If timing really is everything, then the timing for the promotion of Steve Hayes to general manager and chief operating officer of JM&A Group could not have been better.

The F&I service provider is entering the 2000-model year "with a lot on its plate," says Mr. Hayes, "starting with opening of a new and expanded training center for dealer F&I personnel right here on our main campus."

Mr. Hayes, at 51 an 18-year veteran of JM&A, has played a key role in building a training department that functions equally well in the Deerfield Beach, FL home base, at meeting rooms convenient to dealer personnel or in dealerships themselves.

Enhanced television and monitoring equipment is in substantially larger classrooms across from the present JM&A conference center.

"This will be state-of-the-art for the new century," declares Mr. Hayes. "We are very proud of our training classes and the quality of the F&I departments in the dealerships who use them. The computerized equipment in our new center is second to none."

Meanwhile, JM&A is entering a new arena of lease wear-and-tear insurance and expanding its Internet presence. Direct sales of personal vehicle insurance are under study.

"Our dealer client total has increased to nearly 1,400 in 44 states," says Mr. Hayes, "of whom 145 are Toyota dealers out of the 162 in our sister company, Southeast Toyota Distributors (SET).

"We have forged a partnership with AutoNation Inc., to provide F&I services to 120 of its dealers, an initiative looking to use ongoing training and screening in dealerships to increase F&I volume and profits."

F&I industry veteran Lou Feagles, 48, the newly appointed president of both JM&A and parent company JM Family Enterprises' financial services, says JM&A wants to continue growing by stages in its key product areas.

Those are vehicle service contracts, GAP insurance, prepaid maintenance policies and the new wear-and-tear lease coverage.

"We'd like to sign up 2,000 dealers outside SET," Mr. Feagles says. "We know there's a lot of competition out there, with the captive providers and the banks all out for more business.

"But through World Omni's floorplan, lease and financing strengths, we are establishing ties to consolidators like United Auto Group and AutoNation.

"What's more, the Internet is already a big source of business for us and it's going to get bigger."

The JM&A executives agree with forecasts that by 2005, up to 40% of auto financing and lease originations could be generated on the Internet - and with them, F&I products, as well.

"JM Family Enterprises is looking at strategies to maximize the Internet potential," said Mr. Hayes. "The new AutoNation website is promising. We're well aware of the new Web sites with ties to Bank One and Wells Fargo, and are planning to take a strong role on the Internet scene."

Except for non-prime financing, JM&A is embarking on new initiatives with enhanced incentives for dealers. The $400 wear-and-tear lease coverage adds protection for 1,000 miles over contract "limits," while a rebate plan guarantees dealers up to 25% of reserve funds for service contracts.

Mr. Hayes says, "One challenge facing dealers, as well as ourselves, on the Internet is the likelihood of reduced profits on new-unit sales because of the public's rising awareness of invoice prices.

"We want to show dealers how to offset this through growing sales of service contracts and our other products."

Mr. Hayes joined JM&A in 1981 in Raleigh, NC, after breaking in as a bank loan official. He relocated to the main office in Deerfield Beach in 1985.