The Big Menu Debate

Is the F&I Menu a Sales or Compliance Tool?

Article from F&I and Showroom Magazine – September 2018

I was recently asked whether a menu is a sales or compliance tool. In typical “Gil-speak,” as most people who know me call it, I answered “Yes,” meaning both.

We consistently preach the mantra that a properly executed menu is the most important piece of paper or digital document in a deal file. It confirms the dealership was transparent during the sale of F&I products, providing the best defense against claims from the Dark Side.

But when Al Gore invented the internet and the F&I menu (among others who claim credit for developing the menu-selling process), the intent was to create a sales tool to help F&I managers sell F&I products using a structured approach.

Both reasons for a solid menu process continue to exist in dealerships that want to improve their F&I profit per vehicle retailed averages and their compliance quotient. Let’s take a look at why a menu is both a sales and compliance tool.

The Menu as a Sales Tool

I recently ran across a social media discussion between a software provider and an F&I pro. The software provider called the menu a compliance tool, while the F&I pro disagreed. In the course of their debate, the software provider said the following: “You mentioned that a menu is a ‘sales tool.’ Plaintiffs’ attorneys in many states love that term because then it becomes an advertising tool that falls under state law for advertising, i.e., false advertising, deceptive trade practices, and many other state-specific laws.”
The software provider went on to say: “When you advertise a product in an attempt to get a consumer to purchase it, disclosure about the product is critical.”

Had I the time to respond, I would have made the following points:

1. I couldn’t agree more that disclosure, transparency, and documentation of same is critical for the defense of any claim from the Dark Side. In fact, on Page 35 of my book, “Automotive Compliance in a Digital World,” I write: “At a minimum, the menu must demonstrate that the customer was aware of the payment with and without F&I options, term, and APR on a retail deal, products selected, products declined, and price of selected products.”

2. California and Minnesota agree with me. Both states have statutes requiring the same (except APR and declined products) on retail finance transactions.

3. How is a desking worksheet, which essentially a negotiation tool, different from a menu? Would the provider recommend to its dealer clients that they also abandon electronic pencils to sell a vehicle?

4. Is the provider aware of item “1.ii.A” of the Federales official interpretation of section 1026.2(a)(2), which is where one finds the definition of advertising under Reg Z? It states advertising does not include “oral or written communication relating to the negotiation of a specific transaction.” (Thanks, Mr. Straske.)

The Menu as a Compliance Tool

Over time, the menu has also transformed into the most important piece of paper or digital document in a deal file. Consider this:
1. The menu memorializes the sale in a form the customer signs. A compliant F&I manager closes the top of the menu with word-tracks like, “These are the terms and conditions under which you can take delivery of the vehicle today, with approved credit. Your price, down payment, trade, base payment, term, and APR are …”

2. The fully trained F&I manager then pitches the features and benefits of all available products and comes to an agreement with the customer.

3. Next comes the accept/decline page, which indicates in two columns which products the customer accepted and which they declined.

4. The prices of the accepted products are disclosed, and the final terms agree with the retail or lease agreement.

If I can lay this type of paper or digital trail out in front of a Dark Side antagonist, it is difficult to dispute that the consumer reached and agreed to an informed decision. This makes an effective menu presentation both a sales and compliance tool.

Good luck and good selling.

Gil Van Over is the executive director of Automotive Compliance Education (ACE), founder and president of gvo3 & Associates, and author of Automotive Compliance in a Digital World.