An Interview with John Peterson
An Interview with John Peterson

John Peterson, president, The Oak Group, believes the years have been kind to F&I as a whole. He joined the company in 1977, and the rising level of professionalism is something he is very proud of for the industry. “The caliber of F&I professional today is higher than it’s ever been,” he noted. “It has matured into a professional office and become a very important part of the whole dealership.”

And it’s not just the F&I office that has seen that rise, he said, but providers and agents have also risen to the challenge. Competition, he noted, has forced everyone in the industry to get better at what they do.

That doesn’t mean, however, that there aren’t bumps in the road. Neither he nor the providers can promise that there will never be problems with a product, but, he said, they can promise both dealers and consumers that when problems do crop up they will be solved quickly. That’s what sets today’s F&I professional apart. “F&I is there to minimize problems, and solve them as quickly and amicably as possible when they occur, because you can’t promise no problems.”

Finding a Niche

Training, Peterson said, is one of the key factors that The Oak Group uses to set itself apart. “Training is one of the most important things we do,” he noted. “Anybody can drop brochures off at a dealership; we don’t consider getting someone supplies of ultimate importance. Teaching them ways to use those supplies, how to sell them, how to handle claims, how to be a good finance manager, those are important. We are very proud of our training skills.”

In addition to training, the company offers a range of products, from service contracts to GAP to appearance protection, but Peterson noted that one of the largest categories is a certified preowned/lifetime warranty program for both new and used vehicles. For that, the dealer certifies the vehicle with an inspection, and then The Oak Group administers the rest of the program for them, including claims, accounting, and everything in between.

As to which products they offer to clients, that he noted, is often left up to the dealers. The Oak Group uses a consultative approach, he said, going in and talking to the dealer to get a feel for what their specific needs are before deciding on a product package. “We go in and talk to them first,” he said. “We really don’t have any special knowledge of what a dealer will need until we talk to them. I feel that gives us an advantage over other people. We have a very strong product lineup, so once we hear their needs and wants, we can figure out what will fit those needs and wants best. We are very dealer driven.”

Getting into that product mix, however, can be challenging for a provider. “Providers are always asking to work with us, and we respect them for that,” Peterson noted. “But we can only offer so many products. If something new came up, we’ll look at it to see if it’s worthwhile and something customers should have.”

And that has happened often over the years. When he first started with The Oak Group, there was only one product – credit insurance. Service contracts and GAP followed a few years later, and today that mix has expanded even further. He noted that The Oak Group tries to keep its product mix current, so F&I managers will have the products customers are looking to buy right now filling out their menus. He sees it as keeping the value proposition for F&I at a high level.

Looking Ahead

So what does Peterson believe is the future of F&I? Overall, he noted, there will be a continued push toward even greater professionalism and, he hopes, more of a recognition from consumers as to the value of the F&I office. To do this, he sees the need for continued training across the board, for not just products, but also for bringing in the younger generation and educating them on how to properly connect with and sell to dealers, as agents, or to consumers, as F&I managers.

“F&I is a very important office, the heart of the front end of a dealership, and we have to keep striving to make it more professional,” Peterson said. “Giving confidence in that office is a very important part of the equation. It is the business office in the dealership; that’s where transactions are finalized, and that’s extremely important. It’s the last person the customer meets with before meeting their car, and from what it came from 30 years ago to what it is today, it’s a world of difference.”