Dignity’s figures are out. All going swimmingly, obviously. Mike McCollum looking good on his salary of £50K a week.
Find the report here.
Dignity has just published its results for the 52 week period ending 25 December 2015. You can study them here.
Headline figures for readers of this blog are:
Profit per funeral: £1045 – a margin of almost 42%. This was in spite of the fact that: “Approximately 24 per cent of the funerals performed in the year (2014: 23 per cent) had previously been prearranged. This proportion is anticipated to continue to increase over time. Whilst these funerals represent substantially lower average revenue per funeral, their incremental nature means they are a positive contributor to the Group’s performance.”
Profit per cremation: £600 – a margin of nearly 63%
Our thanks to our number-cruncher for doing the math. The figures above are calculated by dividing underlying operating profit by the number of funerals/cremations carried out. The GFG team congratulates Dignity plc on what appears to be another robust performance.
Doorstep scammers, con artists, cold callers, internet swindlers, rogue traders – these are just some of the predators that old people must learn to defend themselves against today. Besieged on all sides, they are. Who can they trust? Charities, surely?
Not Age UK for starters, love. Oh no, not them. Them least of all.
Yep, it’s all over today’s news. Age UK is revealed to have stitched a deal last year with energy giant E.ON to flog a special gas-and-leccy rate to 152,000 credulous coffin-dodgers. The special rate, Age UK promised them, would “save energy and money”. Emboldened by this endorsement, no fewer than 152,000 people signed up. They paid an average annual charge of £1,049. This was on average £245 more than E.ON’s cheapest rate in 2015. £245!
Who cares? There’s no fool like an old fool. Age UK chuckled all the way to the bank having trousered £6 million, some which it may even spend on updating its webpage Scams and fraud and include a section entitled Charity jackals.
The revelation certainly didn’t make Age UK think twice about the brass-necked prominence it is giving on its home page to its Cold Homes Week campaign: Age UK is calling on the Government to reform its energy efficiency programmes. Ha!
What the media failed to do in reporting this story was to record that Age UK has previous convictions in the matter of relieving its client group of its slender pensions. It is a serial offender.
* In 2011 Age UK issued a grovelling press release in the wake of a FSA investigation into HSBC and its subsidiary Nursing Home Fees Agency (NHFA), with which Age UK, in its own words, “had a relationship”. Between 2005-10 NHFA missold bonds to cover long-term care costs. Clients, average age 83, were recommended to invest for 5 years — longer than they were expected to live. Under the circumstances, an ISA or a higher fixed interest rate savings account would have been a much better option. The FSA fined HSBC £10.5 million, and NHFA faced a compensation bill for £29.3 million.
*In 2013 The Times ran a story which began Britain’s largest charity for the elderly has been accused of short-changing pensioners by selling “peace of mind” funeral plans that leave bereaved families footing unexpected bills of hundreds of pounds. The piece concluded with this sorry story:
Ros Rhodes, 70, was shocked to receive a bill for more than £1,000 for her mother’s funeral, as she believed all costs would be covered by an Age UK funeral plan. Her 89-year-old mother had spent almost £3,000 on the plan 18 months previously.
The extra costs were even more perplexing because the undertaker’s account showed that he had been paid only £2,169 from Age UK — £571 less than her mother had paid the charity.
She says: “I have telephoned and written to Age UK to try and find why there was such a difference in the money paid in and the money paid out. I have been fobbed off with trust funds, expenses, inflation and other such terms that are of no real answer.”
After Age UK was contacted by Times Money it sent Mrs Rhodes a cheque for £750 as a goodwill gesture. The charity said that there had been a mix up with the bill and Mrs Rhodes should not have been charged so much, and also that she should not have seen the breakdown of the funeral director’s expenses. But Ros says had she not seen the breakdown, she would have never have queried the bill.
It is difficult for us to calculate how much money Age UK has minted from flogging Dignity funeral plans. When ITV were making that undercover investigation in 2012 they reckoned it was millions. That Age UK is ‘in a relationship’ with one of the most expensive funeral providers in the UK is nothing short of scandalous.
When the GFG started blogging all of 6 years ago, an appalled and furious undertaker rang his solicitor and instructed him to take out an injunction requiring us to cease and desist.
The solicitor told him it didn’t quite work like that; had the GFG libelled him?
No we hadn’t. But we were doing something no one had ever done before. We were disturbing the peace, talking publicly about the funerals business on a blog, asking impertinent questions. New. Shocking. Damnable. We weren’t the national treasure back then that we are today.
It’s the internet wot done it, the greatest change agent that consumer advocacy has ever seen. It informs bereaved people and enables them to shop around. Are they all going to rush to the cheapest? Not all by any means, they’re going to buy the best they can for what they can afford. How many people use TripAdvisor to find the cheapest? Price is important of course; funeral shoppers are extremely sensitive to being ripped off. But what they’re looking for above all is value for money, and that means hunting down the best possible personal service available in their price bracket.
Ironically, that’s often one of the cheapest.
Reputation testifies to quality of service, which is why undertakers prize it so highly. But it’s not enough any more for them to rely on word-of-mouth because funeral shoppers can now research more effectively on the internet where customer reviews are reckoned more reliable than haphazard hearsay. They like to make their minds up for themselves, not rely on the heads-up of a neighbour or the testimonials on an undertaker’s website. Everyone has those, so they tell you nothing.
The internet is the new maker and breaker of reputations.
The best undertakers have nothing to lose and everything to gain by embracing this. AW Lymn publishes all essential information online, including prices. It also publishes, monthly, its client feedback. It is alone in doing this.
At present, the nationwide consumer reviews site is Funeral Advisor, which is gaining traction not because it has a marketing budget of millions but because funeral shoppers need it to work and are therefore making it work. It is credible because it is sponsored by the National Death Centre. It doesn’t carry much info on prices, though.
Which is why there’s room in the market for a price comparison site and, as it happens, we now have one: FuneralChoice. I know the people behind it. They are everything you’d hope. FuneralChoice is a labour of love which hopes to find a way of becoming sustainable by proving its value.
FuneralChoice’s’s coverage is nowhere near national, but it’s spreading. I decided to look in London and typed in a postcode: SW1P 1SB. This is what I got. Click the pic to bring it up to full size.
Effective, isn’t it? I decided to go with Leverton’s. It’s not the cheapest, but look, it’s recommended by the Good Funeral Guide, which is notoriously hard to please. As for Evershed’s, the cheapest, I wonder if its clients love it? I can’t tell because FuneralChoice doesn’t enable client reviews and Evershed’s hasn’t asked us to accredit it. Shame, that.
The ideal is a website which enables browsers to determine value by measuring price and other info against customer satisfaction — a capital-intensive instrument calling for big databases and complex software.
On the horizon there is RightChoice, a sophisticated instrument which is in the final stages of development. Definitely one to watch.
Does this spell the end for the GFG and NDC as consumer resources? Far from it. People buy a funeral far less frequently than they eat out, go on holiday and buy a car. Their knowledge of the market is close to zero. So there will always be a need for guidance by informed observers of the industry. Our knowledge and expertise are indispensable.
Our relationship with price comparison websites will be symbiotic. Our reviews of undertakers we recommend greatly enhance the info they carry. They in return publicise us and our recommended funeral directors.
It all helps put customers in the driving seat where they belong.
Capital expenditure at foot of page
And today’s difference is that between Dignity plc’s capital expenditure in the 52 week period ending 27 Dec 2013 — £12.4 million…
and capital expenditure in the 52 week period ending 27 Dec 2013 — £1.4 million
This saving of £11 million is huge in the context of declared quarterly profits of £25.4 million. Had Dignity maintained capital expenditure at 2013 levels, profits would be down by… 40 per cent?
You can read the full document here.
Your interpretation of the figures would be very welcome.
Click the pic to bring it up to full size
Yesterday we let the interns loose on the blog and they impulsively passed on an appeal to readers to write to Mike McCollum of Dignity plc and ask him to do his bit in the fight against funeral poverty.
What they conspicuously failed to do was identify a single reason why Mr McCollum and Dignity should feel any moral obligation whatever to alleviate funeral poverty. Is anyone clamouring for Harrods to eliminate the need for food banks? Or for Waterstones to supply the children of needy families with Penguin Classics?
Sure, a great many people feel the big six energy companies should be doing more to alleviate fuel poverty, but this goes with a conviction that the energy companies overcharge because the energy market is not free, open and competitive. The funerals market, on the contrary, is free to the point of free-for-all. Dignity sells its funerals at a premium. Is a Dignity funeral the MacBook Air of funerals? Is it a high value product? Don’t answer, it’s irrelevant. People buy them, end of. They can buy cheaper if they shop around.
While Dignity ploughs its high-end furrow to the delight of its shareholders and the enrichment of Mr McCollum — that’s capitalism — there are hundreds of undertakers working with people who struggle to scrape together the price of a funeral. These undertakers are performing what is essentially a social service. They are decent folk who care, and they are beggaring themselves with tiny margins and bad debt. They’ve been bearing much of the brunt of the way things are since the shrinking of the Funeral Payment. By doing so, they’ve arguably been doing no more than postponing a crisis at their own expense, putting off the day when, as a country, we are compelled finally to sit down and sort this problem.
Because, we remind ourselves, the Funeral Payment was brought in (by a Tory government) to enable everyone to buy a decent funeral. We have such a long history in this country of state subsidy for funerals that it has become an automatic expectation — a right. If that has now changed, then the government has a duty to register the change and explain it. You can’t just pull away a prop and expect people with no money to carry on as if it were still there.
Nor can you expect undertakers to perform a commercial service at a price which prevents them from making a living commensurate with the value of that service. Good undertakers offer a high value service and deserve to make a decent living. It is folly and distraction to expect them to take one for the poor. If Dignity lowers its prices, does that make its funerals affordable? No. If it subsidises low-cost funerals at the expense of its wealthier customers, is that fair? Of course not. The cheapest undertaker in the country cannot provide an affordable funeral for someone who qualifies for a Funeral Payment. So while it may give passing pleasure to have a go at the fatcats, let’s not mistake righteous indignation for impotent fury.
And while we’re about it, let’s stop wilfully missing the point. Two factors which inflate the cost of funerals can easily be addressed. First, cremation can be carried out much more efficiently. Second, we can start re-using burial plots. To do so wouldn’t make funerals affordable for all, but it would make a decent-sized dent. Squeezing the undertakers, on the other hand, won’t make a blind bit of difference. There are enough already working for next to nothing.
The root cause of funeral poverty is political. The impact is social. The solution needs to be radical and will not be advanced by waving a bleeding stump at Mr McCollum.
Church Action on Poverty and Quaker Social Action are holding an event which will bring together charities, communities, policy-makers and the funeral industry to seek joint solutions to the growing problem of funeral poverty.
They say: “It’s really important that all sides are represented at the event and participate in finding solutions. Unfortunately, Dignity Funerals – the largest corporate owner of funeral directors in the UK – has declined every invitation sent to them.”
They’d like you to email Mike McCollum, the ceo of what is probably Britain’s most expensive undertaker, and tell him he really ought to get down there.
Come on, Mike, make an effort and try and look good. The GFG’ll be there. We can talk about what to do with your share options.
Please send Mike an automatic email and explain why it’s so important he attends this event and gets involved in finding solutions to funeral poverty. Click here.
NOTE to the uninitiated: a LTIP is a long-term incentive plan. The above is the third coponent of their total package and is not awarded automatically
“Every private equity company in the country has been in touch to try and buy its funerals operation.” Lord Myners
In recent times the Co-op’s reputation has been kept afloat by sentiment fostered by its of-the-people-for-the-people origins, fortified by ‘ethical values’ and holier-than-thou policies on fair trade. Fondness has blinded people who should know better to its executive infirmities. Scarcely a day goes by without the announcement of fresh horror at the top. And the bad news stories about Funeralcare just keep on coming:
With a £2 billion loss behind it for the last year alone, and strife at the top, the viability of the ‘Group’ is now in doubt.
The GFG has earned a fair amount of hate mail for the way it has campaigned against Co-op Funeralcare. We’ve done so more in sorrow than in anger. No need for a detailed analysis of where it all went wrong, the bare bones tell the story.
Funeralcare offers a very poor deal to funeral shoppers — something all the sentimentalists who’ve tenaciously viewed the Co-op through hogwash-smeared spectacles must now acknowledge. At a time of funeral poverty and ever-rising costs its social purpose seems to have gone AWOL, the pursuit of profit remaining its sole purpose.
The predicament of the Co-op Group is dire. If things don’t get better the Co-op’s banks will have no option but to seize its assets and sell them off. Funeralcare remains vulnerable therefore to circling venture capitalists (see quote above). Under new management it could relaunch as a corporate predator — a dreadful legacy.
And a harsh but necessary lesson for all those sentimentalists who suppose that a co-op is intrinsically better equipped to do business than a plc. The lesson we must hope they have learned is that there is no point in trading as a co-operative if you can’t get a better deal for your customers. If you can’t do that, your co-operative is a failure no matter what ethical values it signs up to.
The good news is that if any activity lends itself to a social enterprise business model it is the provision of funerals. No other model can compete. One of these days someone is going to get it right (and Dignity is going to go to the wall). Whether it’s member-owned or worker-owned, it’ll do more than walk like a co-op and talk like a co-op, it’ll act like a co-op.
FOOTNOTE: The GFG does not seek to make a name for itself by naffing people off. We exist to look for good news wherever we can find it and put bereaved people in touch with the best suppliers of goods and services. We like the co-operative model so much we even developed our own — here.