Concierge and Online Car Buying Services Comparison

Man Holding Car Key
(Last Updated On: February 24, 2022)

Car Buying Services: Concierge or Online, Still Necessary Tools!

Yep. “Tool”. Let’s take a journey through America’s past. What can I say; I’m a history buff. Meet me during the California Gold Rush. ‘49ers (that’s 1849), as they were called, streamed out West with dreams of finding the golden “mother lode”.

Thousands of people living east of the Mississippi made the journey, with riches on their mind and little knowledge of prospecting, the odds of finding deposits, or the skills needed.

What they did is a bit like your credit union focusing on the auto loan only. Without a car buying service to offer the needed “tools”, your members act like those aimless ‘49ers: entranced by the allure of that shiny prize, without much thought of how they might get it.

So where am I going with this history lesson? Great question. Clever folks watched as these poorly-equipped city-dwellers made the journey and got to thinking. The chances of “striking it rich” were minimal. Yet everyone used the same tools in the frantic attempt.

These entrepreneurial spirits opened hardware stores at popular destinations. They sold shovels, pics, pans, and assorted mining equipment.

As history showed us, only a few prospectors ever hit that “mother lode”, but those equipping everyone to make the attempt, those providing the “necessary tools”? Well, they did just fine.

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Credit Union Lessons from the 19th Century

Welcome back to the 21st century! Now that we’re here, how can we embrace this newfound knowledge to benefit your credit union and members?

According to Google, 95% of consumers begin their search with online car buying services. How many of those guide visitors to your financing? Most likely none. And yet, what do people need to buy a car? (Since it’s unlikely you handle leasing, we’re ignoring that segment for now) That’s right, financing!

So what’s the issue? Just offer financing! Right? Unfortunately for this approach, only 20% of  your members are thinking about how they’ll buy the car.

The other 80% are busy looking at what they want to buy. That 80%? They’re searching for the gold.

Two Prospectors Standing in Front of Building with Donkey Loaded with Gold Mining Pan, Shovel and other Supplies
You have more modern tools. They’re still tools.

Think back to the gold rush. It’s 1849 and people are flooding the new mining towns, in need of supplies.

If there are 5 hardware stores in the area, yet only one created and sent posters to the camps, which would do the most business?

It’s about being in front of the target audience when they need your product. Whether that’s shovels or Online Car Buying Services.

Your members are visiting car buying services today. What are you doing to ensure they use yours?

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Car Buying Services – Two Types

Concierge Car Buying Services

Before the internet, we had auto brokers. These were dealer/sales professionals with lots of experience managing the car buying process.

Their role?

Take on the “distasteful” responsibility of finding a specific car, haggling to an acceptable price, and ensuring all that pesky paperwork is filled out. Put simply: They delivered the best car for the lowest possible price. As compensation, they received a percentage of the sale.

These auto brokers were the concierge service to dealers. In fact, besides individual buyers, they also represented car dealers. Why? Margins on new cars aren’t amazing, so dealers are eager to earn manufacturer incentives.

Since these come from achieving sales goals, they needed someone skilled in “moving metal”. Combined with financing, this became a profitable arrangement.

Where Do Credit Unions Fit In?

Credit unions saw this partnership approach at work and put it to use internally. The auto broker or concierge works directly with members, making sure they get the car they want at a negotiated price while ensuring financing remains with the credit union.

The broker is paid by the dealer (they did facilitate a sale) and may also earn a fee from the credit union for the loan acquisition.

Personal Touch

The concierge approach is a traditional human-to-human system. The broker often works in a credit union branch (or administrative office) and can be from a 3rd party vendor/contractor or direct employees (you call them “auto advisors”).

Either way, they bring experience and knowledge of the car buying industry as the credit union’s resident “car buying experts”.

Auto Advisor Examples

Lots of credit unions have their own concierge car buying service. In our local area, We Florida Financial CU’s Auto Loan Expert and Dade Auto Desk (DAD) at Dade County FCU serve as long-standing examples.

Concierge Experience

Members may reach out to the auto advisors via phone or email, and also visit in person at a branch to discuss their needs.

The 3rd party providers often have a website which gives a limited selection of local vehicles and a form for requesting a call back. When it’s an in-house service, we find they normally have only a landing page with contact form.

After having that initial conversation with members who don’t want to deal with the car buying process, they begin their search.

Combining their preferences with the amount of financing they are approved for, the auto advisor reviews inventory (if any) and contacts local dealers.

Members receive the results, which include specific vehicles and pre-negotiated prices.

Online Car Buying Services

Shopping for a car through an online car buying service is more of a “Do-It-Yourself” (DIY) adventure. One which proves massively popular. Over 95% of consumers start their car shopping process online through some service.

People have become their own auto advisors. The goal of these services? Similar to the concierge program: Find the right car at the right price.

Lots of Choices, Only One With Your CU Financing

There are many car buying websites. They’re also really popular (AutoTrader is the 303rd most popular website in the US, and they’re just one of more than 35 sites!). Maybe you’ve heard of a few:

  • AutoTrader
  • Kelly Blue Book
  • J.D. Power (Formerly NADA)

They all provide a smooth experience, guiding users to finding the right car, learning about comparable vehicles, and reading reviews. However, they have a dark side (at least if you’re looking from the perspective of a credit union).

Car buying services offered by credit unions lead users to their own financing. Well, those popular sites? They do it, too. Except it’s not to your credit union.

Santander Bank and Lending Tree are two common directions those sites guide car buyers. It’s not just a gentle suggestion, either, as this referral is how they generate income.

20 Percent of Car Shoppers Look At Financing Visualization

Your own credit union’s car buying service can ensure members stay close for their search and financing. Plus, when they complete forms on the site, you receive notice, and can even reach out proactively.

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Finding the Right Car Buying Service for Your Credit Union

Of course, not all online car buying service choices are the same. We put together a list of the best online credit union car buying service providers, and also aim to help you understand why we work with our partner (that’s TrueCar if you’re interested).

Each service offers something a bit different, with member discounts, special manufacturer incentives, and even guaranteed pricing (because most people don’t want to haggle).

We suggest you review a few services, keeping your members’ goals in mind (simplicity, a no-hassle price, nationwide network, etc.) as you progress through their experience.

How Do They Compare?

Use the table to get a side-by-side, then we’ll dive a bit deeper.

Concierge versus Online Car Buying Service Comparson Table


No matter which option you choose, they’re free to the member. This is essential since the sites they use today are also free to use.


Online car buying services have access to a larger network of dealers and private sellers. Some are regional, while most are nationwide. Which makes the most sense for your credit union depends on your membership distribution.

How many of your members live outside your branch footprint? If it’s a substantial number, and they cannot be served by a local option, we strongly recommend going the online route.

Vehicle Pricing

Both approaches seek to get your member the best price possible. They also make your financing prominent and the recommended option. A concierge, being a person, will be clear in providing any information the member requests, specifically on “out-the-door” pricing.

The online car buying services vary in this, with some suggesting you contact the dealer and others providing guaranteed pricing right in the moment. We recommend you test any platform you’re considering to ensure it meets the, “what’s it cost” expectation.


The auto advisor concierge can make deals, but they may not have the financial backing to offer marketing dollars towards promotion.

Some online car buying services provide private manufacturer incentives and also dollars for the credit union to reduce interest rates, in exchange for marketing commitments. This can prove valuable in competitive markets and during a rising rate time.

Concierge or Online Service: What’s Best for Your CU?

Today, as noted by the Google study, just about everyone starts their buying process online.  Since we’re about being where your members are, our recommendation is to partner with an online car buying service provider.

Concierge car buying services are used primarily by older members. That means it won’t help you reduce your average member age (industry-wide, it’s around 47), nor attract new ones.

Younger members want a seamless digital solution, which they can use on any device. Sure, they like the human element, and you can provide that in follow-up, but it’s important to start online.

The main benefit of a concierge or auto advisor is providing a “full service” offering. Besides older members, some may just want another party to handle the search, price haggling, and delivery arrangement of a vehicle.

Perhaps they had poor experiences in the past or just feel they are too busy to even use an online system. (Since there are now online services which do this as well, our opinion is that this market is shrinking)

Summing it Up

Your members want to find gold. They’re focused on the riches (ie. the shiny new car). Provide them the essential car buying tools, the 21st-century pans and shovels, if you will, to help them accomplish that task with ease. Then you’re ready to help them close the deal with easy financing.

Legs out Car Window

A concierge service makes sense if you are seeing increasing foot traffic at branches, alongside reduced digital traffic.

However, if this is the case, we also suggest you take a look at which might be causing the unusual shift!

More in branches is great but less online? That’s a concern.

An online car buying service is a better option if:

  • Your membership extends beyond your branch footprint
  • Growth in a larger geographic area is a strategic goal
  • You want to capture, retain, and excite emerging Gen Z and Millennials with a compelling digital service that fits their smartphone-linked life

The Road Continues…

We want to provide you with the best information so you can make great decisions for your credit union and members. Our insights come from extensive research and years of experience working with credit union clients just like you.

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Or browse our content on this and other pertinent topics facing the industry.

Joe Winn - CU Geek

Blogger. Speaker. Part-time Jedi.

Focused on helping your bank or credit union grow in the face of emerging challenges.