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Group takes grow-your-own path to F&I

Training program adds young talent without huge cost

F&I trainee Will Runkle, left, works with Morrie's Automotive finance managers Ryan Mitchell, center, and Brian Kruschke. “This will be my career until I retire,” Runkle says of F&I.

Morrie's Automotive Group needed to add finance staffers to cut customer wait times and reduce finance manager fatigue and turnover.

But there was no room in the budget to meet the high compensation demands that come with hiring older, experienced F&I managers. And that led to a problem, says Cindy Wagener Robin, vice president of operations for the Minnetonka, Minn., dealership group. "How do we take the same amount of resources and add more bodies to a department?"

The solution, the group decided, was to find and groom its own finance managers. So about a year and a half ago, Morrie's Automotive created a recruiting and training program it calls the Finance Development Program. As attrition occurs at dealerships, Morrie's uses social media and online advertising to recruit college graduates and professionals from outside the industry specifically for training in F&I. Morrie's managers train the new hires in F&I rules and the group's procedures so they can become finance managers at group stores.

"If we want to be able to have a finance department that will be faster and more responsive to our customers, we need to bring up younger people," Wagener Robin says. "You don't want to have people in the industry who have bad habits and high compensation expectations. That model just doesn't work anymore."

As part of the program, Morrie's management team appointed a corporate director of finance and corporate finance trainers from among existing employees. Along with their other duties, the finance director and trainers work with the finance staff and the executive team on F&I recruiting, training, teaching compliance rules and developing consistent processes, Wagener Robin says.

Morrie's Automotive Group, which sells about 21,000 new and used cars a year, sells nine brands in eight stores. Currently, four stores participate in the Finance Development Program.

Those hired into the program spend 90 days working in the showroom. They then go through F&I training and shadow a finance manager for 90 days before working with customers, Wagener Robin says. Program participants must achieve certification from the Association of Finance & Insurance Professionals within six months, she says.

Five of the group's full-time finance managers are graduates of the Finance Development Program. Another five prospects are working their way through it, she says.

Will Runkle, 40, is one of those being trained.

Runkle, a 1996 college graduate, has worked in sales at Morrie's Brooklyn Park Nissan-Subaru in Brooklyn Park, Minn., for about two years. In October, management selected him for the F&I training program.

Runkle says he is excited to have the opportunity. "You get to learn more about the business and how everything works," he says. "You have more responsibility. It's learning and growing, and I plan on sticking with it. This will be my career until I retire."

Runkle attended about two weeks of F&I training with Morrie's managers, who taught him the customer word track, the computer system, how to set up and process a deal, and various documentation procedures and rules, he says. He also observed Morrie's finance managers do real deals. In December he did about 40 "mostly cash" deals on his own, he says. He plans to take AFIP's F&I certification test in early spring, he says.

Since Morrie's launched the Finance Development Program, customer F&I wait times and satisfaction scores have improved at the dealerships that participate, Wagener Robin says. That's because stores that once had three or four finance staffers now have six, she says.

"The CSI scores are improving," Wagener Robin says. "You're not seeing the negative comments on the wait times for finance, so we are seeing steady growth and improvements."

F&I staffers have a better work-life balance, too, because there are more employees to handle the workload, she says. So the company can now offer finance managers an occasional Saturday off.

And the program is attracting younger, college-educated professionals, Wagener Robin says. "Our goal is not to save our overall F&I compensation costs. Our goal is to have more people in our F&I department to provide better service," she says. "We feel we offer a better customer experience, have happier employees and better retention by creating some work-life balance. To do that you have to have a diversified team."

The Finance Development Program works because the general managers are behind it and because the finance managers and others have the patience to recruit the right applicants and set realistic expectations for their success, Wagener Robin says.

"We're constantly looking for ways to recruit. That's always a challenge because with new college grads, this is not always their first choice as a career," she says. "But if we can show them why we're different, that we provide training and we're a reputable dealership, then they know they can grow with us."

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