Americans find the process of buying a car to be more stressful than watching their favorite sports team compete in a championship game, going on a first date, or even getting married, according to a recent survey. Money is often the root of this stress, and while Flagship Credit Acceptance can’t alleviate this anxiety altogether, it aims to make the process of securing financing for a car purchase run as smoothly as possible.
As Chris Keiser, an executive vice president at Flagship and its sole general counsel explains, the company juggles roles as both an indirect and a direct lender. “Flagship is one of the lending sources that buys financing contracts that you purchase at car dealerships; that’s our indirect lending service. But we also have an affiliate company, Car Finance, that’s part of our group and that we’re responsible for. They provide loans more similar to bank loans, where you get a set amount, and then can cash shop at the dealership,” he explains. Keiser continues that working with Flagship’s direct finance arm means one “can minimize the need for involvement with the dealer’s finance and insurance representative.”
When Keiser came to Flagship, the business comprised about 300 employees. Today, the Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania-based company has about 900, with Keiser himself managing a team of around eighteen. Still, the company is small enough that Keiser can see the impact of the work he does almost immediately in contrast to his previous roles at larger companies. “Working in a smaller start-up, entrepreneurial environment, I can roll something out and see it implemented in a day or a week. The result of my effort isn’t a year away,” Keiser says.
As Flagship expands, it aims to increase its customer base through specialized offerings. Recently, the company launched Flagship Military Lending, an auto financing program aimed specifically at meeting the financing needs of active-duty service members attempting to purchase new or used vehicles or to refinance existing loans.
Flagship’s current efforts also consist of marketing toward and supporting the ever-growing Spanish-speaking population in the United States. Keiser has a strong background in international business and finance, a skill set he built early in his career working in legal affairs in areas such as Mexico, Argentina, Costa Rica, and more. Keiser worked on everything from acquiring companies and handling litigation to grasping the nuances of international consumer finance law. He also worked with companies establishing an international presence from the ground up.
While that background doesn’t directly inform his day-to-day work at Flagship, there’s an intangible benefit. “Having worked in Spanish-speaking countries, knowing the culture as well as I do, and speaking the language, I see some companies treat serving that population as simplistically as saying, ‘Well, put our materials into Spanish,’” he says. Flagship aims to take a more holistic approach to serving Spanish-speaking populations, especially those who have recently immigrated from Mexico. “The auto loan business is a different animal in Mexico. It’s very complicated, and there’s not as robust a capital market,” he says.
A simple translation of materials directed toward an English-speaking population doesn’t do enough to address those differences. “Don’t say, ‘Here’s our product. Take it or leave it.’ Our approach is to acknowledge the cultural difference and to market with an orientation that will appeal specifically to that market,” he explains. “Helping that population understand how simple the process of securing financing can be compared to other countries, and keeping in mind the important role that family plays in that culture goes a long way toward better serving the Mexican-American population.” Keiser sees Flagship partnering closely with dealerships who focus on Spanish-speaking populations as a major aspect of the company’s future. “We’ll ask ourselves how those communities want to be served rather than superimposing the way it’s ‘always been done’ on them.”
New products and focuses notwithstanding, the bulk of Flagship’s growth lies in steadily scaling out of its current offerings, relying on the infrastructure the company has developed over the past several years. While that building-out process has come with its share of challenges, from a legal and compliance perspective, seeing the infrastructure support the company effectively as it has grown has been deeply rewarding as well. “Everything we do now builds on the infrastructure we’ve built—in policy, in procedure, and both—to support what we do from day-to-day and to support us as we grow,” he says.
So what comes next for Flagship and for Keiser himself as the company continues to grow? “We can grow without adding a single product, which is exciting. We work with about 7,000 dealerships now, and there are maybe 18,000 franchise dealerships in the United States and many more independent dealers. There’s plenty of room for expansion there, and we’re a quarter percent,” he says with a laugh. “A quarter percent. Even going into the 1 percent quadruples us. With that kind of trajectory and growth potential, you’re not in a hurry to add anything new.”
As for Keiser, he sees himself continuing to leave his direct stamp on Flagship. “Most of what’s here I had an impact on creating it. It’s my fingerprint,” he says. In particular, Keiser looks forward to getting involved in the company’s effort to reach a Spanish-speaking population. “On the Spanish-speaking [expansion], I’ll draw on my international background . . . getting to work on both the legal and compliance side and the business side.”