In February, I addressed the career-killing perils of “mousing” deals. That article focused on the acts of a single individual within an organization. This month, I’d like to offer some more cautionary advice — this time on steering clear of conspiracies to commit illegal and unethical acts.
The group scam is the most alluring and by far the most damaging. The slippery slope begins with a couple of simple rationalizations like, “Everyone’s doing it,” or “This is just how things are done in the car business.” It’s funny how universalities have a way of drowning out that little voice inside.
The plot thickens if the people charged with monitoring activities in the F&I office are part of the scheme, which reduces the odds of the wrongdoers getting caught. Chances are the plan to cheat customers was hatched by someone else inside the dealership, but good luck playing the victim card as an unwitting participant when the scheme is discovered.
Everyone’s Doing It
Before you get caught up in something nefarious, question your rationalizations. I mean, the old “This is how things are done in the car business” is a well-worn, self-delusional industry mantra. Think about it. Have we ever used that rationale to describe a consumer-friendly sales technique? Have we ever used it to describe a process implemented to comply with a specific rule? Just because similar events took place elsewhere doesn’t mean they are legal or ethical.
Cutting corners isn’t always the work of a secret sect. In some instances, it really is how things are done in a particular store. While their ranks are thinning, there will always be dealers who don’t believe they can succeed by trading with customers straight up. The good news is, their operational philosophy and unrealistic performance standards aren’t flying under anyone’s radar. The best thing you can do when faced with such management practices is to seek employment elsewhere.
There are also cases where a solid operator inadvertently — maybe knowingly out of desperation — brings in a sham management team or buys a store with miscreant management in place. The bad act precipitators are typically short-term players who have nothing to lose but their jobs. Their trademark is performance promises that, by any rational standard, cannot be achieved by acceptable business practices. And claims that are too good to be true generally aren’t.
The Real Odds
If the F&I person is charged with documenting deals, he or she must be a party to the cabal. The malfeasance can be masked, but only in the very short term, as the scale of the racket is typically too broad to go undetected for very long. Keep in mind that the seasoned perpetrator will bolt at the first sign of exposure, often leaving the F&I manager holding the bag.
Someone Else’s Idea
The siren’s song is ever so sweet. It could be as simple as, “Let me show you a harmless finesse that will put an extra thousand dollars in your paycheck.” Or maybe the pitch is a little more involved: “The buyer said there’s plenty of wiggle room in the income thresholds. If you punch up the customer’s annual income another $10,000, the deal will get bought and the customer will still be able to make the payments.” Of course, there’s always this one: “I’m not as old fashioned as your last supervisor. This is how we do it now.”
Those three examples call to mind this adage: “A jail cell has two bunks because there’s one for the guy who thought about robbing the bank, and one for the fellow who helped him do it.”
The Innocent Bystander
I saved the weakest alibi for last. See, in multi-person scams, the breaches of public trust or governing regulations are too egregious and numerous to have occurred without the knowledge and complicity of those involved. Bottom line, you can’t plead ignorance. Worse yet, thanks to the trade press and word of mouth, both the nature of the offense and the guilty parties become poster children for fraud and criminal activity across the industry.
If you get fired for mousing deals in Kansas, you’ll likely find a similar position in Colorado. If you’re named as a participant in a major scandal that nearly sank a dealership or landed a dealer group in court or on TV, you’ll need to translate your résumé into Portuguese, because you’ll be looking for F&I work in Brazil.
David Robertson is the executive director of the Association of Finance and Insurance Professionals. Email him at [email protected]