Jonathan Jordan, director of retail strategy for F&I product provider JM&A Group, said his company launched its so-called virtual F&I offering in 2018. He told Automotive News in late January the company had logged more than 23,000 transactions where the F&I manager and customer had never actually met — with about 20,000 occurring in the past two years.

The video chat feature at first focused on the notion “customers don’t want to come to the dealership,” Jordan said. But this hypothesis was found to be incorrect, he said.

“What I like to say is ‘it’s not that they don’t want to come into the dealership, it’s that they don’t want a bad process,’ ” he said.

In fact, JM&A has since introduced the remote conferences into situations where the consumer is physically in the dealership. It realized it could use the technology to solve the problem of customers having to wait for the F&I office, he said. If the customer is one of three deals closed at the same time at a dealership with a single finance manager, that consumer might have to wait an hour or more to complete the transaction, he said.

But if a finance manager at another location in the group was free at that time, he or she could connect remotely with the waiting customer.

Jordan said remote F&I could also serve a dealership with too much work for a single manager but not enough volume for two. Historically, the facility would need to rely on solutions such as overstaffing the F&I office or tapping a less qualified person to handle the overflow.

“Overwhelmingly, most of our virtual F&I transactions are when the customer’s actually in the dealership,” Jordan said.

He said the most common use case is to “fill gaps” such as a “half-a-person volume” or an employee on vacation.

Kevin Hull, director of sales and training, said with a proper turnover from sales, customers don’t mind using remote F&I.

“It’s still a person-to-person interaction,” Jordan said. “Most customers think it’s kind of cool.”

Remote F&I benefits could extend beyond the logistical. One dealership with a hybrid staffing model — sales personnel also handle F&I on a deal — uses it to train lower-performing employees, Hull said. The staffers in the bottom 20 percent sit in and watch as a remote finance manager presents the menu to the consumer in JM&A’s remote F&I setup.

“So now they’re reinforcing their learning,” Hull said.

After this 90-day training ends, the employees tend to score out of the bottom fifth.

He said this training format doesn’t come off as odd. The message, Hull said, is “We’re just trying to provide the best experience.”