There are few occupations that have as many scenarios in play at any given time as F&I. Those scenarios entail a prospective client base that spans five generations, unprecedented regulatory oversight, escalating production quotas, intricate funding and leasing plans and restrictions, and a full complement of aftermarket products.

If you want to keep winning the F&I trifecta — happy customers, happy regulators and happy paychecks — you’ll need to continually reevaluate and update your personal skillset and operational systems. And the best way to do that is with S.W.O.T., an acronym for assessing one’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

To start the assessment, list your skills, processes and products under those four categories. When you do, it will be easy to identify and prioritize areas in need of correction or further exploration.

For example, a threat that would make the list is The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)’s emphasis on disparate pricing. Two options are currently on the table: The first is a flat fee paid on every installment transaction. But common sense dictates that if every car deal is different, a one-size-fits-all remedy might not be the best solution.

The second is the use of a dealer participation rate modification form, which eliminates rate gouging and affords the F&I practitioner the latitude to structure deals more favorably to each customer’s needs and capitalize on other F&I-related contingencies. Rate modification forms are available from RouteOne, DealerTrack, JM&A, the Association of Finance and Insurance Professionals, the National Automobile Dealers Association and others. So in this example, the S.W.O.T. analysis helped isolate a potential threat, and in doing so, allowed you to identify two possible solutions.

In a similar vein, the Federal Trade Commission’s recent enforcement sweep, dubbed Operation Ruse Control, made it clear that breaking the rules will have dire consequences. An identified weakness might be a practitioner’s less-than-adequate command of the governing state and federal regulations and how they impact the vehicle-funding and owner-protection processes.

The first and easiest remedy is to read the covenants, restrictions and benefits found in the body or on the back of the documents the customers are being asked to sign. Given the dramatic spike in AFIP certifications, mastering the material not only eliminates a weakness, it positively impacts your opportunities and strengths assessments.

On the operational side, a weakness might be a poor percentage of “turns,” to the F&I department. Two remedies are available: The first is to alert management in the form of a written report that details the loss in F&I department income when customers aren’t turned over to F&I. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

From my personal experience, running a 60-day, penetration-based contest for the salesforce generally yields the desired results. Every salesperson is assigned a large contest card on which his or her vehicle sales and F&I turns are graphed. The typical contest constructs apply: The salesperson must hit a vehicle sales bogie to qualify, there must be more than one winner, the contest must run long enough to establish a habit, etc.

The individual cards are strategically placed in the room where the sales meetings are held. They are rearranged periodically, with the person in first place at the head of the line and the last-place participants at the opposite end. A salesperson might not care if he or she wins, but no one wants management to see who’s in last place. (The AFIP offers reusable plastic-coated sales contest cards with a wide range of applications for a nominal fee, as well as detailed instructions for running an effective “T.O.” contest.)     

It seems as if every card in the F&I deck is continually being shuffled. What was a winning hand six months ago won’t keep you in the game today. The periodic use of the S.W.O.T. analytical process will increase your odds of playing the right card.

The fact that people are living longer means you’ll need to meet the buyer expectations of five generations. Paper (the staple of the F&I process) will also soon be passé, and regulatory oversight isn’t going away. So this isn’t the time to coast; it’s time to step on the gas. As the old saying goes, with change comes opportunity.

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