Dealerships are increasingly sharing data on F&I products on their websites to educate consumers looking to purchase vehicles online. F&I product and software companies are responding to the shift by partnering up, some of them to provide consumer-facing content for the first time.
Roger Hilterbrandt, senior director of business development at F&I Express, says changing customer preferences are prompting F&I product companies to help dealers place more information online.
"Every provider we talk to, the biggest problem with digital retailing is they can't control the content," Hilterbrandt told Automotive News. "There used to be training for the F&I manager on how to communicate the value of these products and how to be compliant. Now, with digital retailing, these providers are saying, 'I've got to provide content upfront,' which they really never had to do."
F&I Express is facing its own pressure from dealers who want more capabilities when it comes to F&I transparency. The Cox Automotive subsidiary in August closed a deal with a competitor, dealership management software provider DealerSocket, to serve up more accurate F&I product information online for customers and F&I managers.
Brian Wagner, general manager of DealerSocket's DealerFire line, said the goal of the integration is to build an online tool that is adaptable for what the dealer has in-store.
"Our dealers are telling us that their buyers are changing. They want a more online experience; they want a more transparent experience," Wagner said. "Certain dealers are going to want to show all online; some will want to share the base-level F&I online. They're going to want to go from search to signature; that's a direction that the dealers are asking us to go. There's a lot of pressure there."
Tim Brugh, CEO of American Auto Guardian Inc., a subsidiary of insurance services provider Amynta Group, said that as retail becomes increasingly digitized, customer preference should be at the forefront of an F&I company's decisions. Dealerships are still in control of the information they place online, Brugh said, but F&I product companies can help furnish the information they believe will help dealers sell products most effectively.
"We have to be able to give the consumer a digital image of what they have available in that F&I office prior to them getting into that F&I office," Brugh said. "We have not vetted all that out yet, but we recognize it's important to the future, so it's important to us."