers know us for our lending, but if we asked a customer a year from now, ‘How does Chase Auto help improve your financial situation?’ they wouldn’t just say lending,” Welsh said.
Chase Auto hopes its customers will soon view the company as “a holistic auto solution, not just a lender,” she said. “That’s underlying pretty much everything that I’m working on right now.”
In her new post, Welsh will oversee Chase Auto Direct, an online car shopping and financing tool Chase Auto launched in partnership with TrueCar Inc. in 2016. Although the program is a direct lending model, in which customers obtain financing directly from a lender, it showcases participating dealerships’ inventory, so dealers still gain business.
“Dealers in the Chase network will now benefit from new leads that they didn’t have yesterday,” Bruce Jackson, head of retail lending, said at the time of the launch.
More than 11,000 dealerships nationwide work with Chase Auto Direct.
Welsh will also manage Chase Auto’s integration into the lender’s consumer-facing channels, such as Chase.com, branches, dealerships and general marketing.
Chase plans to open 400 bank branches over the next five years, and Chase Auto seeks to incorporate the auto lending business into the branches more than in the past, Welsh said.
“We want to encourage even more customers to come in and speak to a banker about what their auto needs are,” she said. “Bringing these things together, we can suggest all sorts of things, including lending products.”
Chase’s private-label relationships with Subaru, Mazda, Jaguar-Land Rover and Maserati will continue to be indirect lending models, which means the dealership arranges the loan or lease on behalf of the customer.
“But there may be special manufacturer products we want to talk about,” Welsh said. “There may be preferred relationships with dealers we want to talk about. We want to bring a more holistic package and more holistic advice for a consumer coming into a branch.”
Chase Auto has also taken a broader approach online with an education portal, launched in February. “It’s about everything that you potentially need to know about buying a car, outside of just the lending component,” she said. “So, we’re really trying to think about the customer journey end-to-end and everything they would need in addition to just the lending.”
Through Chase Auto’s effort to redefine its approach to auto lending, Welsh says she has met with as many dealers as consumers. She says in-person shopping and financing continues to be important to auto retail.
The lender has talked with dealers about enhancing their relationship. For example, “we talked a lot about what kind of data insights could help run [their] business better. It’s really making a lot of connection points, not just sending business their way,” Welsh said.
Through the traditional direct lending channel, Chase Auto could refer customers to a dealer, as it does via Chase Auto Direct. The lender is experimenting with approaches to incorporate dealers into direct lending, Welsh said, “but at the center of most of those ideas is a strong relationship with preferred dealers.”
“We want to get this right for our Chase consumers, and we also want to work with the dealer,” Welsh said. “How can we help connect dealers and customers in a really meaningful way and improve that experience?” a