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Lessons From the Indestructible Cockroach

AFIP chief finds clues to the survival of the F&I department in the hardier qualities of a common and durable pest.

April 2016, F&I and Showroom - Feature

by Dave Robertson

When ranked among insects that contribute to the betterment of mankind, cockroaches would be near the bottom of the list. Yet cockroaches have remarkable qualities which we might do well to heed.

Cockroaches survived the “Great Dying” between the Permian and Triassic periods, considered the worst of the five mass extinctions in planetary history. They lived through the cataclysmic event that doomed the dinosaurs. Back when A-bombs were still tested above ground, they were one of the first post-blast signs of life to re-emerge at ground zero.

In other words, when faced with the apocalyptic scenarios that drove thousands of more sophisticated species into near or total extinction, they have continued to thrive despite billions of dollars spent annually to eradicate them. How? There are numerous scientific explanations. Of interest to us are the insect’s particular strengths that, if adopted, can help those attempting to survive in the F&I box while foraging for willing credit sources for consumers with Neanderthal credit ratings.

First, cockroaches are pretty smart. Humans possess 100 billion brain cells, while a cockroach has one million. As insects go, they’d qualify for Mensa. Second, their brain cells are more flexible than those of mammals. They have the ability to process input from seemingly unrelated receptors. As a result, the computing power available for adapting to changing situations is disproportional to the number of their brain cells.

What does the fact that cockroaches are highly intelligent and adaptable to environmental change have to do with F&I practitioners and the future of the process? Actually, a lot.

In prognosticating about F&I, economists say that “change will continue to occur at an increasing rate.” Not only will the rate of change accelerate, changes will occur simultaneously in nearly every facet of the operation. Concentric and interrelated scenarios will be playing out at the same time.

Millennials will trigger material shifts in priorities and preferences — not only in the selection of vehicles, funding options and protection products, but whether private ownership or the need for multiple vehicles will continue at current levels. The tightening of state and federal regulations, coupled with heightened levels of compliance oversight, will continue unabated.

It’s likely that the most dramatic shift will be the digitization of nearly every relevant aspect of the F&I process — both prior to and during actual exchanges between the practitioner and customer. The volume of data collected will be immense, but once subjected to the vast number of available “sort fields,” the ways this information can be manipulated will approach infinity.

Before progressing further, it’s worth noting that cockroaches instinctively don’t do anything that will lead to an untimely demise. Turn on the light and they instantly scamper out of harm’s way. Incidentally, the insect’s scientific name is Blattaria, which is derived from Latin and literally means “shuns the light.”

Similarly, in an F&I context, not being aware of, or willfully not heeding, consumer regulations — or failing to abide by the principals of ethical business practices — will trigger the inevitable segue into alternative vehicle funding, owner protection and transaction consummation options.

So what can we do to ensure that F&I, both as a profession and a process, capitalizes on the inevitable consequences of evolution? First, like the cockroach, we can use our superior intellect to accurately identify and evaluate trends that directly impact our world. Become a student of change. Learn all you can about emerging technologies, as well as the ever-changing economic and demographic landscapes.

Second, ape the insect by using your ability to make new connections between seemingly unrelated factors or situations. In many cases, what’s new is nothing more than connecting a different set of time-tested dots to reach the same objective. Also, be mindful that the unchecked inertia generated by rampant change can become a counterproductive end in itself. Nothing is ever the panacea its proponents purport it to be. Just because something’s new, there’s no guarantee it’s better than the process or policy it’s intended to replace.

Third, overcome an inhibitor more paralyzing to people than bugs: our natural resistance to change. Keep half a step ahead of the shifts impacting our industry, to the point that you become an effective purveyor — and not a victim — of the changes that define F&I in the days to come. And, like the cockroach, survive!

David Robertson is executive director of the Association of Finance & Insurance Professionals (AFIP). Email him at david.robertson@bobit.com.

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