Online sales have long been heralded as the future of the car deal. For dealers exploring online sales, finding the right time and place for finance and insurance is the largest barrier. Where to position the "F" and the "I" in an online transaction is key to maintaining dealership profitability with digital deals, and few have found the right strategy.
But how to get the F&I manager upstream, to assist customers at the time they desire and answer questions on their terms, is a hurtle many in the industry are working to overcome.
In a traditional sale, F&I comes last — the final step in the car-buying process once a vehicle has been selected and terms negotiated. Online, the process can go in any order, where consumers first want to know what financing terms they qualify for or even learn how to purchase protection products. Dealers today are willing to put F&I general product information online, but few list pricing details or allow customers to purchase products remotely.
The tide is slowing turning in favor of online vehicle sales — what many attendees at the National Automobile Dealers Association convention in Las Vegas call modern retail. But leaving out the F&I manager exposes vulnerabilities during the transaction and deprives customers the assistance of a trained and qualified consultant as they make a key big-ticket purchase.
Providing solutions and options for customers who want them doesn't have to be at the expense of profits, or require removing one of the most sophisticated positions from the vehicle transaction. A process that includes the F&I manager upstream may be key to compliance, profitability and customer satisfaction in a digital transaction.
While technology and software advance the ability of consumers to study financing terms and product options online, a digital strategy that omits the F&I manager entirely is incomplete.