In dealerships across America, F&I managers and directors who have reached the heights of their profession are all asking the same question: “Now what?” It’s hard to walk away from a six-figure income and superstar status. But if you’re spending 80-plus hours a week in someone else’s F&I office, it’s only natural to wonder how you could apply your hard-earned skills and expertise to a new pursuit.
To manage your own enterprise, steer your own ship, be your own boss, take your own time off — that is the allure and the ultimate reward of agency work.
F&I professionals who become independent agents and trainers start and own their own enterprises and can easily earn six figures per month. Many have. But many others have failed. What divides the winners from the losers? In my experience, your likelihood of success boils down to five key requirements.
1. You Have to Be Qualified.
The key prerequisite for new agents is experience in F&I development and training. Agents who are really only product salesmen are a dying breed. Your prospective dealer clients will be looking for true partners who can move the F&I needle, increase penetrations, coordinate and build wealth in the dealer’s reinsurance company, and, ultimately, help facilitate the transition to the next generation of ownership.
But that’s not all. You must also be able to recruit new F&I managers, onboard them, coach them, and track their progress. You must be well-versed in all things compliance and be able to sniff out bad actors and arcane practices that can get the dealer in trouble.
If you are a one-person department and have never trained or developed an F&I team, you could be challenged to succeed as an agent. Consider making an intermediate move to a dealership or group where your duties will include, at a minimum, team supervision and training, compliance management, monthly reporting, and long-term planning.
2. You Have to Temper (But Not Totally Check) Your Ego.
You didn’t earn superstar status by accident. You work hard. You inspire trust in your customers and treat them with respect. You run the schedule, you have the dealer’s ear, and you get the tools you need to get the job done. In short, you generate real revenue and are very well compensated.
As a result, you can’t be blamed for developing a bit of an ego. That’s OK. Most top sales performers do. That’s just the way you are wired. There is no way to shut it off. And you don’t have to. The best agents and trainers bring a competitive edge to their work.
So you don’t have to check your ego at the door. But you do have to temper it.
When you walk into a dealer’s office or show up to train a group of F&I managers, you can’t come across as “Mr. Ego,” the end-all, be-all, blessed-by-my-presence agent. Your focus must be on them — their potential, their challenges, their success, and their income. “Let me show you” and “follow me” must be your angle.
For some F&I pros who are new to agency work, that can be a tough transition. But it can be done, and it is absolutely essential.
3. You Have to Build a Business.
Ask any entrepreneur what their first year on their own was like. There is a 99% chance their answer will include the word “stressful.” The uncertainty and fear only really abates when true progress is made. For independent agents and trainers, that means signing dealers.
Imagine how difficult it would be for an unknown agent to get an appointment with your dealer. Then imagine how long they would hold your dealer’s attention without presenting a clear, concise, informed plan for success. Ten minutes? Five? Zero?
Signing dealers requires careful research. Go online and learn as much as you can before you even think about sitting down with a prospective client. And once you do, get to the point and don’t dare waste their time: “Here’s what I know about you and your store. Here’s what I know about your market and your customers. As your agent, here’s what I’ll do to maximize your income.”
Research also plays a key role in your selection of a products and reinsurance partner. Don’t just sign up with whomever you’ve been working with at the dealership. You will be shocked by how much of the heavy lifting a strong partner will do for you and how little support a weak partner can offer.
As a new agent with a track record in F&I and a solid plan for success, you are a hot commodity. Shop around and let the providers sell you.
4. You Have to Plan for Growth.
A realistic goal for your first year in business is five dealer clients in reasonably close proximity. That also happens to be the number that most new agents can realistically support and will generate enough income to put aside any thoughts of going back to F&I.
Beyond that, you will need help. As your client list grows, you will have to bring on subagents or a full-time trainer (or both) to maintain the levels of customer service and support you have established.
Don’t wait until you have more dealers, rooftops, and trainees than you can handle before you start planning for growth. Always be on the lookout for potential candidates and be prepared to have real conversations about what they can expect if they join your business.
5. You Have to Aim High.
Our discussion has focused on the transition from F&I professional to independent agent. The more common path is to first go to work for an established agency. This is certainly the less risky choice. But it’s not necessarily the best choice.
Yes, by working as a subagent, you will benefit from the guidance of those who came before you, and you will have work to do and a steady paycheck from day one. But wait — don’t you have that now? Do you really want to trade one job for another?
Any major career move is fraught with risk. If you’re going to make the leap of faith, you might as well own the whole deal. To manage your own enterprise, steer your own ship, be your own boss, take your own time off — that is the allure and the ultimate reward of agency work.
You have worked in this industry long enough to know what F&I success looks like and how to achieve it. Now get out there and make it happen.
Graye Wolfe is a former 10-store, 14-franchise dealer and Boise, Idaho-based senior managing director for the Western U.S. for Portfolio, a national provider of reinsurance programs and F&I products, the founder of Performance Improvement Concepts, and a graduate of Northwood University and the NADA Dealer Candidate Academy.