Channel | Industry

The Great Debate: Recording in F&I

Industry veterans, Patty Covington, Brian Crisorio, Ron Reahard, Michael Tuno, and Steve Veldkamp weigh in on the pros and cons of recording in the finance office.
By: Staff Writer

The Great Debate: Recording in F&I

We’ve all heard it before. “This transaction may be recorded for quality and training purposes.” In fact, we hear it so often; many of us don’t even give it a second thought. But those words are not the norm in many F&I offices. In fact, there are vastly different schools of thought on the use of video recording in F&I. Some companies in the F&I space are strong advocates, while others think it is too risky; they say there are better methods of training and demonstrating transparency in the F&I office. One thing is certain, however, companies on both sides of the fence have strongly held opinions on the subject.

Many of our readers at AE Magazine have inquired about the pros and cons of recording in F&I. In response, we sought out several industry veterans – agents, an attorney, a trainer, and a sales manager – to hear what they had to say on the subject. The staunch supporters swear by the training benefits, legal protection and increased revenue that recording provides, while others say the benefits just aren’t worth the risks.

The Benefits of Recording

Steve Veldkamp, district sales manager at Michigan-based Great Lakes Companies, has employed video recording in the F&I office since 2006. He believes it is “the most powerful training tool available,” and says it promotes compliance, increases PVR and takes training to the next level. Veldkamp also credits recording with putting customers at ease by showing them a dealership is transparent enough to record transactions. According to Veldkamp, recording can be useful in eliminating the “he said/she said” if a customer returns to the dealer, after the sale, believing they were promised something they didn’t receive. “Offering to review the transaction with a customer can quickly calm what may have been a volatile situation,” says Veldkamp.

Ron Reahard, president at Reahard & Associates, Inc., based in Tennessee, is also a big proponent of recording transactions. “It protects the dealer, protects the F&I manager, and protects the customer. And we almost always see an immediate improvement in both performance and customer satisfaction.” In addition, Reahard emphasizes its usefulness as a training tool for determining “any part of the F&I process not adding value for the customer, and thus not enabling the F&I manager to maximize their product sales.”

For those still not convinced, Veldkamp adds, “The fear of customer attorneys using the videos against the dealership is unfounded. Matt Nowicki, vice president of retail software for IAS Smart Dealer Products says that since 2001, SmartEye has captured over 3.5 million transactions. In that time, only two transactions were ever subpoenaed. In both cases, the dealership was exonerated. In our society today, every financial transaction, from bank deposits to buying groceries or even a 25-cent pack of gum is captured on video. It only makes sense that the closing of a car deal would also be recorded.”

Recorders Beware

Virginia attorney, Patty Covington, is a partner at Hudson Cook, LLP. Her legal practice focuses on all areas of consumer financial services law, including auto finance, privacy, data security and information management, electronic commerce, marketing, and matters involving the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). She was the president of the National Association of Dealer Counsel (NADC) for more than a decade and has served as deputy general counsel for CarMax. She is a sought after advisor for both motor vehicle dealers and service providers.

Covington says video recording “cuts both ways.” She cautions dealers who are considering the process of video recording in the F&I office to do so “with his or her eyes wide open.” She says recording “is not a failsafe strategy or tactic that can be used in response to compliance challenges;” in fact, she says relying on recordings in the instance where a transaction is challenged, rarely works out for the dealer. She urges dealers to “consider the reality that their employees may not always be compliant. Recordings could capture employees violating a law or regulation, instead of complying with it.”

Covington says her top recommendation for dealers is to have a compliance program in place. “The new term being slung around is a Compliance Management System, or a CMS. A CMS is a compliance program on steroids. It’s on steroids because there are three parts to it. One of those other parts is an ‘audit’ function. The audit function is the part that goes back over the dealer’s actual practices to make sure they are doing what they say they are doing, and also what the law requires them to do. Dealers have not traditionally considered audit to be a part of their compliance programs. Nor have dealers always included a monitoring component in their compliance programs.  These are two additional components of a CMS that make the compliance program actually work.” She says, “It’s no longer a ‘best’ practice to have a compliance program, but a ‘gotta-do’ practice in this current, highly aggressive, legal environment.”

“You can have all kinds of written policies and procedures, fancy documents and training – but if you’re not doing what you say you’re doing, you’re going to get in trouble.” That’s why Covington says she has been using the term CMS, “because it makes for a better, more complete and definitely more effective compliance program.”

Brian Crisorio, is vice president of marketing at Clearwater, Florida-based United Development Systems (UDS). He says UDS does not promote the video recording of F&I transactions for several reasons. “We believe that it is better to focus on hiring quality personnel, providing consistent training and development to promote a compliant culture that attains results, and implementing processes to stay the course. Doing these things effectively offers a better chance at success ­– without the cons that come with video recording.”

Crisorio says video recordings add an unnecessary burden to an F&I office that is already buried in responsibilities. “Understanding state-specific recording laws, proper notification to the customer, remembering to hit the record button, the time it takes to properly evaluate and train from the recording archives, and the fact that an innocent mistake could be used against the dealership (not to mention the intentional misconduct), are all reasons against recording. The alternative is to manage the F&I office into a high-performing department by doing business the right way. Proper training, policies, and processes all work towards that.”

Michael Tuno, president, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania-based World Class Dealer Services, says you should run from anyone recommending the use of video recording in the F&I office. “It’s evidence, hard evidence, if a mistake is made.” There are many other downsides to recording, according to Tuno, “Who has time to properly review the recordings? Most dealers are not that savvy with technology and they don’t have the means to keep up with all it requires. Nor do they have a good command of the legal environment. There are other better means of documenting what goes on in the F&I office; ways that don’t put you in a worse position. Videos are hard to dispute what was said.”

“There are other forms of transparency and disclosure you can use to make sure customers understand everything in the transaction,” says Tuno. Instead of recording, he uses what he describes as a “robust menu system” that tracks every keystroke and documents every product that was offered and the time the F&I manager spent explaining each option. At the end of the transaction, the menu system compiles all the information on the transaction, time and date stamps it, and the customer and the F&I manager sign off on all of it. It is then stored on a secure server. A paper copy of the transaction is also placed in every deal jacket. “We have had situations where a customer shows up with an attorney after the sale saying (for example) they had a bunch of damage from potholes and they were never offered tire and wheel coverage, claiming the dealer was anti-selecting people. Once we show their attorney our record of the transaction, they literally leave.”

Steps for Effective Recording

 Veldkamp suggests the following six steps for establishing a successful video recording process in the F&I office:

  • Record every transaction – If recording is used, there will always be many reasons and excuses for not recording ALL transactions. Picking and choosing transactions to record creates a compliance issue. Any time a dealership has one process for one customer and another process for the next, it’s putting itself at risk of a discrimination suit. Dealer support is crucial to making sure every transaction is captured. Don’t employ video with a client who is not completely on board, because it will result in more time spent debating which deals to record than actually training. I recommend offering some type of incentive for employees who go along with it — or a penalty for those who don’t.

Producers who know they’re being watched are more likely to abide by the 300% rule: Present 100% of the products to 100% of the people 100% of the time. For that reason alone, it only makes sense to record every single transaction.

  • Review the videos – I recommend for agents to watch at least four transactions per F&I manager, per month. If that’s too much to handle, your provider can probably provide a professional reviewing service. Your agent may also have someone at their agency who can review the recordings. That individual must have rudimentary knowledge of the F&I process to ensure that there is no disconnect between what the viewer and the agent are trying to accomplish.
  • Establish a grading system – This is the most important step. It must reflect everything you want to see accomplished during each transaction. I use a review sheet that includes twelve items broken into two categories: sales and compliance.

The grading system also should reflect your store’s training system. For example, I train F&I producers to establish the need for each product before showing how the product solves that need. So my grading system follows what we think makes for the best presentations. After reviewing the videos, scores can be compiled and stored in a database for performance-tracking purposes.

  • Provide feedback – Producers should see the review sheet once it’s completed by the agent. Both the producer and the dealer should sign off on the feedback sheet. Watch the recordings with each producer, so the trainee can see what he or she did right, as well as areas where the F&I manager can improve. Offer praise before making any recommendations.
  • Hold review meetings – Do this at least once a month for clients that have more than one producer. The goal of these monthly meetings is to share what’s working with the rest of the organization. Bring all the producers together to watch transactions from the previous month. These recordings should always be highlights, never a blooper real. You want to praise the producers in public and correct them in private. It should last no more than an hour, with time allotted for a review of at least five successful transactions.
  • Use the videos – Use the videos in training. Use them to share new closes and compliance initiatives. Video-recording transactions can be a powerful tool for increasing PRU, but you must be committed to it and you must support your agent’s efforts for it to be a success.

If a dealer still wants to record F&I transactions, despite Covington’s warnings of the risks, she offers a few recommendations:

  • Use it for quality assurance purposes (legal and business).
  • Review the tapes, or a random sample of them, frequently, very frequently.
  • Identify legal and business issues/violations.
  • Fix the issues/violations both internally in the dealership and externally with the customer.
  • Destroy the tapes after the quality assurance/monitoring/auditing has occurred, according to the dealer’s written document retention policy.

Reahard suggests imposing a requirement that all recording is mandatory, if it is going to be used successfully. “There has to be severe consequences if any F&I manager regularly fails to record their transactions. At least two to four transactions need to be reviewed by the GM and/or an independent company to identify any process, procedure, performance, compliance, or customer satisfaction concerns.  Finally, videos where an F&I manager did a good job discovering the customers needs, engaging the customer in the F&I process, using a visual aid or a close to overcome their concerns should be shown to the other F&I managers to help them improve their skills.”

Storage

Whether they record or not, all of our experts agree – limiting the time recordings are stored is imperative and can eliminate many of the dealer’s legal concerns.

Reahard says keeping recordings on a secure server for 60 days is “more than sufficient for training and customer satisfaction purposes. It also allows sufficient time to review the transaction whenever there is a misunderstanding to determine if there was any misrepresentation on the part of either party.”

Covington says dealers need a document destruction policy in place that covers the videotapes. “The videotapes should be destroyed, truly destroyed, after they have served the quality assurance, monitoring, auditing purpose, subject, of course, to any federal and/or state document retention requirements. That way there isn’t a big tall pile of videotapes that can be used against the dealer.” To ensure recordings are truly destroyed, she recommends seeking out the expertise of an IT professional.

What to Record?

If recording is being used in F&I, at what point in the transaction should the recording start?

Reahard and Veldekamp both say the camera should be turned on when the F&I manager goes and gets the customer, so that the entire transaction is recorded, from the moment the customer walks into the F&I office, until they moment they leave.  “You never want an F&I manager to be able to only record what they want you to see,” says Reahard.

Covington says how much of the transaction is recorded depends on how the dealer is going to use the recording. “If the dealer is using it for quality assurance, monitoring and audit purposes, then it should be recorded from the moment the customer walks in the door.”

In Conclusion

Whether you employ other means of training and monitoring in the F&I office or you record every transaction, one thing is clear; those who do use recording can’t stop singing its praises, and those who don’t, feel just as strongly in their reason for not recording transactions.

“Every professional monitors their performance,” says Reahard, “Professional athletes watch the game film to see how they can improve. That’s what separates amateurs from professionals. Professionals use every tool at their disposal to improve their skills. And there is no better way to see what you’re doing well, and what you need to do better, than to watch yourself on video.”

Tuno couldn’t disagree more. He says recording is “nowhere on the spectrum of best practices.” He likens it to opening up Pandora’s box of all that was said. “There are simply better formats for accomplishing what video was designed to do that don’t involve the risk.”

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