In a traditionally male-dominated dealership department, women are making a mark in the finance and insurance office.

More women now serve as F&I managers, says Heather Haynes, sales training manager at JM&A, an F&I service provider.

“We have found that many women business managers are more successful in maximizing F&I packages when customers also are female,” she says. “They are more interested in extended-service contracts and life and disability insurance, and achieve better turnover results with the vehicle salespersons.”

Julie Turner became the first F&I manager at Grimes Motors, a Cadillac-Buick-Jeep-Honda dealership in Helena, MT. The owner put her in that post, saying she had the qualities to sell F&I, including openness and a caring attitude.

Women generally do a good job relating to dealership customers, both male and female, Turner tells WardsAuto in an earlier interview. “When you gain their trust, men like to deal with women.”

It's not just young, attractive women that male customers are drawn to, she says.“Some of them are comfortable with grandmother types.”

As F&I director in charge of four staffers at Jenkins & Wynne Ford Lincoln Honda in Clarksville, TN, Angelia Butts is a firm believer in ongoing training.

“We have constant open training,” she says at a recent F&I Management and Technology conference. “If someone sees something that works particularly well, they share it. If that closing really worked for them, I want everyone to know about it immediately.”

Training new F&I personnel and retraining veterans have become commonplace, says Dave Robertson, head of the Association of F&I Professionals.

Jeff Dyke, operations executive vice president of the Sonic Automotive Group and a co-creator of the in-house Sonic University, oversees an array of Web-based F&I training courses. Staffers must take the classes annually to hone their selling skills and make sure they comply with government regulations affecting F&I.

Well-trained employees tend to stick around. Charlotte, NC-based Sonic has reduced employee turnover at its 141 stores from 65% to about 30%, Dyke says.

The F&I process has been upgraded from the era of a solitary business manager hosting a customer in a small office with the door shut. The proper setting can enhance sales.

Potamkin Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep in Coral Cables, FL, conducts F&I sessions on comfortable couches in the showroom.

The upscale JM Lexus dealership in Margate, FL, sometimes makes F&I product presentations in a quiet, on-site library.

Galpin Ford, the nation’s No.1 Ford dealership, does qualifying interviews on the showroom floor. “Get the customers relaxed for the F&I process,” says Bert Boeckmann, head of the North Hills, CA, dealership.

Customers at ease tend to buy more, says Kelly Waldinger, finance director at Faulkner Nissan in central Pennsylvania. “We’ve worked to eliminate the fear factor.”

F&I selling has become more sophisticated “as dealers try to take the pressures out,” says Paul Taylor, chief economist for the National Automobile Dealers Assn. “Once they do, sales and profits tend to go up substantially.”

Customers vary, Butts says. “Some aren’t interested in all the details, and some want to read every word of the contract.”

Either way, she makes it a point to keep them informed “from the minute they arrive to the minute they leave.

“Let them know what is going on and be truthful, otherwise, it can come back to haunt you,” she says.

She thinks she is in the right job. “I was born to do F&I.”

With Steve Finlay