In my 16 years as a dealer, I've seen the finance and insurance department become one of the most important profit centers of any dealership.

Even with the emergence of the Internet, an average F&I department will yield over $500 per vehicle retailed (PVR). Benchmark departments will commonly break the $1,000 barrier.

Dealerships are finding the numbers once again on the rise with the shift back towards retail financing as opposed to leasing. The F&I department in many dealerships makes an overwhelming impact on the bottom line. But dealers often take this department for granted.

A survey of dealers on AutoDealerDaily.com indicates the F&I managers of nearly 60% of the respondents have less than three years on that job. For a dealer, that's disconcerting.

Considering the F&I department's importance as a profit center, it's an area you don't want hit with high turnover rates. But that's what is happening. Why?

If you ask a typical finance manager what they earn, their response is usually, “Not enough!” Is money the real factor that keeps the managers moving? Maybe, but not likely.

Burnout seems to be a common malaise among “former” F&I managers. True, they may want more money. Yes, the extra money might be what causes the grass to appear greener at a different dealership.

Ultimately, it is not money that initially starts them looking. It is burnout. The lack of a life. The stress of working five and six days at 60 to 75 hours a week. The stress of selling the product and the deal, insuring all documents are correct, and who knows what else. The stresses of earning a good income (nationally, according to NADA, F&I managers' earnings averaged just under $70,000 in 2000), but having little or no personal life.

You will never find a high-dive at the gene pool in the car business. It takes a talented, trained (and most often licensed) professional to excel in the finance department. In other words there isn't an overabundance of them.

When a dealer finds one, it would seem that they get taken into “the box,” chained to the desk, and left with the door guarded and told to keep their PVR average high. Few dealers would admit to thinking that, let alone doing so. Unfortunately, in practice, it probably occurs much more often than you would think.

What happens is that the needed days or weekends off for the F&I manager are not scheduled, are discouraged or not taken so that the “busier” days in the dealership are covered. (What days aren't busy to a dealer or general manager?) Think about who is often the last person to walk out of the dealership. The F&I manager, of course, who stays around an extra two hours to contract one last deal.

At times it seems we're our own worst enemy. We identify the higher caliber professional, invest in them, train them…and then forget what the job is that we've asked them to perform. What we need to do is get them “outside the box.”

Time away, more so than money, can be a lifeline for both sides. Some dealers cringe at the thought of having their F&I manager out over a weekend — any weekend.

They feel that they just can't afford to have the department “uncovered.” I disagree. How do you quantify lost opportunities on product sales or cash conversions because the F&I manager just didn't have his or her head in the game that day? That week? That half of a month? Forget the products for just a moment. How many deals themselves do you think fall apart?

A fresh and rejuvenated F&I manager will more than make up for the few missed opportunities the day or two he was outside the box. Apparently, a number of dealers in our 20 groups are feeling that way as well. Some are now providing a three-day weekend at least once every month to insure their key employees stay fresh and motivated.

Incidentally, these dealers maintain above average F&I income PVR, while keeping their F&I compensation below group average.

Sometimes the key to increasing F&I profits isn't necessarily better turnovers from the floor, a change in compensation plan, or even a new and improved selling system. Sometimes it is just being willing to think outside the box, and then getting your F&I manager there for some ongoing R&R.


Greg Goebel (Greg@TwentyGroups.com) is a partner and moderator of the Twenty Group firm Leedom and Associates. He has over 16 years experience as a dealer and is also the creator and administrator of AutoDealerDaily.com.