Offering F&I product options to customers is vital to the selling process, said Ron Reahard, president of Tennessee-based F&I training company Reahard & Associates. Yet customers don't focus on those as much as they do tangible things, such as the vehicle color and seats.
"When a customer contacts a dealership, that's because they're interested in buying a car," Reahard said. "But when they come to a finance person, they basically just want to get their paperwork done."
In December, Asbury Automotive Group Inc. in Duluth, Ga., debuted Clicklane, a digital retail platform that streamlines the car-buying process. CEO David Hult told Automotive News last month the company's choice in software provider — Gubagoo of Boca Raton, Fla. — came from the desire for a "full end-to-end solution" for purchasing vehicles.
Two software companies that met with Asbury were wary about offering functionalities typically reserved for the F&I office, Hult said. They didn't believe their other dealership clients had interest in a full end-to-end solution.
"The feedback that I got was they feared the F&I piece and not being able to control that. ... You couldn't afford to lose that money," he said. "Listen, it's a good fear. I understand it, we had it too. But I think you can see the evolution of what's coming."
The majority of these tools are not new, said Emil Banga, associate vice president of F&I dealer operations at Cox Automotive. When F&I software provider Dealertrack arrived in the market, it was assumed there would be a major adoption of similar tools. That didn't happen, Banga said.
But the pandemic revealed to dealerships how those all-important consumer interactions could change form.
A 2020 Cox Automotive study of 1,859 potential car buyers from 462 dealerships offering digital retailing processes found 72 percent of customers were "highly satisfied" with their overall shopping experiences. That's up from 60 percent in 2019.
"I think [F&I managers] realized they can provide overall better customer experience by leveraging what that customer is doing online and interacting with them before they come in," Banga said.