WASHINGTON, D.C. — In the months leading up to the American Financial Services Association's 11th annual Vehicle Finance Conference & Expo, the group has been busy honoring an auto finance veteran, naming new executives, installing a new chairman and more.

The Vehicle Finance Division of the association will host its 11th Vehicle Finance Conference & Expo in conjunction with the National Automobile Dealers Association's convention in Las Vegas in 2007. The auto finance conference will be held at The Ritz-Carlton Lake Las Vegas Jan. 31 through Feb. 2.

"The 11th Vehicle Finance Conference & Expo on Jan. 31 through Feb. 2, 2007 at the Ritz-Carlton, Lake Las Vegas in Henderson, Nev., will attract more than 350 senior management representatives from the vehicle finance and leasing industry (new and pre-owned), including companies specializing in prime, near prime and subprime vehicle finance," said Don Gottwald, chair of the AFSA Vehicle Finance Division and group director as well as chief marketing director for HSBC Auto Finance, in an invitation to members.

"As in past years, the conference (with expanded program and exposition) will be held immediately prior to the NADA's 90th Annual Convention and Exposition," he also noted.

At the event, prime and special finance lenders will be on hand to network, talk with dealers and discuss important issues. The conference is designed for auto finance/leasing executives, attorneys, marketing, operations, e-commerce, public policy and state and federal government affairs executives, in addition to dealers, industry suppliers and business partners.

"Division members will benefit from the exchange of information and the ability to help define and coordinate AFSA's legal and legislative strategy and special projects to benefit the industry," according to AFSA officials.

"Due to the success of the 2006 meeting, this conference will once again be co-sponsored with the AFSA Education Foundation and held in conjunction with the NADA annual convention," AFSA added. "The program is enhanced by an exposition of products and services by industry suppliers. Discounted registration fees are offered to division members, exhibitors, sponsors and auto dealers."

Watanabe Receives AFSA Honor

The AFSA recently honored Marguerite Watanabe, principal of Connections Insights in Alpharetta, Ga., as a 2006 recipient of the group's Distinguished Service Award.

Watanabe was one of four executives to receive this distinction at the AFSA's Annual Meeting and Leadership Conference. According to the organization, the DSA is given to individuals who have contributed significantly to the industry's growth on a national level, advanced its objectives and raised its image.

Watanabe is a 20-year veteran of the auto finance industry. Connections Insights was established in October of this year and focuses on strategic partnering between auto finance service providers and the finance sources, including captives, banks, independent auto finance companies and credit unions. Watanabe said her new company has plans to develop an online, subscription-based directory of auto-finance-related providers and offer consulting services and expertise.

Before founding her own company, Watanabe served as the auto finance practice manager for BenchMark Consulting International. In previous positions, she served as vice president of business development for Bar None and senior vice president for Equifax, where she managed the sales division.

The honoree also spent time with Nissan North America and Nissan Motor Acceptance Corp. in a variety of marketing and product development positions in Japan and the U.S.

Watanabe serves on the AFSA's board of directors, vehicle finance board and marketing committee, in addition to chairing the group's associate member advisory board. She is on the board of directors of the National Auto Finance Association and is a member of the Consumer Bankers Association.

AFSA's New Chairman

Also at the AFSA's 90th Annual Meeting and Leadership Conference, Harry Goff, chairman and chief executive officer of CitiFinancial North America, was tapped as the group's new 2006-2007 chair.

As chairman of the organization, Goff will oversee the AFSA board and executive committee meetings, in addition to serving as an ex-officio member of all the group's committees. He will also represent the AFSA at industry and association-sponsored meetings.

Along with serving as CitiFinancial North America's chairman and CEO, Goff is a member of the Citigroup management committee, the Citigroup global consumer group planning committee and the board of directors for Citicorp Trust Bank. Furthermore, Goff holds the position of CEO at CitiFinancial Credit Co.

Before being named chairman and CEO of CitiFinancial North America, he served as president and CEO of the CitiFinancial Branch Network in the U.S. and Canada. Puerto Rico was added to his list of responsibilities in 2004.

Goff joined Commercial Credit, predecessor of CitiFinancial, in 1990 as a managing director. He became president of Citicorp Trust Bank, formerly Travelers Bank and Trust, in 1998. His role was later expanded to include responsibilities as president of CitiFinancial Mortgage Co.

Prior to his time with CitiFinancial and its predecessor, Goff had stints with Beneficial Finance, Security Pacific Financial Services, Wells Fargo and Barclays American Financial.

New President, CEO

As Randy Lively, AFSA's current president, prepares to retire in late December, the AFSA has hired Christopher Stinebert to step in as the new president and CEO. The two executives will have a two-month period to allow for a smooth transition.

Prior to joining AFSA, Stinebert served as president and CEO of the Manufactured Housing Institute in Arlington, Va. Before that position, he was president and CEO of the National Concrete Masonry Association in Herndon, Va.

Additionally, Stinebert has served as executive vice president and CEO of the American Subcontractors Association in Alexandria, Va., and as executive director of the Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industry International in Falls Church, Va.

"Chris brings an array of skills and experience that will serve AFSA and its members well," said Thomas Hallman, former AFSA chairman and vice chairman of specialty finance for CIT. "He is well suited to build upon the growth and high standards of member service established under Randy Lively during his 12 years at AFSA."


Earlier this year, the AFSA named Antonio Pelegrin as the group's new chief financial officer and vice president.

In this role, Pelegrin oversees all financial and budgeting activities for the AFSA, including its education foundation and political action committee.

Before joining AFSA, Pelegrin was director of finance and information technology for the National Fisheries Institute in McLean, Va. Pelegrin also served as director of finance and administration for Heritage Preservation in Washington, D.C., prior to his position with the NFI.

For more information on the AFSA or to register for the conference, visit www.afsaonline.org.