Many industry players -- and even automakers -- are excited by a combined F&I-sales role. Others oppose it, saying it just takes the industry back to the 1970s, before there were F&I departments and when there were significantly fewer forms.
If a hybrid style isn't the answer to smoother, faster process, what is?
George Angus, president of F&I consulting firm Team One Group in Scottsdale, Ariz., has worked with 16 dealerships that have tried the hybrid approach in the past few years. They were unsuccessful, he said at the F&I Industry Summit in Grapevine, Texas, last week.
"Why are dealers trying to eliminate the highest net profit part of the dealership? It's the speed of the process," he said. "They're sick and tired of the 45 minute to 1 hour F&I process whether they know what's going on in there or not."
A slow process hurts customer satisfaction, so dealerships want to speed it up, he said.
"That's what we've been working to do without eliminating your job," he said. "Customers want to get in and get out. The more we can do to facilitate that -- that has to be the goal."
In the early 1970s, he said, very few dealerships had F&I managers. Sales associates tried to sell a few F&I products to add profit to a deal. Over time, the paperwork became more burdensome and complicated, and an F&I department became an industry standard.
Downsides of a combined role are the need for widespread compliance knowledge, the addition of document specialists to handle paperwork and increased management supervision, Angus said in his weekly email. Those changes could cost the dealership and hurt F&I performance. When dealerships implement the single-staffer approach, most hope for a faster experience and better customer satisfaction scores.
Last year Lexus rolled out LexusPlus at its stores. The process includes negotiation-free pricing and a single consultant to work with a customer throughout the transaction.
Only one person faces the customer, but that person, called a client adviser at Lexus of Bellevue in Washington, only sells the vehicle and F&I products. The rest of the deal is handled by the finance director and a document specialist -- the customer does not interact with them. The client adviser consults with the finance director on which products are best suited for the customer, and a document specialist handles the paperwork. The finance director sits at the sales desk to oversee financing. She takes care of approvals, hashes out deals and handles compliance.
Under the finance director's leadership, F&I revenue per vehicle retailed doubled to $2,000 in six months at Lexus of Bellevue.
Still, some experts argue that sales staffers often lack the experience or skill set to sell F&I products. Angus believes the speed issue can be solved with an efficient F&I manager, not a salesperson.
"While we want to be cordial, we want to go straight to business and move through the process quickly," he said. Among top F&I managers, "one commonality you will find is that they get the customer in their office as soon as possible."
"And speeding up your process," he added, "may keep your dealer from listening to those who are trying to convince them to eliminate your job."
F&I departments shouldn't disappear from dealerships. The department is a significant profit generator for most stores, and it offers value to most customers. But just as consumers favor a customized process, maybe dealerships should, too. The dealership finance and insurance model doesn't have to be one-size-fits-all.