Courting F&I business: A primer for lenders

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What do F&I managers really want from auto lenders? Availability, for one thing, says F&I veteran Sarah Richard Denton.

Denton is owner of SRD Consulting in Lancaster, Pa. She also has around 15 years of experience at dealerships, including roles as F&I manager, warranty administrator and Red Flags manager at Kelly Cadillac in Lancaster.

Last week, during a webinar hosted by the Center for Auto Finance Excellence, Denton listed dos and don’ts for auto lenders trying to persuade dealerships and F&I managers to steer more business their way.

Dos

1. Bring food when you drop by the dealership. “This may sound ridiculous,” Denton said, “but ... sometimes you’re in a little square box for 14 hours in a row and getting anything to eat is difficult. It’s kind of a joke, but it’s a little bit true: we are like caged animals.”

2. Call on F&I managers, too, not just dealer principals and dealership executive management. “Yes, the dealer is important, and the other management in the dealership is important,” Denton said, “but the finance manager is the person that’s going to make that decision in the heat of the moment as far as where that business is going to go. You’ve got to develop that relationship.”

3. Have someone on duty during dealership hours and beyond. “Even if there’s just one person taking a turn until 8, 9, 10 o’clock at night,” Denton said. “That sounds silly, but there are a lot of customers that come in the evening, and we don’t close the deal until after 8 o’clock. And sometimes -- especially if it’s a customer that’s come a long distance -- we need to be able to know we’re going to be able to get that contract bought.

“So, you might be surprised if you took a survey of dealers how many times these fall after 8 o’clock. You might be surprised how much business you’re losing to someone else who’s still available or has automatic decisioning.”

Denton: You might be surprised how much business you're losing to someone else who's still available after normal business hours.

Don’ts

1. Never send a rep without the authority to approve deals on the spot. “The representative, the people you have out in the field visiting dealers, they need to have deal decision-making power. It is very frustrating to have someone sitting across from you telling you, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t help you. It’s not my decision.’”

2. Don’t assume too much about what kind of business a dealership represents. “It is also a danger to fall into the trap of thinking that certain types of dealerships can’t give you certain types of business. When I first went to Kelly Cadillac ... there was a lender who said they ... didn’t want to do big, high-end luxury cars. But my reaction was we sell a lot of certified pre-owned, a lot of less-expensive trade-ins -- some very nice retail business, with the average amount financed about $20,000 to $25,000. I can’t believe that’s something somebody wouldn’t want.”

3. Never change policies abruptly with no warning. “One day you call up [the lender] and that person says, ‘I can’t help you, it came down from the top, they changed it, they don’t want to do this type of business anymore, whatever, but something happened and we can’t buy this from you.’ That can be the death knell for a relationship because chances are I [did spot deliveries with] two people by that [old] criteria the day before and I may not have anyplace else to send them, or maybe they live five hours away.”

You can reach Jim Henry at autonews@crain.com.

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