LAS VEGAS -- F&I professionals were almost universally skeptical of the idea of so-called hybrid F&I managers at a recent F&I conference -- including one of the few hybrid managers in attendance.
"I'm not sure it can be done," said Kelly Wadlinger, Fiat studio lead at Faulkner Fiat of Harrisburg (Pa.).
"I know that I leave money on the table by not focusing on one thing and one thing only," she said. Wadlinger's position includes the traditional roles of both salesperson and finance manager.
She said in a panel discussion at the F&I Industry Summit here this month that the hybrid approach is working OK for the Fiat store at startup volumes of about 30 new-car sales a month. But as volume grows, she believes the sales and F&I responsibilities need to be split. She estimated she will "hit a wall" at 40 to 50 new-car sales a month.
"I'm already training someone so she can handle finance and I can handle sales," Wadlinger said.
Using the hybrid approach was apparently Faulkner Fiat's decision. Chrysler Group spokesman Ralph Kisiel says Fiat has no policy to encourage hybrid F&I managers.
At the panel discussion, Kyle Risenhoover, regional vice president for F&I product administrator RoadVantage, agreed with Wadlinger that separating the F&I and sales functions "comes down to volume."
"In practicality, it sounds like a great idea to have one guy do multiple things," he said. "But how long are people going to have to wait because there's not a salesperson available, because he's busy doing the F&I thing?"
Ash Bauer, executive vice president of the Warranty Group in Chicago, said maybe a hybrid set-up doesn't have to be all one way or all the other.
For instance, he said, a specially trained salesperson could fill in for an F&I manager when the manager is off or help out at the end of a month when everyone is swamped.
Michael Burgholzer, senior vice president of extended-service contract administrator Warrantech, said he is a partner in a used-car dealership in Rochester, N.Y. He said his store has done things both ways, with a hybrid setup when volume was low and a conventional setup when volume was high.
A separate panel at the conference discussed mobile devices in dealerships. Some panelists and audience members said there's a perception that electronic menus and other portable devices are enabling dealers who want to save money by combining sales and F&I.
Some of the companies that design those devices denied that helping dealers replace the traditional F&I manager is on their agenda. "I would tell them not to do it," said Shawn McCool, the founder of iTapMenu in Carmel, Ind., a company that makes an electronic menu that works on an iPad.
Mark Thorpe, president of the Impact Group Inc., which provides F&I presentation software, said: "We're all trying to evaluate this technology. I'm really not sure from a menu producer point of view where we're going with this.
"The thing I'm most worried about is: I know a lot of dealers are itching to get rid of dedicated F&I departments. I question whether tablet technology gives them more incentive to try a hybrid approach."
Thorpe said that in one dealership he knows that tried hybrid managers, "They were very successful -- at reducing their F&I income by two-thirds."