One of the highest accolades accorded an athlete is that he’s a student of the game, a rare individual who fully exploits his God-given talent with an unquenchable desire to master all that can be learned about his sport. One of the few redeeming qualities of Super Bowl XLVIII was the opportunity to watch two student-of-the-game quarterbacks play against each other.

How many of you readers would categorize yourselves as scholar-practitioners, or students of the F&I game? It’s likely that the actual number is larger than industry skeptics might expect. However, far too many F&I managers simply ride their sales skills or default to the path of least resistance.

It’s no secret that knowledgeable and skillful F&I practitioners make the big bucks — and more often than not hold lucrative director positions. Why don’t more within their ranks aggressively capitalize on both qualities?  

Of the two traits, selling skills appear easiest to cultivate. For some, it’s a natural talent, or readily acquired through observation or intuition. And the fundamentals of good salesmanship will reap positive benefits throughout an entire career with only minor tweaking.

Knowledge acquisition is an entirely different matter. In F&I, there’s not only a lot to learn, there’s always something new. The education process is continuous and demands a fair amount of time and effort. Yet, for many of us, our prior academic experiences don’t conjure up happy memories.  

Fortunately, the learning process required to master material that directly impacts our ability to provide for our families presents an entirely different dynamic than cramming for a useless geometry test in high school.

So what does it really take to be a true student of the F&I game? First, you can’t ask customers to sign the mutually binding legal contracts you execute on behalf of your employer if you’ve never read or don’t understand them. Have you read the covenants on the back of the installment sales contract and consumer lease agreements? Could you explain them in layman’s terms to a customer? How about the vehicle service contracts, GAP agreements and ancillary aftermarket products you’re selling?

Second, being a student of the game requires a working knowledge of the state and federal regulations that govern the F&I process. The current AFIP certification syllabus lists more than 600 regulatory entries that apply to in-store vehicle funding and leasing, as well as the sale of owner protection products.   

For example, what are the requirements for reporting cash in excess of $10,000 tendered by a foreign national, conducting a check with the Office of Foreign Assets Control on an ordered vehicle, or clearing an extended fraud alert? What do you know about the disparate impact pricing issue related to F&I markup?  

Thirdly, you need to be conversant with the lender, lessor and vendor policies and restrictions found in the products you sell. For example, what is the maximum insurance deductible allowed for leased vehicles? Under what circumstances will your GAP provider consider a vehicle a total loss?

Lastly, you should maintain a working knowledge of the benefits and limitations of the products offered by your key competitors. And be on the alert for news items, legitimate studies or government reports that either impact or support your efforts to solicit in-store funding and market aftermarket products.  

Sound familiar? That’s because these four components are just some of the requirements in an F&I manager’s job description. Yet, I encounter F&I practitioners who’ve been at it for a quarter of a century who can’t explain the difference between a co-buyer and a cosigner; the difference between a security deposit and a capitalized cost reduction; or what’s on the back of the documents they’ve asked thousands of people to sign.

A physically gifted athlete with minimal knowledge of his sport might eke out a career as a third-string player, but a student of the game possessing the same athletic skills is enshrined in his sport’s hall of fame. So be a student of the F&I game.

David Robertson is executive director of the Association Finance and Insurance Professionals. Email him at [email protected].