Finance and Insurance (F&I) sales can occur one of two ways: via a sales distribution strategy or a national direct sales approach. Most companies choose one or the other. But Zurich North America has taken steps to use both.
Since 1982, Zurich North America has taken a national direct sales approach to F&I sales. Now, the leading provider of Property & Casualty insurance and F&I solutions for auto dealers plans to expand its sales distribution strategy by adding select F&I agencies.
“Expansion into the F&I agency space is a game changer for us and a big win for auto dealers,” said Vince Santivasi, head of Direct Markets for Zurich North America in a press release announcing the change. “Making our products, services and training available through select agencies means more auto dealers can access Zurich’s F&I expertise and expanded capabilities to benefit the bottom line for their businesses.”
Zurich’s F&I Agency operations, led by Todd Kaminski, head of Business Development, launched in January. Kaminski is at work developing a network of select F&I agents to represent Zurich at U.S. auto dealerships. He says, “expanding the distribution channel to include F&I agents helps us get our message and products out to more dealers, so more dealers can take advantage of what we offer.”
All agents they bring on can access to Zurich’s F&I products, programs and solutions designed to meet the unique needs of auto dealerships and their customers. Besides industry-leading vehicle protection products, agent offerings will include income development and profit participation programs, as well as compliance resources to help dealers maximize profits and address a growing and changing environment.
A direct sales team of 200+ people can only go so far, Kaminski explains. “Agents have a foothold in the industry and relationships with customers they’ve worked with for a long time. Their customers encompass a quarter of the dealers around the country,” he says. “If we can give them access to our products, they can bring them to these customers.”
However, Kaminski quickly adds, “We maintain a full commitment to our direct sales force, which has had many accomplishments over the last 40 years. We’re just hitting the turbo button to expand distribution.”
Santivasi echoed this sentiment, “We remain steadfastly committed to our robust national sales force. Combining the stellar reputation and proven success of our Direct Markets sales team with the expanded reach and expertise of select F&I agencies only strengthens our opportunities and broadens our horizons.”
Seeking Quality Over Quantity
Zurich brought in Carl Grane, now head of F&I Agency, Business Development at Zurich, to spearhead the effort. His background in direct market and F&I agent sales made him a logical choice to drive the change.
The first step is to find the right agents, he says, adding there is no cap on how many agents they bring in.
“We are looking for quality over quantity,” he notes. “We seek agents with a history of success and established relationships with dealers. We also seek folks with a strong purpose and values that match Zurich’s. People who want to uphold the brand and will work to create brand awareness and brand strength.”
He adds the right agents also will possess good systems and processes.
Grane looks forward to finding the right matches. He explains agents have a very entrepreneurial mindset. “They want to go out and help dealers reach their clients and bring the best products to them,” he says. “As independent agents, they have established relationships and can lean on those relationships to help us gain a foothold there.”
Kaminski echoes this sentiment, saying, “I’ve always admired the entrepreneurial spirit of agents and look forward to working more closely with them.”
It appears agents feel the same way about working with Zurich, they add. Agents flooded Zurich North America with calls after the company announced its intent to collaborate with agents.
“We have yet to make an outbound phone call or email an agent. In fact, within minutes of the announcement on social media, I had agents asking to be the first,” Grane adds. “They have reached out to ask about our plans and how they can be a part of them.”
Making it Easy—to do Business
As with Zurich’s direct sales force, the company will back its F&I agencies with the Zurich brand, well known for its financial strength and stability, industry-leading risk management resources and customer service.
“We focus on providing things to agents that they can pass on to dealerships. Primarily, the ease of doing business,” Grane says. “We’ve been doing business with car dealers since 1922 and we have a lot of processes ironed out already, so we want to leverage those processes to make it easy for agents to do business with us.”
Zurich North America also focuses on agency support. This means when an agent calls in, they can expect a quick response.
“We’ve added more support personnel so they can serve agencies well, to help them best serve that dealer,” he adds.
Zurich North America also brings agents an easy-to-navigate claims process. “One thing that can upset a retail customer, which upsets a dealer, and upsets an agent is the inability to pay or not pay a claim,” he says. “We are proud of the claims process we have at Zurich. We can bring all this to the agency distribution model, which will benefit them and the dealers they work with.”
Products & Services
Zurich commits to helping agents grow their businesses, depend on customer relationships, meet agency objectives and continuously deliver value for their customers.
Agents get access to Zurich’s full suite of innovative F&I and vehicle protection solutions, which include vehicle service contracts for gas combustion vehicles, hybrid models and electric vehicles (EVs); key replacement products; and vehicle protection products.
The company announced in November 2021 a Zurich vehicle service contract tailored to electric vehicles. The new EV offering is available for "nearly all manufacturers," including Tesla, Rivian and Polestar. The EV-specific contract also provides roadside assistance coverage for vehicles that have run out of juice.
“Agents have expressed tremendous interest in our EV offering,” Grane says. “Many agents don't have access to this protection right now.”
The company also offers income development and profit participation programs, as well as compliance resources to help dealers maximize profits and address a growing and changing environment. Agents also gain access to marketing services and account development tools designed to sell and differentiate their agencies, grow their business and develop top value for customers.
“Our agent partners can access our income development opportunities, and profit participation or reinsurance programs for dealers, which a lot of agents cannot access on a local level,” Grane says. “We help them with all of those resources to maximize a dealer’s profits in an ever-changing environment.”
Agents gain access to compliance and risk management services and to Zurich University, which provides comprehensive compliance curriculum geared for agents at all skill levels. “They can take some or all of the courses to ensure compliance in today’s compliance-focused environment,” he says.
Zurich can trace its roots in the automotive industry to 1922. Over the last 100 years, Zurich has evolved alongside its auto dealer customers, listening to their needs and challenges, and developing solutions that help accelerate their growth and protect their legacy.
“As we celebrate 100 years of service to auto dealers, we also are focused on the next 100 years of customer service, innovation and sustainability,” added Santivasi. “Adding select agents to our distribution model to help reach more auto dealers is one way we are looking toward the future.”