Members of the F&I world have been griping on social media after JM&A Group this month announced a pilot service that could reduce the need for an F&I manager.
The F&I product and training company is testing a virtual F&I product sales service in two dealership groups. The F&I division of JM Family Enterprises said interest in a virtual selling platform has been greeted enthusiastically by some of its dealership clients, though the news has faced backlash.
Several members of the Ethical F&I Managers Facebook group, which has over 11,670 members, posted that the possibility of JM&A selling its own products in their dealerships would amount to the company "biting the hand that feeds it." .
The goal of the program is not to eliminate the dealership F&I manager, but a company executive conceded that it's a possibility.
At this stage, associates from the company will Skype with dealership customers and complete transactions virtually while the traditional F&I manager handles customers in another room.
In the program, JM&A employees sell the products and are involved in handling the final paperwork.
Scott Gunnell, vice president of field sales operations and strategy at JM&A Group, says the program will help capture F&I sales from customers who don't want to enter the dealership.
Ultimately, by reaching these customers where they want to shop, Gunnell says, the F&I profits lost from a nontraditional sale are recaptured.
According to the company, the program would be voluntary. Dealers could use the service as often as they wish, to handle overflow in the F&I department or paperwork for vehicle deliveries.
The program also makes sense for a dealership with heavy sales volume that wants to save the expense of keeping multiple F&I producers on the payroll.
Another online commenter compared virtual F&I product sales to the plot of the 2009 George Clooney movie, Up in the Air, where teleconferencing is suggested in lieu of face-to-face meetings to remove air travel from the company's budget. Clooney's argument in the film — and that of the program's critic — is that some interactions are best done in person.
Still, JM&A is not the first to do this. Some F&I managers are already selling virtually to their customers that choose to do business that way, using free online services without having to outsource to their vendor.
It's also important to remember the pilot is just that — a pilot. If JM&A doesn't find success with the dealers it works with, it's possible it'll scrap the project or change it as it goes along.
"We're gonna fail fast. We go for two weeks, take a step back. Modify, modify," says Gunnell. "Our dealers, they are strong partners. They have confidence in us. They understand there's a lot of learning with this."