Finance and insurance veteran Pam Lewis reckons she'd be in big trouble today if she sold F&I at dealerships like she used to.

“If I did things the way I was initially trained, I'd be in jail practically,” says Lewis who has since embraced modern higher standards.

As in her case, many old F&I offenses stemmed from not knowing any better. It's different today, with defined processes, stricter rules and less tolerance.

Some shady F&I practitioners still pack payments, overcharge customers for questionable products and get real creative with information on credit applications.

But most, including Lewis, have seen the light. They manage to stay legal and make money at the same time.

Lewis advocates menu selling in which F&I offerings are clearly presented. Done right, it offers a fast, customer-friendly, full-disclosure and still-be-profitable approach to selling F&I products and services.

“It was tough switching from step selling to menu selling, but my profits went up,” says Lewis. “Today, I can't imagine selling F&I without a menu.”

She now is vice president-sales for CNA National Warranty Corp. She was an F&I director at a large dealership, overseeing seven staffers. Before that, she was the lone F&I employee of a small store, where she started as a receptionist.

More and more, small to midsize dealerships are putting a lot of pressure on sole F&I managers, says Lewis.

Drawing from her early experience, she conducted a workshop — “How a 1-Person F&I Manager Can Keep Sane and Profitable in a Busy Dealership” — at an F&I Management and Technology conference.

“It's a lonely organizational chart” when you're flying solo it in the F&I office, says Lewis.

She recommends building an all-inclusive team by reaching out to other dealership departments that can help the F&I cause.

For instance, the service department can be a great source of referrals.

“The perfect time to get referrals for selling extended service contracts is when a customer comes in with a car that's almost out of factory warranty,” she says.

Meanwhile, a sales manager can be an F&I person's best friend or worst enemy.

Good sales managers don't prematurely quote payments or promise that the finance manager will get the best rate, Lewis says. “Best” claims in auto financing can spark lawsuits by customers who later find a better rate.

F&I is aided if floor sales people properly endorse products and turn over customers to the F&I manager, Lewis says.

Starting out, she'd sit and wait for customers. Looking back, she says she should have been on the floor doing early fact-finding interviews with customers.

“The three most important words in F&I sales are ‘you told me,’ as in: ‘You told me out on the floor that you drive 20,000 miles a year, and, based on that, I've customized this presentation for you.’”

Another recommended setup is telling customers: “There are a lot of programs available to protect your car, and I want to make sure you have an opportunity to hear about them and take advantage of them.”

Believe in what you sell, she says. “We're selling products that affect people's lives.”

F&I Tips From Pam Lewis:

  1. Reach out to other dealership departments that can help the F&I cause.
  2. Encourage showroom sales people to properly endorse F&I products and effectively introduce customers to the F&I manager.
  3. Get out on the sales floor to do preliminary interviews with customers.