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Done Deal

Reporter Turned Advocate

The editor reflects on his time with the magazine and realizes how closely connected he is to the people he covers and the industry he serves.

October 13, 2015

While in Las Vegas for Industry Summit 2015, I had one of those how-did-I-get-here moments. I mean, if you would have asked me 18 years ago when I started down this career path if I ever thought I’d cover the F&I industry, I would have responded, “What’s that?”

I guess seeing WardsAuto’s Steve Finlay, Auto Finance News’ Jim Henry and some familiar faces from Automotive News at the show reminded me of the time a PR guy — while watching us journalists interact at another event — said to me,  “Do you realize all the reporters covering this industry are standing right here?”

Think about that for a second. The department that contributes close to 40% of front-end gross profits has only a handful of reporters on the beat. This is a department that, according to Automotive News’ annual F&I survey, generated $7.2 million in revenue for the top 141 dealer groups in the nation.

What amazes me is how little is known about this industry. When I tell people what I do and what I cover, their response is usually the same: “That’s the office that tries to sell you rust protection and undercoating.” The advocate I have become can never resist the urge to argue that there’s much more to F&I.

I guess after all these years covering this industry, it just catches me by surprise that that’s what people conclude about an office more than 80% of car buyers rely on to finance their vehicle purchase. But the truth is, my perception of F&I wasn’t much different when I interviewed to be F&I and Showroom’s editor back in 2006.

In fact, I remember doing a little research on what I thought the industry was in preparation for my first day on the job. Problem was, I thought the “I” in F&I stood for automotive insurance. Yeah, most of that research ended up in my computer’s recycle bin. 

Now I find myself correcting people who believe the products F&I managers offer are limited to rust protection and undercoating. I usually explain how F&I protections allow car buyers to prepay for potential repairs in the future, saving them from unexpected costs if a major issue does occur.

I guess the lack of understanding that consumers have of our industry is why I advocate for putting F&I information online. I understand the reason why most F&I pros resist that call — you want that first objection to occur in your office. That’s why some of you don’t want your salespeople endorsing your products. What if they oversell or undersell the benefits?

But folks, we do need to carve out a place for the F&I office in the digital age, or we risk allowing companies like the one on this month’s cover to relegate what has put many of you in the top 5% of income earners to a simple — maybe even skippable — step in an online buying process.

I guess this is where I talk about the importance of transparency. I know that word gets tossed around a little too often these days, but the lack of transparency is what I think stands in the way of consumers fully grasping why the F&I office exists. 

But as Mad Marv often says, and  I agree, most customers want to believe that you’re going to do the right thing. What we need to do is appreciate that trust and protect it by giving customers what they think they want: more transparency.

It’s Marv who recently asked me why I’ve stuck around in this industry. I guess I always appreciated the plight of the F&I manager, which is very similar to the plight of the journalist — although we don’t get paid nearly as much as you do. See, people love to hate us journalists, but they want us to deliver the news and keep businesses, elected officials and anything else that impacts their lives honest and transparent. Yes, it can sometimes feel like you’re operating on an island, much like how many of you feel when salespeople and customers plot against you.

And that’s why I’ve worked so hard to build a community for F&I managers through this magazine. I  appreciate the passion some of you have for the job. It’s the same passion I have for what I do, despite the many challenges. 

Yes, sometimes the topics I cover can become annoyingly repetitive, but thanks to the current technology push and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), there’s enough to keep this newshound satisfied.

Truth is, this industry has made me a better journalist. Covering the CFPB has really altered my perspective of regulations, the data and people who inspire them and the regulators who enforce them. Let’s just say my eyes have been opened, my objectivity sharpened. For that, I say thank you.

Comments

  1. 1. GP [ October 14, 2015 @ 06:13PM ]

    Greg and Bobbit Media are the best. I remember the first Industry Summit at the Mirage Las Vegas and talking to Ed Bobbitt, telling him that this needs to continue. Years later, look where we've come and where we are going. Thank you and all the unsung staff.

  2. 2. Steve Coss [ October 15, 2015 @ 11:24AM ]

    Really enjoyed this piece, Greg - thank you for all you and your colleagues do for our industry!

  3. 3. Jim Leman [ October 15, 2015 @ 11:40AM ]

    The industry is better off Greg because you're at the helm of F&I and Showroom and direct it with journalistic integrity (not the kind Brian Williams proved to have). Thank you!

  4. 4. Marv [ October 24, 2015 @ 06:15AM ]

    Hat's off to you my friend.

    I stand with the others who've commented on such a passionate piece. Not just about this article, but about everything you do drawing attention to the battle we wage trying to do the right thing. F&I is a most misunderstood profession and when done right, demands the best from the practitioner. You and your staff devote a lot of energy and time promoting us and helping people even inside the automotive industry glean a sharp picture of who we are and what we represent.

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