As automotive retailing has evolved rapidly with the rise of the Internet and digitization, so too has the finance and insurance department and all things surrounding it. F&I training, in turn, also has had to adapt.
Consumers, retailers spur training changes
Some training companies have had to play catch-up, Darwin Automotive CEO Phillip Battista said. "They had to adapt the training model to handle things like, what happens when the customer is not in the store anymore? What happens when the customer wants to do home delivery? How do I talk to a customer and be successful when dealing with a remote customer who wants to take delivery of the vehicle at home? How do I sell F&I products?" he said. "This stuff was completely new to them."
Darwin Automotive, of Iselin, N.J., is a digital retailing and F&I software provider.
Have the training outfits caught up? "Definitely," Battista said. "The way I can tell from a tech perspective is when the training companies start to push me for technology, it's because they've caught on."
Darwin has been one of the companies at the forefront of the digital transformation in auto retailing and F&I. More than 93 percent of the business done on Darwin's products is electronically based, Battista said.
Now, major F&I training companies are pushing Darwin on certain technological developments, he said. Darwin is working with training companies on the virtual F&I concept, which is to provide F&I labor from a remote location to their dealerships, for example. "So instead of a dealership having three F&I managers, they can have one, and then supplement that with virtual support from a Zurich or JM&A."
For JM&A Group, of Deerfield Beach, Fla., the biggest recent change has been around the general concept of flexibility, said Chris May, director of the company's Performance Development Center. With consumers increasingly buying products in different places and through varying methods, the old way of giving dealers a list of interview questions for F&I has become obsolete.
About three years ago, JM&A switched its training to a flexible model rather than focusing on a set process.
"We still train scripts — it's an important part of our business," May said. "But when you start training a little bit more around the concepts, around flexibility, once we kind of got that down pat, it enabled transactions and multiple varieties."
The basics of F&I remain the same, he added. There still needs to be verification of a customer's name, address, trade-in, VIN and other items to ensure a transaction goes smoothly, and that contracts are compliant. Questions still need to be asked of customers to personalize the buying process and sell relevant F&I products.
"What changed with the advent of technology was really this sequence [in which] those things took place, and really the platform in which they took place," May said. "So all of those things that happened, still need to happen. But we just need to recognize that the order might switch around."
For an F&I manager, it's important to understand the changing customer journey, and to know where a particular customer is in that journey when they come into the dealership, May said. "We're living in a world where meeting the customer and personalization — personalizing a process, based on the customer's wants and desires — is what we call a hard trend here," May said. "So that's going to continue to evolve."
For Zurich, too, adapting with evolving technology boils down to keeping up with customer demands and needs. "Industrywide, consumers want to utilize technology to gather information," said Rick Strifler, vice president of direct markets at Zurich North America, of Schaumburg, Ill. "This is just a natural evolution that we've seen occur in the automotive space. As the technology has become available, consumers want to purchase in the way they want to purchase."
Strifler said the evolution has gone from consumers going to the dealership, to often pricing portions or all of a contract online, for example. Further innovation and disruption is being driven by online newcomers such as Vroom and Carvana, he added. Zurich seeks to make customer-led changes, meaning changes prompted by both consumers and its dealer customers alike, Strifler said.
Going forward, Battista said, everyone in the F&I sector and beyond can expect further change to be driven by the consumer wanting to do more of the F&I process on their own before heading to a dealership. "So you're going to see more of the digital retailing, more of a complete deal online."
Send us a letter
Have an opinion about this story? Click here to submit a Letter to the Editor, and we may publish it in print.