Love ‘em or hate ‘em, F&I managers are some of the most resilient people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. These hard-crusted souls have the endurance of a long-distance runner and the patience of a saint. Quietly considered the best closers in the store, they walk a tightrope of profit over a canyon filled with rules and regulations.
They work the longest hours and get the least amount of praise. Divorce rates run high and managing time off allowed by dealers borders on the insane. “Respect” and “F&I” are rarely used in the same sentence.
In fact, coworkers often refer to them as prima donnas. Well, it does take an awful lot of confidence, ego, and swagger to handle the job. Sure, most people have reason to feel the way they do and would love to do away with the F&I position in favor of more “modern” solutions. But the vacuum created by their absence would be so greatly felt that such a change has the potential of bringing a store to its knees.
I wrote last month about the move of some dealers toward tablet-wielding hybrid salespeople. And, well, I guess I felt the need to remind people of the importance of the traditional F&I role. See, I’ve been working in new-car dealerships for more than 30 years, including 27 in F&I. And I’ve seen my share of things that make me want to bang my head against the wall in disbelief.
Look, salespeople don’t understand the complexities of F&I, nor should they be required to. What they need to focus on is sticking with their process, and sales management needs to focus on keeping them accountable to that process. According to a recent poll of members of my Ethical F&I Managers Facebook group, a lack of accountability in the sales department is the biggest issue F&I managers face, with incorrect or incomplete paperwork being par for the course.
Where is the enforcement from sales managers? Too often, their only concern is getting the car over the curb. Well, volume matters, but so does profitability. When laziness, disrespect, and insubordination cause low-quality turnovers, F&I dollars suffer. Sales managers ought to demand the same respect for F&I as they demand for their own positons, and they should make certain no stone is left unturned in the pursuit of every profit dollar.
Sadly, both groups often view the finance office as a necessary evil, whose only value is to “bill out the deal” when, in fact, the average net F&I dollar is usually more than the front-end sales gross. Yeah, I’ve heard the argument that the front end is protected from chargebacks, while the back end can be partially lost due to a repo, refi or early trade. But a well-run F&I department should suffer no more than 10% chargebacks, which still leaves more net money than the front could hope to produce.
Unfortunately, F&I is often treated like the redheaded stepchild because there is nothing sexy about purchasing a service contract or protecting the note with GAP. That’s why it’s so easy for sales to give in when customers insist on paying cash or financing directly with their bank. But the importance of F&I’s profit potential cannot be overstated in this scenario. And besides, why would the salesperson and sales manager not want the customer to have an opportunity to buy more? F&I products are designed to tie customers to the store, increasing the chances they’ll take advantage of the dealership’s service department. That leads to repeat sales as well as referrals.
And dealers know repeat business is directly tied to customer satisfaction. They also know that an unhappy customer who makes his or her feelings known to the manufacturer through a CSI survey can impact their operations in many other ways. It’s why I believe makers of tablet menus have the ear of some dealers. And their pitch is clever, and the concept easily sold because it addresses what these supposed buyer surveys say — that consumers dislike the F&I experience.
I would contend, however, that turning over the highest profit department in the dealership has the opposite effect. In fact, I invite anyone to share bona fide proof that adopting the hybrid system has significantly improved CSI scores.
Bottom line, dealers need knowledgeable professionals handling the most important facet of the sale. And, yes, we need the sales team and they need us. So let’s do our jobs and do them right. Good luck and keep closing!
Marv Eleazer is the F&I director at Langdale Ford in Valdosta, Ga. Email him at [email protected]