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COVID-19 Impact…Semper Fi F&I

Regardless of one’s station in life, no one escapes unscathed from a worldwide pandemic. For those plying the F&I trade, the personal and occupational restrictions imposed by the coronavirus quarantine present both a test of mettle and an opportunity. 

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Many financial services personnel, confined to working from home, are taking advantage of an array of online skill-building training classes and an F&I-oriented certification program. Others are mastering — and applying — the procedural processes and state and federal regulatory requirements for out-of-store vehicle sales transactions supported by online F&I functions. 

What’s certain is that the traditional in-store, in-person mode of commerce in the automotive industry, while not a thing of the past, will never command the same market share. Necessity and evolution have driven online shopping well beyond the domain of Gen Xers and Millennials. The purveyors of e-commerce venues are in hyperdrive. When things get back to normal, a higher reliance on online transactions will be part of a new normal. 

A growing number of non-traditional used vehicle marketers are currently consummating sales using non-traditional methods. The GM Shop • Click • Drive program and others provide the mechanics for a totally online purchase. Remote centralized F&I departments are in their nascent stages. E-contracting is becoming the norm. 

With the pace spurred by the COVID-19 quarantine, franchised dealers, big and small, are beefing up their e-commerce capabilities. While vehicle marketing protocols will change for the sales staff, the tasks most fundamentally impacted are those performed by the F&I specialists.   

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Their first challenge after achieving an online T.O. is presenting the voluntary protection products. In this case, e-commerce may actually be more effective. A dynamic online video presentation of the available products may be more powerful than print brochures handed to a customer by a harried “two-more-customers-are-waiting” F&I person.  

The second is establishing the essential dialog between customer and practitioner to find mutually amenable terms for the customer, dealer and a finance source willing to accept assignment of the RISA or consumer lease agreement. The installment payment or lease options are being presented electronically, with mutually agreed-to terms secured in a series of communications. 

The document disclosure and consummation processes are conducted electronically, including the full complement of deal consummation forms. Protocols are under development to effectively affirm buyer acknowledgment of the TILA box information and other mandated disclosures. 

The third challenge is to satisfy the state and federal regulatory disclosure and consummation requirements of an electronic transaction. The standards imposed by regulators regarding vehicle sales and the execution of binding legal contracts consummated outside of the dealer’s physical facility — some of which are sorely in need of updates — are being addressed. Guidance is readily available from a host of qualified sources online and via webinars and podcasts. 

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A negotiated automobile purchase, by nature, is a people business. Real person-to-person communication will still be key — whether by phone, email, online chat or FaceTime. For F&I specialists wondering who will capitalize most on the current situation and benefit from pent-up buyer demand and the proliferation of unprecedented finance options post COVID-19, this adage rings true: “Those who make the most of a bad situation are the first to take full advantage of a good situation.”  SEMPER FI!

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