April 22, 2021

Some dealers ditch F&I office in digital shift

The coronavirus shuttered in-person retail sales in some states this year, and where in-store sales were allowed, some customers still were wary of face-to-face transactions. To adapt, dealers switched to digital transactions and, in some cases, eliminated the store’s F&I office.

Brian McCafferty, owner of Avondale Toyota in Arizona, said his elimination of the finance-and-insurance office is partly why the virtual sales process has been a success.

McCafferty said his sales managers are trained to handle the sales process from start to finish, including F&I. This is beneficial for online sales because customers deal with only one dealership staff member for the entire transaction.

“We feel that this is something the customer has been asking for for 30 years,” McCafferty said.

Avondale Toyota is a “one price, one person” store that eliminates negotiations and competition among salespeople. The ability to work one-on-one with a sales associate, he said, simplifies the transaction for the customer and allows for the development of personal relationships.

“I can’t imagine doing business any other way,” McCafferty said.

McGee Toyota of Claremont in New Hampshire eliminated its F&I office in April during the height of the pandemic. General Manager Jason Quenneville told Automotive News, “We are having tremendous success.”

The dealership has moved away from traditional salespeople and hired individuals who have a background in the hospitality industry with a focus on customer service. The associates are trained to complete the sales process independently.

The success Quenneville said he has seen since removing the F&I office includes more products sold per vehicle, and product penetration from November was more than 300 percent.

Toyota Financial ensured the dealership was equipped to process remote transactions, including digital signatures.

And since off-site deliveries started in April, they have made up 20 percent of total sales, Quenneville said.

The dealership does have financial service assistants who help with paperwork behind the scenes, but the salespeople do the rest.

“It’s like having one big F&I team,” Quenneville said. “The store runs more efficiently when everyone knows everything.”

Jeff Miller, general manager of Mark Miller Subaru outside Salt Lake City, is not sold on making the switch to one-touch transactions, but he does agree that F&I offices could use some upgrades.

A common trend he notices is that customers do not want to spend hours in a dealership. More specifically, they don’t want to be trapped in the F&I office.

To improve the customers’ experience, the dealership has implemented a “15 minutes in and 30 minutes out” plan to make the process more palatable.

The goal is to have the customer in the F&I office within 15 minutes of saying “yes” on a vehicle and out of the F&I office in less than 30 minutes.

Miller said to simplify the sales transaction, the dealership is a one-price store and does not negotiate prices or trade-in values.

He said that he’d rather fix the F&I process rather than get rid of it, adding that there is a lot of training that goes into finance management that may not be the right fit for salespeople.

“There’s more room for error,” Miller said.

Although he plans to keep his F&I office, changes are being made at the finance-and-insurance level to appeal to customers and iron out any issues.

Miller said the dealership is working to “improve what we do in finance and create a really solid experience, but not turn the whole world on its end.”