If someone has a driver's license without knowing how to drive a car, “you don't want to be on the road with that person,” says Bruce Foster, who oversees finance & insurance training for the JM&A Group, an F&I product and service provider.
Likewise, an accident waiting to happen is a dealership employee who may know F&I laws, but fails to use that knowledge in customer interactions. That can land the dealership in court.
Putting compliance knowledge into action is behind JM&A's new F&I Legal and Ethical Standards Certification (FILES) training program.
“It goes way beyond just teaching and testing the laws,” says Foster, director of JM&A's Performance Development Center at company headquarters in Deerfield Beach, FL. “It also trains F&I managers how to apply those laws when working with dealership customers.”
The certification program is open to all dealerships, not just JM&A clients. “When we weighed the pros and cons of taking this on, we found that dealers were screaming for it,” says Foster.
The training hones in on customer- and disclosure-friendly sales processes. Those can boost customer satisfaction and sales while reducing the possibility of dealer liability in the face of greater scrutiny of F&I offices by regulators, attorneys general, the media and litigators.
The 8-hours-a-day classes are “intense,” says Foster. Sessions are three days for non-clients, five days for JM&A clients who receive additional training in other F&I areas.
“We wanted a certification program that really had teeth in it,” says Jim McDavid, JM&A's vice president of North America sales.
Training includes a preparatory course with a legal exam, oral testing and product sales presentations. There are homework assignments, in-class reviews, role playing, peer assessments and written testing.
Participants are certified for a year. A one-day re-certification class updates state and federal laws and re-tests participants.
“Re-certification is important,” says McDavid. “This business changes a lot. Unlimited certification gives a false sense of security.”
Training is state-specific because states have different F&I rules and regulations.
A “mystery shopper” service is available. That consists of three random visits over six months by undercover research firm representatives who assess F&I managers' strengths, weaknesses and potential need for more training.
“While mystery shopping in the car business is not unusual, it is normally used by the sales department,” says Foster. “Applying this technique in the F&I area is an innovative approach.”
Proper F&I presentations offer a high level of disclosure, says McDavid. For example, the customer is entitled to know what an interest rate and payments are on a car with and without F&I products and services.
“Lack of information is a big complaint when it comes to F&I customer satisfaction,” McDavid says. “You need to lay it out so the customer has all the information to make an intelligent decision.”
Adds Foster: “If you look at the major lawsuits over the years, it's not so much what the F&I manager knew but what he did. It's easier to do it the right way.”