One of my favorite movies is a 1998 flick titled “Pleasantville.” It centers on two siblings who wind up trapped in a 1950s sitcom set in a small Iowa town, where everything and everyone is, well, pleasant. Can you imagine doing F&I in that town?
Every customer would waltz in with 800 credit scores. Deals would be properly structured with loan-to-value guidelines within tolerance. And every document the sales department and customer submitted would be error-free, allowing you to set your watch for that next customer. Oh, how great it would be.
Unfortunately, like the movie, that’s all fantasy. Yeah, out here in the real world, there’s no such thing as a perfectly structured deal. We have to race against the clock to land those 600 credit-score customers on the right cars, hope the paperwork coming out of the sales department is flawless, and then hope the customer was truthful on his or her credit app.
The latter is something I believe a lot of these new-age techies miss when it comes to their solutions, because buyers aren’t always truthful, and they certainly are not always reasonable.
Take the Einstein I met earlier this week. I was about to deliver my menu presentation when he asked, “Is that your buy rate?” Bear in mind, this is after we had met his price and payment requirement on the truck he picked out. And I knew once my head stopped spinning that I was in for a big zero on the deal. In fact, not only did he pass on all the products, he declined my finance offer. And get this: This guy was financing at a 130% loan-to-value ratio and was convinced he could secure a better deal. I wished him luck and prepped for the next customer.
Then there was the college kid who brought his parents along to advise him and to possibly cosign on the loan. Luckily, I was able to secure an approval at a decent rate without the mother’s signature. You’d think thanks were in order, right? Well, just as I was about to present my menu, the mother balked at the rate. I informed her that the rate wouldn’t be much better with her as a cosigner.
“Well, just take him off and put it in my name, because we’re not paying that rate,” she said.
After explaining what a straw purchase is, the mother laid into me before storming out of my office. The confused son apologized while the bewildered father chased her down. And, well, she sat in the corner pouting after the son agreed to the original offer.
Ah, the life of an F&I manager. No matter how long you’ve been in this business, you’re going to get those situations. But you just have to shake it off and move on to the next deal. I usually fit in a nice cigar before I do.
Not many people outside this great industry understand what we F&I pros go through. I can’t tell you how often deals arrive on my desk with missing Social Security numbers and misspelled names. Sometimes I can’t tell whether the customer owns or rents, and don’t get me started on the income section of those credit apps.
If only Sergeant Joe Friday’s “Just the facts, ma’am” was the mantra of every sales manager as they scan those deal documents. Seriously, things like basic math are often missed because they’re so focused on making certain Line 3 has the intended profit dialed in. Unfortunately, the customer is clueless as to what’s causing them to wait. All they know is they’re waiting on F&I, and they say so in those CSI surveys.
So, no, we F&I pros are not overpaid clerks resisting change. In fact, there’s a good reason most dealers continue to rely on trained F&I professionals to manage the most profitable department in their dealerships.
So, to all you techies looking to solve what ails this industry, I suggest you take a second look at where the problems truly lie. What’s really needed is a system that cuts down on mistakes and omissions so that F&I managers can do their jobs better and not be the brunt of customer discontent.
Pleasantville may not truly exist, but a visit there might be in order to understand that, like Vidal Sassoon famously said, “The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary.”
Marv Eleazer is the F&I director at Langdale Ford in Valdosta, Ga. Email him at [email protected]