Advice: New Horizons in F&I

A picture of Greg Artman

As the 2021 camping and selling season begins for RV dealers, this time should be met with pure optimism. After experiencing last year’s pent-up demand from COVID lockdowns, people continue to realign their vacation getaway plans in an RV.

Americans have acknowledged how this past year changed their everyday lives. Without using the term “new normal,” we might best say, this is another “new horizon” in America.

During the past 25 years, the RV industry has experienced similar new horizons that have facilitated structured change regarding the F&I office.


The Go-To Source

In the early 2000s, RV dealers barely had any form of structured F&I office. At that time, many said RV dealers were 20 years behind auto dealers. Back then, offering F&I was a new horizon many dealers avoided. RV dealers did not want to function like the auto-
motive dealerships.

However, the RV industry’s cyclical ebbs and flows proved dealers needed additional revenue sources to stay competitive as front-end margins slowly eroded. Then, many larger family-owned dealers implemented the “new F&I horizon” in their stores.

Some aspects of the early-day F&I office have changed, but most remain the same. The primary constant is the value a strong and dependable F&I manager provides.

Such managers work tirelessly on every deal until they have exhausted all avenues and have collected every potential dollar. They work the sales process from start to finish because they wear many hats.

The F&I manager is the go-to source for the receptionist, service department, store management and financial institutions. The manager also is the salesperson’s contact when searching for “the Jones file.”

You remember, the one written three weeks ago? Now, the buyer wants to switch units, so you instead must fax the order to the bank because the buyer has decided to pay cash.

Fixing the deal must wait because the F&I manager is on the phone helping a repair customer the receptionist sent to them, as no one else could immediately help the customer. The F&I manager forwards the call to the correct service department extension.

The business manager position was another new horizon and key ingredient to the evolution of successful F&I offices. Business managers adapted last spring when COVID restrictions required them to formulate and institute a process for touch-free delivery they could implement immediately. They were proactive in adapting sales processes through emails, electronic communications and curbside, no-touch deliveries. Business managers accomplished all that while following an effective sales process.


Knowing What to Ask

Another constant to an effective F&I office is the sales process, particularly one that delivers the unit efficiently and processes the deal/money quicker. The structured F&I sales process created another new horizon moment, as deal cash flow became even more important.

Today’s dealer size and footprint require cash flow to be expedited to help support multiple locations spread out nationwide. This need keeps the cash flow on everyone’s radar in management chains, starting in the F&I office.

During the sales process, the F&I manager builds a relationship with the customer. This is where the manager really shines. The manager must sort out the deal’s information, no matter what a salesperson may have shared.

Asking the customer in-depth interview questions is a must. The dealership and banks need these answers to meet compliance requirements. The F&I interview requires practice so managers know what questions to ask and when to ask them. Done properly, the interview process helps build the comprehensive selling menu.

The “selling menu” process appeared in the marketplace in the early 1990s, as the automotive industry waded through turbulent times with necessary disclosures during the sale. Products were added in the F&I office at the time without proper disclosures, as other deceptive trade practices also occurred in the automotive industry. Watching these events unfold in automotive was a main reason many RV dealers were reluctant to embrace an F&I office.

The selling menu process required F&I managers to fully disclose products being sold, with the customer approving the disclosure. The menu also created a level playing field, presenting every customer with the same F&I product suite. The buyer’s income status or credit score played no part in whether F&I products were offered. Everyone was presented the information equally.

Now, many RV stores have two F&I managers to handle the business. Dual managers are the big new horizon.


Keep F&I Managers Happy

Regarding the F&I office, dealers had to add document management system (DMS) software to link everything together. Only a few good dealer options exist, but they have limited capabilities. Besides DMS electronics, dealers need other F&I office electronic tools, such as web-based credit reporting, deal approval programs, program rating, printing and delivering tools.

Regardless of where the new horizons take the F&I office, success still rests on a well-trained F&I manager. Going forward, F&I managers will continue to be dealerships’ central business hub. When a dealership has a good one, ownership should create an environment where the F&I manager never wants to leave. Turnover in this critical role is very costly.

Stay safe, healthy and happy selling.


Greg Artman is the national training manager for Diversified Insurance Management, a Higginbotham company. He spent more than 20 years in the automotive, RV, powersports and marine industries as a finance training and managing representative, of which the last 16 years have been with Diversified Insurance Management. He’s also worked as management in numerous dealerships regional market penetration and growth through astute strategic leadership.

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