Tag Archive | "Product & Technology"

Is Technology Eliminating The F&I Manager?

As a research and process development company, we are constantly looking for new ideas, products, or anything that would be of value to our F&I professionals. There are always plenty of new products, software programs or someone touting the “next big thing” in the F&I world for us to evaluate and share those results with our clients.

In this decade, all the talk is about technology taking over the F&I process in the future. With advent of electronic menus and different versions of software that are designed to do the selling of the F&I products, one might assume it’s just a matter of time before we eliminate the need for those pesky, highly paid, F&I managers. This idea catches the attention of dealers who wonder if they pay those F&I people too much, F&I product providers who would love to be able to control how their product is presented and especially software vendors, (think of how much could they could charge a dealer for that, if it worked).

And so, you hear a lot of talk about it. We are currently working with several software providers to develop their F&I selling tools and tools for service and other related functions. And we have been successful with some ideas of how to use these devices to assist in the F&I process. But before we accept the idea that this technology can replace the F&I manager’s job, we should take a closer look at what this new technology will have to accomplish.

You see, the thing that seems to be missed in these discussions about the future of F&I, and what technology can do for the process, is an in-depth understanding of what the F&I Many thank manager’s job really entails. So, what does the F&I manager have to accomplish? Protect the dealership. And the ways they do that are:

  • Legally. There are a lot of laws and regulations dealers need to be concerned with, and F&I managers cover the dealer’s rear end every day. Ask any F&I manager – they’ll tell you. The dealer needs the F&I managers to watch this stuff, unless, of course, they are confident enough to rely on the absolute honesty, good will and attention to detail of every member of their sales force to do it, on every deal, every time, because it only takes one mistake in this area to cause giant problems.
  • Cash Flow. These contracts are 20-40 thousand dollars each. If they get a few of those contracts rejected because they weren’t done properly, they’ve got a cash flow problem. And there are a constantly-changing set of rules and “stips” that have to be chased down every day by the F&I manager. (If you don’t know what “stips” are, again, ask any F&I manager. They’re probably trying to track down one or two of them right now).
  • Customer Satisfaction Scoring. A good case has been made that the F&I manager has a huge influence on Sales Satisfaction scoring. Many times they can correct a bad customer impression and smooth over a customer that wasn’t too happy with the sales process. Ask any F&I manager that, as well. They’ll tell you story after story of customers they smoothed over and even deals they saved by making the F&I process comfortable and professional.
  • Help Make The Sale. One of the emerging talents of top F&I managers in the current economy is their ability to know where, and how, to get deals approved. Getting financing for the wide range of credit scores and income levels we are dealing with today has become a real art form that depends on personal interaction with many lenders. It has become a moving target in today’s marketplace. F&I managers are getting very good at it, and that skill helps deliver deals the dealer would have otherwise missed.
  • Control Chargebacks. Chargebacks can have a detrimental effect on income, but also tend to have a negative effect on CSI scores. Controlling cancellations is usually the direct result of the interaction between the customer and the F&I manager. Top F&I managers have mastered this skill, and it shows in their numbers.
  • Full Disclosure. Now, one may think that simply getting a signature from a customer is proof of a full disclosure. Not so, according to the FTC and the Attorneys General around the country. Full disclosure is the result of a professional F&I manager going over the terms of the transaction, making sure the customer clearly knows all of the terms and charges and answering any questions the customer might have. And customers have questions that need to be answered. That is full disclosure. And our top F&I managers are honest, professional people that make that happen with every customer that passes through their dealership.
  • And Finally… Make Money. After the F&I manager accomplishes all of the tasks above, as an added bonus, they also have to provide a significant portion of the dealership’s income. The F&I department is the highest net profit department in the dealership, and with the advent of Internet sales and declining gross profit averages, many dealers are relying on the F&I department to make up for that lost income. F&I managers live on commission. Because of that, they are inspired to perform at their best. We have yet to test or observe any software or technology that comes anywhere close to matching the income per unit of even an average F&I manager.

F&I managers accomplish all of those functions, every day. Now, if there is a machine or software program that can do all of that, we haven’t seen it yet. And field testing of the current, available, forms of technology in real dealership environments has not shown any indication that it will happen anytime soon, if ever.

You see, this is still a people business, as it always has been. We sell cars to people. And, so far, it takes people to run it efficiently and accomplish all of the duties, above.

So it looks like that F&I manager will be around for just a while longer.

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Appearance Protection-Seasoned Providers With Strong Products

This issue begins our series of in depth reviews of F&I Products. Starting with Appearance Protection, we will provide direct insight into the product providers, their products and how they are working to stay ahead of the pack.

P&A Magazine reached out to several companies to provide company profiles to create this article. Seven appearance protection companies responded to our questions about their products, services and the future of the industry.

All seven companies are well established. The newest members of the group that participated are Trident having started their business in 2007 and Xzilon, which made their announcement at NADA 2004 to merge into the automotive market. Cal-Tex is a 25+ year member, PermaPlate and Treatment Coatings have 30+ and 40+ years respectively. The senior members of this group are ECP with 75 years in the business and Simoniz, crossing the centennial mark of 100 years. With over 200 years of combined experience, these companies know the marketplace. They keep up with ever changing technologies, maintain compliance with state and federal regulations and anticipate the needs of their clients.

We found many similarities among these companies. All companies have great success with their broad range of appearance protection products for the both interior and exterior of vehicles. Exterior products include paint protection but also ding, dent and more. Interior protection products include fabric, vinyl, leather, carpet and more.

All of these products can be applied to automobiles, but many of these companies also target the RV, Marine and powersport industries. A couple of the providers even support the aviation market.

Each of these companies uses their own chemical products and all provide varying levels of warranties. They have also created attractively named packaged offerings that combine a variety of their products that clearly supports the menu selling process, deliver true value and enhance profitability to providers and dealers.

As for the future of the appearance protection industry, all companies have specifically stated that they must keep up with industry trends and changing technology. The common ultimate goal is to keep the customer happy with the products they are providing and to exceed their consumers’ expectations.

So what differentiates these companies from one another? Product? Not really. Overall, it is clear to us that these products all work well and do what they promise to do. Individuals purchasing cars see the value of appearance protection. Service and Dealer support? The information provided indicates that they all saw these as important components to their success.

What’s important when selecting an appearance protection company? Click below to read the company profiles

Appearance Protection Company Profiles

Cal-Tex Protective Coatings, Inc.

How did Cal-Tex start and what helped drive its success?

Cal-Tex began as the collaboration of two friends who met while serving in the Navy. Ronald Rago operated a business that sold undercoating products to dealers in California, and Gary Osborn had a similar business in Texas. They incorporated Cal-Tex in 1983, and combined their existing companies. Ron retired from Cal-Tex in 2006. Gary still actively participates in its day-to-day operations.

Read More »

ECP Incorporated

Tell us about ECP, how it started and what helped drive its success?

ECP Incorporated, and its affiliate, Daubert Industries, started in 1935 serving multiple industries including the US military and OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturers). Since 1969, ECP Incorporated, under its brand names, Auto Armor, The Protector and Platinum Protection, has served many of the finest automobile dealers in the nation. Today, ECP has distributors and agents throughout the United States, Mexico, Canada, and South Africa and continues to expand world-wide. The ECP story in recent years has been one of expansion, in terms of new markets, new products and increased acceptance through professional training on existing products and services.

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How did PermaPlate start and what helped drive its success?

In the late 1970’s, Bill Nisson launched the PermaPlate line of automotive appearance protection products in response to consumer and dealer demand for more reliable products in this particular arena. Now, over three decades later, the needs of our customers continue to drive our business. Through the turbulence in the automotive industry over the past 30+ years, PermaPlate has stayed true to its basic objective – providing high quality products and exceptional service to dealer partners and customers every day.

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Simoniz USA

How did Simoniz get its start and what helped drive your success?

Our Simoniz® brand celebrated its 100 year anniversary in 2011, so for over 100 years we have been making appearance care products for the auto industry. We are involved nationally and internationally in the Car Wash industry, Reconditioning and Detail Market, Janitorial, Infomercial, and Big Box Retail. So it was a natural progression and a great fit for us to offer a program for the F&I industry under the Simoniz® brand.

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Treatment Products Ltd.

How did Treatment Products get its start and what helped drive your success?

Treatment Products Ltd. has been manufacturing quality automotive products for over 40 years. All of our high quality products are manufactured and packaged at our 65,000 sq. foot facility in Chicago, Illinois. The Treatment brand is successfully marketed and sold worldwide as a direct result of our commitment to high quality formulations and unsurpassed performance. Treatment Products Ltd. offers a full range of automotive cleaning, appearance, and protection products. We are a dedicated, experienced and reliable long term partner that has a proven history for making a difference.

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Trident Protection Systems

How did Trident get its start and what helped drive your success?

Trident was founded in early 2007. We provide a product that outperforms our competition while keeping sight of the fact that the Agent is our customer. Trident provides leading edge product, fast and flexible solutions to solve any sales challenges our Agents face, we enable their success in positioning our products in their dealers where they have the relationships. Trident’s team has vast experience in chemical manufacturing, engineering, dealer ownership, auto reconditioning, and the finance and insurance industries. Understanding every aspect of our field has allowed us to quickly become a premier appearance protection company in the industry.

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Xzilon, Inc.

How Xzilon company get its start and what helped drive your success?

Our company was actually started through an associate company, Granitize, which is based in Southern California and has been in business since 1930. We had a product that we were using in the aviation industry that we actually developed for Boeing.We thought that there would be a good use for it in the automotive industry. At NADA 2004, Xzilon was launched.

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Interview with Brent Allen, President of StoneEagle

P&A Magazine had the chance to speak with Brent Allen, president of StoneEagle, to discuss the company’s role in the F&I industry and how they contribute to making the lives of providers and administrators easier. The following interview examines StoneEagle and all of the technology programs they have to offer clients.

The StoneEagle Group is made up of multiple companies — can you explain to our readers the different divisions and the services they provide?

StoneEagle (SE) was founded in 1987 as an “enterprise systems” software development company under the name StoneEagle Insurance Systems. The SE founders developed systems for insurance companies, banks, and third-party administrators as far back as the 70’s. SE developed its first warranty administration system in 1989. That system was converted to more modern standards in 1992 and was made year 2000 compliant. This compliance caused rapid growth for the company through the 90’s.

StoneEagle.com Inc. (SE.com) was incorporated in the 90’s for the purpose of creating web-based solutions to integrate with its already successful administration systems. With the merger of a small data acquisition company in the mid 90’s, SE.com began to re-invent itself as a dealer-centric solutions provider with industry standard reporting tools, rating and integration services. Today’s offerings include: SEcureMetrics reporting, SEcureSalesTool for service-drive aftermarket product sales, SEcureTransmit for submitting sold products back to administrators and will soon release SEcureMetricsService for parts and service analytics.

In 2004 StoneEagle Services (SES), which was once an administration company, was resurrected to launch a new payment processing solution. This payment solution, invented by StoneEagle, includes paying any provider of parts or services with a virtually loaded credit card. This process applies a fixed value to a credit card transaction which helps eliminate fraud and create a simple reconciliation process for administrators and insurance companies.

Please expand on the products and services you offer, and specifically, how they can add value to/for the Providers and Administrators?

It is important to note that StoneEagle isn’t just a product provider, we are a solutions provider. It is probably safe to say that few, if any, other companies in the industry have as broad of a range of products and services.

  • SEcureARCH is the latest aftermarket product administration and is based on over 20 years of success. It is the only system on the market to boast an open architecture, which makes it ideal for plugging in external tools and processes. For the auto dealer environment this may include an administrator’s own web portal, menus, or other integration points. For the admin company, plugging into parts sources, inspectors, or pricing engines becomes quick and more simplified.
  • SEcureMetrics is the original fully DMS integrated analytics tool in the industry. Agents and administrators can help their dealer clients create higher product penetration numbers by showing the effectiveness of sales tools and process with numeric or graphical representations. Dealers can focus on their internal numbers, and dealer groups can compare the performance of their dealers side by side across different manufacturers, regions and DMS providers.
  • SEcureMetrics Service will allow the dealer to optimize his parts and service department. He will be able to isolate the most profitable parts, services, vehicles and customers. He will also be able to track the effectiveness of various marketing campaigns and how they have helped increase business in other areas of the department.
  • SEcureSales Tool (SST) was originally designed for the sale of insurance products through direct marketing. SST quickly became adapted to the service drive. It will allow a dealer to pre-qualify customers with appointments for applicable products. The service writer can print quote sheets for customer presentations, take credit card payments and capture multiple installment payment information for submission to premium finance companies.
  • SEcureTransmit is a natural bolt-on to SEcureMetrics and SEcureSalesTool. This tool allows the dealer to look at a list of sold aftermarket products and select those for which he wishes to create a remittance register. This register simplifies the accounting process by letting them print the register and include it with his batch of business. Once the business is batched, the dealer can simply select to transmit the data electronically to the administrator of the business. In many cases the dealer allows the agent or administrator to initiate the data transmission themselves.

Looking back over the past few years, how has this changed?

Over the past few years we have seen changes to almost all of our products.

  • SEcureMetrics reporting has seen a complete change to the user interface. It will now allow for several user controlled configurations including moving, or removing, individual columns, column-level data selection and user controlled versioning of report views.
  • SEcureMetrics Service was started from scratch in 2011. It will mimic SEcureMetrics in look and feel but focus on the service end of the business.
  • SEcureSalesTool has been completely re-written to allow easy addition of several different sales “flows.” This means you can sell different products with different methods. The tool allows the user to pick the method and then the screens change based on the sales process.
  • Our aftermarket product admin system, SEcureARCH, has been completely re-engineered. We have combined our years of experience and intellectual property with cutting edge programming techniques, hardware, and software to create a completely service-oriented system that we believe will appeal to most administration companies, both large and small.

We hear a lot about connectivity these days. What benefits does the StoneEagle system provide to administrators?

We consider this one of the most important issues facing the industry today.

Concerning DMS connectivity, StoneEagle has always been on the leading edge. Our reporting tools and sales tools have been integrated since their inception. We have come to believe that having our products certified or use methods not considered “Hostile” by DMS providers as the best way to insure consistent, reliable integration.

For our administration system, connectivity was one of the highest considerations. The basic architecture means that we can efficiently connect to any relevant product or service via web services. This includes but is not limited to, agent portals, parts databases, inspection companies, NADA auto values, menus and StoneEagle’s own DMS integration portals.

In the near future, do you have any plans to add additional features in the area of connectivity?

One area of future focus, in relation to connectivity will revolve around “Single Sign On (SSO)” and “Seamless Integration.” More and more we hear clients asking to sign on once, and be able to transition from one application to the next. This request transcends all of our products from reporting to our admin system. We want to be able to allow our clients to “plug in” to other software offerings easily. Security is a major hurdle here. There are many ideas, and a few published standards. Our goal, as always, will be to keep our clients’ data safe while creating technology that makes his experience quick, easy and intuitive.

As a true veteran, I am sure you have your finger on the pulse of the F&I industry. What do you see F&I product providers and administrators looking for?

I’m not sure I can claim to be a true veteran in the F&I space, but at the end of the day, we are all dependent on the customer in the F&I office. That means there are two people we need to make happy: the customer and the F&I staff. There have been many improvements around the customer: menu sales processes, tablet apps, educational tools and others. I think the tablet applications, whether they are browser based or true “apps,” will be huge. Placing control with the customer in an environment in which they are comfortable, will hopefully help gain their confidence in the products placed before them.

On the other side of the desk, The F&I manager finds himself with 10 various windows open on his computer: a CRM, a menu, his DMS, his reports and more. As our technology gets better, I think we need to look at giving him a single place to land and run the business efficiently, a “dashboard” where he can launch his favorite tools, one that will allow any product provider with the ability to integrate, the option to plug in, where he can pull a deal, rates, and forms once, and review all related information. There are at least three companies working on this idea today. I believe this will be the next advancement for the dealer.

Looking to the future, what are some of the major hurdles our industry will need to overcome?

DMS integration is a huge hurdle today and in the near future. As the DMS providers take stronger stances on ownership of data, security protocol, integration automation and competing product offerings, independent product providers are faced with the expensive prospect of certifying with the DMS providers. There are several questions all providers are asking: will the integration be sufficient? Will pricing be equal among all providers? Should I have to absorb the cost or can I raise my price? Will added cost take my product out of competition? Are dealers willing to pay the extra money for my product? Will the industry simply adapt to the extra cost? And many others.

Another interesting future hurdle will be internet auto sales. Just a few years ago, this was very difficult to accomplish with OFAC checks, credit scores, financing options and other road blocks. As technology increases, we are seeing this type of sales process happen more often. Dealers and product providers are trying to figure out how to make F&I offerings to the on-line customer. Many have the strategy of pulling the customer into the store for the close, but customers are becoming increasingly motivated to complete the sale from home.

Industry conferences, including panel discussions and audience participation, are a great place for us to discuss these issues and work together to get over these hurdles.

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Connecting Providers, Administrators and Dealers: Menu Systems – Part 2 of 4

In today’s dealerships, the menu systems in use have become the means for not only presenting the dealership’s financial and aftermarket options in a consistent and compliant manner, but have become the new portal for connecting to many of the third party systems available to the modern F&I manager.

F&I’s importance as a primary profit center underlines the need to be informed of the current integration state-of-the-art in the business office. The challenge is to integrate the ever increasing number of third party systems the F&I manager must access to reduce their workload. This will enable more time for productive selling, and is a role that the menu systems have assumed beyond their original design.

P&A contacted a veritable Who’s Who of menu system providers, including Innovative Aftermarket Systems (IAS), Ristken Software Services, MaximTrak, MenuVantage, and VisionMenu. Our intent was to profile the companies and learn which third party systems menu providers are connected to now, and which third party systems they plan to connect to in the future.

Perhaps even more important, does connecting to and integrating third party systems actually streamline the workflow? We will also discuss the menu providers’ availability and utilization of bi-directional integration.

Lastly, menu utilization becomes critical when the software connects to a growing list of third parties. What is being done about menu utilization and are menus being used consistent with their design? It is important to know what the menu providers and other parties are doing to keep menu utilization rates as high as possible.


If there was ever any question about the multitude of third party systems an F&I manager may have to access in the normal course of business, the following general list of systems our menu providers connect to should put that to rest:

  • DMS Providers like Reynolds & Reynolds, ADP, and DealerTrack DMS. Some menu providers connect with Tier 2 and Tier 3 DMS providers as well.
  • Lender portals like DealerTrack and RouteOne.
  • Aftermarket product providers: VSC, GAP, and other ancillary products.
  • Rating and enrollment providers like PEN, F&I Express, F&I Admin and StoneEagle for e-rating, e-contracting, and e-remittance.
  • Bi-weekly payment providers.
  • Sales and compliance training.
  • VIN decoding.
  • Electronic identity verification systems like OFAC and Red Flags.
  • Credit bureau aggregators like Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
  • CRM systems.

Our menu respondents did not indicate individually a connection to all of the above third parties, so the following is a brief summary of specific connections.

IAS integrates with DMS providers Reynolds & Reynolds, ADP, and DealerTrack DMS with certified interfaces. The system also integrates with about twenty different VSC and ancillary product providers for e-rating and e-contracting. IAS connects to identity verification systems to verify customer identity and prevent fraud.

Ristken connects with Reynolds & Reynolds, ADP, DealerTrack, and RouteOne with certified integration. Ristken also integrates with other Tier 2 and Tier 3 DMS and DSP providers, in addition to the Provider Exchange Network (PEN), bi-weekly payment provider Equity Driver, OFAC, and Red Flags.

MaximTrak connects with the major DMS providers, credit aggregators TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax, and adds a connection with RouteOne for credit application submission. The company recently added connections to PEN and F&I Admin for e-contracting and e-rating. Rounding out MaximTrak’s portfolio of connections are bi-weekly payment calculators, numerous product vendors, VIN rating, insurance calculations, e-contracting, OFAC, and Red Flag scores.

MenuVantage blends a comprehensive suite of integration to include point of sale providers, credit aggregation, lender submission, automated compliance screening, and DMS. The system allows for multi-directional deal flow as not all deals follow the same path.

VisionMenu integrates with most DMS providers, connects to over thirty product rating and enrollment providers, and offers both sales and compliance training plus a CRM connection for Powersports dealers. VisionMenu will connect to any bi-weekly payment provider that has an available web service.

Future Connections

Selecting a menu provider should include individual inquiries as to exactly which third parties they connect with or plan to connect with. Looking to the future, the strategy among menu system providers is to accommodate as many third party systems as possible so as not to limit the eligibility of a system to any dealership based on who they do business with.

The technology is evolving as this is written, and the universe of possible third parties that could conceivably connect through the menu is a moving target. The “menu as a portal” idea, aggregating many of the functions listed above on to one screen, offers a fascinating look at where we are headed with this technology.

All of our menu system providers are aggressively chasing this herd of cats and our entire industry will benefit from their efforts.

A brief look into the future is IAS’s plans to add functionality whereby video recordings are stored alongside tiered and final menus within their menu system for a true historical perspective. IAS’s newest tablet application will also integrate with their menu to provide interview results electronically to F&I managers before the customer enters the business office.

Ristken, cautious not to integrate for the sake of integration, carefully chooses their third party connections based on the value it provides to their clients. Ristken is always looking to integrate with third parties that provide a mutual benefit to the dealers they serve.

MaximTrak already integrates with over seventy-five companies today. The company envisions a future where as technology advances to allow for more functionality, the goal is to stay on the cutting edge and facilitate higher CSI scores and sales by aggregating all of the functions into one application.

MenuVantage believes providers with exclusive contracts with third party delivery systems, those that do not allow the dealer to choose which vendors they do business with, may be forced to accept a more open architecture. According to MenuVantage, the trend in the industry appears to be one where closed arrangements that limit the dealer’s choices will be replaced with an arrangement where the dealer retains control.

VisionMenu sees the menu as a hub between the DMS and other product providers, and plans to connect to anyone with a web service that helps eliminate dual data entry, saves time, and encourages the F&I manager to use a tool that has proven to make them more money.

Deal Flow and Integration: Pull and Push

From a practical standpoint, it has been established that the menu is fast and efficient compared to traditional methods. Custom menus can be generated and modified in seconds. The choke points are in populating the menu with deal data, rating contracts, re-populating DMS with finalized deal data, printing forms, and electronically remitting the sale of aftermarket products.

Streamlining deal flow begins with populating the menu with customer data, vehicle info, and deal structure. Menu systems integrate with DMS and/or lender portals to pull this information and populate the menu deal screen, eliminating duplicate data entry from the outset.

A connection with VIN decoders and product providers’ rating engines can then supply a list of eligible products. The F&I manager only has to select time and mileage bands based on the consumer’s driving habits to populate a custom menu. No fumbling with rate matrixes or forgetting surcharges are possible when only eligible products are presented to the F&I manager to select from.

Once the final deal structure and product selections are agreed upon, the next step is to update DMS and print forms. Here is where things get really hairy with integration. MaximTrak, Ristken, and MenuVantage offer bi-directional communication with DMS. “Pushing” finalized deal data back into DMS and updating a deal record, however, is not allowed by all DMS providers.

MaximTrak postulates that bi-directional functionality will become more integral to the overall process because aftermarket contracts will stem directly from the menu sale. Ristken has found that the majority of their dealers utilize DMS integration capabilities even though some F&I managers still choose a manual input process. Either way, Ristken’s menu retains full functionality. The majority of MenuVantage’s dealerships benefit from a bi-directional interface, customized with line-by-line detail.

IAS’s certified DMS integration is not bi-directional at this time, but the company has not seen this to be a complaint from actual users. Although the company believes that theoretically bi-directional integration makes sense, “in the trenches” it’s not a true concern.

VisionMenu pulls data from DMS. When the company first established DMS integration, it was believed integration needed to be bi-directional – pulling and pushing. They have found that a dealer has no problem manually updating a few products in DMS. According to VisionMenu, this is all a push accomplishes, since the F&I manager has to go to DMS to print forms anyway.

Most F&I managers are accustomed to manually updating DMS with finalized transaction data, even if offered the option of electronically updating the record in DMS. Why? Chalk it up to old habits dying hard when a finance manager is unlikely to wait more than a few seconds for the update process to complete.

Forms for sold products can be printed the old-fashioned way with impact printers and multi-part forms, or with e-contracting right from the menu. Which path is chosen here is determined primarily by the product provider and whether or not they connect with companies like PEN, F&I Express, F&I Admin or StoneEagle to facilitate e-solutions.

The expense of supplying multi-part forms and not having transaction data electronically will ultimately drive late-adopting product providers to join the e-contracting club. Every participant in the supply chain, from the provider to the consumer, will benefit from 100% adoption of e-rating, e-contracting, and e-remittance.

Menu systems are becoming the de-facto hub through which third parties connect in the F&I office.


If you agree with the above statement, then menu utilization becomes an important factor in order to gain the efficiencies, cost savings, and increased profits menu systems are known for, particularly when access to third party systems is built-in to the menu process.

Utilization for any software application is dependent upon factors like ease-of-use and accountability. For menu systems, industry usage statistics are unclear as to the percentage of deals with a signed final menu. Nor is it clear if menu systems are being used properly.

For IAS, generating a nightly report compiling menu usage data and emailing it to the general managers and agents is a first step. Next, IAS’s staff reviews menu usage statistics for every store on a weekly basis. IAS then personally contacts every F&I manager whose usage has dropped off. Ascertaining the reason for the drop off has resulted in an improvement nearly every time.

Ristken evaluates each enterprise and their needs to develop a strategic utilization plan. As dealerships become more comfortable with technology, combining effective training, collaborative sales tools, and valid results has improved utilization rates.

MaximTrak’s research has shown that when a menu is used consistently, PVR will increase an average of $200 per vehicle and VSC penetration will rise an average of 14%. MaximTrak believes the best way to enforce menu adoption is through management buy-in. Once management sees the potential for increased profits, directives and pay incentives will help finance mangers follow suit.

MenuVantage has incorporated several processes to ensure menu utilization and continuously works with dealers and agents to maximize the experience.

VisionMenu focuses on ease-of-use, believing the F&I manager will take advantage of the profit opportunity it gives them. The agent is often paying for the software, so menu usage is mandated because the system adds income and is part of the agent’s value proposition.

It is interesting to note the different approaches the various menu providers take when it comes to utilization and accountability. One thing is certain, menu utilization will not magically happen on its own. In most cases, it will take hands-on involvement and constant monitoring to get the desired results.

It is clear that many of the innovations in the finance office are built around the powerful application the menu has become. Our industry is fortunate to have some very bright people willing to push the integration envelope, transforming a sales tool into a commerce hub.

If you missed Part 1 of P&A’s connectivity series, click here for “Connecting Providers, Administrators and Dealers: Administration Systems”

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Connecting Providers, Administrators and Dealers: Administration Systems – Part 1 of 4

Over the next five months, P&A Magazine will be profiling companies within our industry that connect providers, administrators, and dealers. We will be discussing where we are today, what tomorrow looks like, and what it means for the players.

The reality of interconnectivity between a dealer’s DMS system and those that provide goods and services to the dealership has been slow to evolve. When PC’s began to replace the old “green screens” in dealerships around the turn of the century, the genesis of the current revolution began.

Surprisingly, it was not the dealers that demanded greater efficiencies and better processes, but rather software developers that saw the true value of the dealer’s data and the potential for the efficiencies they could create, even when the dealer was slow to recognize this fact.

The software solutions and integration strategies becoming ubiquitous today in dealerships are not the result of truly unique or groundbreaking cutting-edge technologies. It is simply our industry catching up to the benefits enjoyed by other industries.

Part I: The Connected Industry

For the first installment of our multi-part series, P&A will be profiling two companies that are at the forefront of integrating providers and administrators with dealerships: F&I Administration Solutions (F&I Admin) and StoneEagle. We will be exploring the internal processes they support, how they connect to dealers and third parties, and what the future looks like as the adoption of integrated technology evolves in our industry.

Connecting Internal Processes

The reason why we need to start by looking at internal processes is because the end result, at some point in the near future, needs to be a totally paperless end-to-end transaction process. Eliminating single points of failure (errors) and tedium in the back offices throughout the work flow is critical.

Why? Incorrectly rate a contract and it costs someone either money, customer satisfaction, or a lost sale (and possibly all three). Dealers that slow-walk remittance hold up agent commissions and harm the agent’s cash flow. The whole claims process, from origination, to payment, to inspections, to looking up parts costs, needs to be smoothly integrated, or again, it costs time and money. On the flip side, creating administration efficiencies for dealers and providers can save money, either through allowing volume growth without the need to hire, or by redeploying/reducing head count.

The good news is, innovators like F&I Admin and StoneEagle are diligently working towards that ideal paperless work flow, where efficiencies can be measured in cold hard cash for the participants.

Both F&I Admin and StoneEagle provide comprehensive end-to-end solutions supporting the administration of VSC, GAP, pre-paid maintenance, etch, tire and wheel, and other F&I products. Nothing other than a computer with internet access is required of their customers. Users benefit from extensive security, reliable data processing, and intuitive reporting.

F&I Admin’s SCS Auto platform is a fully integrated, web-based solution consisting of modules that are specifically designed to support each F&I product. StoneEagle’s SEcureARCH system boasts minimal maintenance and support costs and multiple hosting solutions. Both companies’ products support claims processing and automated claims payment, interfaces for dealers and agents, integration to third party applications through web services (more on this later), and integration to the leading DMS providers.

Connecting Dealers and Third Parties

Connecting providers and administrators with dealers through the aforementioned integration is the key ingredient that makes the whole process work. Nothing is more critical to achieving the end-to-end paperless transaction process than integration across a myriad of disparate platforms. Let’s explore the current state of integration as it exists today.

F&I Admin is currently connected to 19 different selling systems, all of whom are connected through the same standard interface. This means that any change in the admin system will immediately be reflected through the third party software. This way, rates and contracts are managed in the administration system ONLY, so no additional administration is necessary to support the next third-party selling system. The benefit? Agents can focus on selling product, not software, because, for the most part, a dealer is connected electronically no matter what system they are using.

Incorporating the dealership into the integration mix is F&I Admin’s “DAP” dealer administration system. DAP is branded as the administrator’s website and is where the dealer can get and save quotes, print contracts, get reports, do online remittance, and more. All of this is directly connected to the administration system so the administrator will never have to enter something again that the dealer has already entered.

Of course, DAP is integrated with the dealer’s DMS. Double data entry at the dealership level is significantly reduced when the business manager does not have to re-enter information already contained in another system. Multi-level integration like this will allow more time for selling product by relieving the overburdened business managers from onerous clerical duties. Even more important, many of these duties are performed while the customer is taking delivery and everyone is pressed for time. Eliminating mistakes here and allowing the process to flow smoothly will make a more stress free and enjoyable experience for all.

StoneEagle provides a scalable web service called SEcureIntegration to F&I menu providers, bi-weekly payment providers, third party administrators, aftermarket product providers, OEMS, and additional approved third party service providers. SEcureIntegration enables a real-time bridge between these applications and the DMS to eliminate errors associated with duplicate data entry and speeds up processes within the F&I department.

Creating efficiencies by connecting to third party dealer systems is a common theme with both companies, and significant success has been achieved with Menus and DMS systems, but what about other connectivity options? There are also credit card processing solutions for claims, VIN decoding systems, and systems that provide parts identification and values, among others. These third party connections must be facilitated for our goal of an end-to-end solution to reach fruition. As you will see below, companies are already experiencing the benefits of integration from these areas too, and are saving money.

F&I Admin is connected to the Wright Express credit card processing system to streamline the claims payment process. Payments are initiated within the claim screen, a unique card number is generated by Wright Express, and a fax is sent to the dealer. The dealer then processes the credit card and Wright Express returns a file each night of the payments made. F&I Admin’s system automatically reconciles the payments made within the system and each morning the provider only needs to follow up on exceptions, of which there are generally none.

F&I Admin expects to process over $50 million in claims through their system this year. Each of their VSC customers has redeployed on average two people because of the efficiencies this represents – clearly offering absolute and direct savings to its customers.

Further supporting the contracting and claims process, both F&I Admin and StoneEagle are connected to VIN decoding systems and parts identification and value data bases. One development still on the horizon is to get deeper data from the VIN decoding, allowing the provider to identify a vehicle more completely when in for a claim. If the VIN decoder can provide an even more sophisticated level of data to account for things like factory or aftermarket installed sunroofs, the claims process could be a lot sharper.

StoneEagle integrates with Warranty Inspection Services, Southwest Inspections, and Carr Appraisals. Integration to each of these providers allows SEcureARCH users to submit inspection requests, receive alerts when inspections have been completed, and receive links to completed reports all directly from within the SEcureARCH system.

Integrated Technology and the Future

If there is a theme among the “integrators” that will connect providers, administrators, and dealers as well as third parties, it is that some form of open architecture will be necessary. The interested parties need to start demanding that no limitations be placed on the ability to share, manipulate, and manage data. This will only be accomplished when there is a common “language” integrators and software developers can work from.

We are beginning to see the benefits of common platforms with open architecture. F&I Admin, as mentioned earlier, has created a common integration point to their SCS Auto that is easy for anyone to connect to and serves all systems equally for all data requirements within the dealers’ world. StoneEagle’s SEcureARCH allows third party vendors to integrate with ARCH on their own schedule.

Looking towards that future, for F&I Admin it is facilitating the inspection ordering process and access to refurbished parts databases. Keeping the inspection ordering process, forms, data, and photographs all on one system will eliminate multiple data entry points and provide notification when the inspection is complete.

The ability to offer refurbished parts prices alongside OEM parts in one system will provide more efficiencies and cost savings to the claims process. Currently these processes are done on the phone or through individual websites that require significant data entry and time.

Another peek into the future is to provide real time data through mobile devices such as smart phones. Mobile apps, branded as the provider’s applications, delivering real time data to all constituents in the F&I industry – providers, agents, customers, and dealers – would be a very powerful tool.

F&I Admin and StoneEagle offer one very important thing that most providers, dealers and agents may not even realize. These two companies are highly adaptable and listen to their customers. They understand that changing a dealer’s process is not the best solution when asking users to take advantage of their technology. Their forte is providing turn-key solutions and customizing platforms to fit precisely the way the dealer and the provider does business.

There are processes that are still not connected to third party providers and with some that are connected, there is still so much more that can be done. For example, inspection companies, refurbished and OEM part providers, DMS providers and deeper VIN decoding could all be better integrated within the industry. This is where we as an industry need to encourage, persuade, cajole, and dare we say demand that the integrated work flow becomes a reality. Our future profits and survival in a super competitive environment leave little room for argument.

Our industry is racing ahead toward a truly integrated and connected environment where data is accessible and can be manipulated across multiple platforms with ease. This will free up our human resources to spend more time taking care of our customers, innovating, generating more cash flow, and ultimately increasing the profitability of our organizations.

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