Of all the products dreamt up in the secret, black and midnight minds of financial services sorcerers, the pay-now-die-later funeral plan must rank as one of the rankest. It stinks. It’s idiotic.
A funeral plan purports to benefit consumers by enabling them to buy tomorrow’s funeral at today’s prices (or thereabouts). But it wasn’t invented to benefit consumers, it was invented to benefit funeral directors. It addresses a problem peculiar to funeral directors. The problem is this: however brilliant you are (and caring, dignified, etc), there’s absolutely nothing you can do to induce more people to die, and you can’t sweet-talk them into doing it more than once.
If you want to steal a march on your competitors, therefore, you need to stitch up tomorrow’s market by bagging the biggest share you can get of it in advance — by taking tomorrow’s clients off the market today.
What a pity it ever started. As soon as one funeral firm does it, everyone else has to join in, like it or not. There’s even a formula to work to. If your sales of funeral plans are greater than 20 per cent of your sales of at-need funerals, you’re okay. Less, and you’re in doodoo.
The only way you can achieve this increased market share is by offering a product riddled with deficiencies and anomalies. In this, the age of the bespoke, personal funeral offering a high-value emotional and spiritual experience to the bereaved, you offer packages of the crudest, most mechanical sort — it’s the only way to do it. Package one: Crudholme coffin (4 handles), no viewing, hearse straight to crem. Package two: Greyfriars coffin, viewing, hearse and one. Package three — but you know all this.
The problem for funeral directors is that if you ask people to buy a funeral for themselves, they tend to buy the cheapest. What price superb personal service in all this? Zilch. Experiential value to those left behind? Irrelevant. Funeral plans offer nobbut disposal in limited and highly unimaginative cosmetic options. Its appeal is highest to the put-me-out-with-the-rubbish brigade.
The last person you should ever ask to arrange a funeral is the recipient.
Memo to the living: we mustn’t plan our funeral. All we can do is be available for it. Write your funeral wishes in pencil. Hint, don’t prescribe. Die. Butt out.
There’s a lot more that’s wrong with funeral plans, as you well know. Money hasn’t grown since 2008 and the economy isn’t recovering. Funeral costs — they double every ten years — are rising faster than RPI. As the battle for tomorrow’s market share becomes more strident and overheated, the battleground is looking more and more like Syria. Plans are coming in underfunded and funeral directors are having to bear the brunt of that (to the incidental benefit of the plan holder). Independent funeral directors are in danger of surrendering their independence, because there’s a real danger that some plan providers will, in desperation, be forced to become funeral brokers, offering work to the lowest bidder. Funeral plans aren’t regulated by the FCA.
Never before has there been so much talk of a plan provider going bust. The Ponzi-word is much muttered these days. All the while, new products are coming onto the market, and new providers, and new enhancements, like legal services. It’s getting frenzied. Is there a big bust a-brewing? Consensus says yes.
If one of the plan providers does go bust, what happens? Do the others get together to bail it out? Up to a point, perhaps. If the provider is a member of the Funeral Planning Authority, its members “shall co-operate and examine ways in which the FPA might assist in arranging delivery of the funerals of customers of the insolvent Registered Provider.” If you bought a funeral plan from the heavily despised Avalon, you don’t even get this reassurance. Avalon is not a member of the FPA.
No wonder funeral directors, for whom these plans were designed, fear and loathe the bloody things, today more than ever.
Where, you might ask, is the media now that the gelignite is beginning to sweat? Where are the expert, investigative journalists when you need them? Out to lunch.
Perhaps the best we can hope for is that there will be PPI-style megascandal and we can all start from ground zero with a consumer-focussed funeral plan.
What would a consumer focussed funeral plan look like?
Well, first of all, it would pay out to the family, not direct to a funeral director.
Second, there would be change, a sum left over, if an executor decided not to spend it all. (Whoever got change from one of today’s plans?)
Third, the rights of the dead person would assume their rightful legal value — zero — and the bereaved would be empowered. People should get the funerals they deserve, not the funerals they want. We’d get much better funerals as a result.
Fourth, the sum would not be assigned to any particular family member. If Granddad doesn’t go first because Wayne (17) drives into a tree, Wayne gets it and we top it up for Granddad — or whoever’s next.
So, fifth, the family funeral fund does not expire with the death of any particular family member, but lives on and is handed down.
What would be the best repository for a family’s funeral fund? A trust?
We don’t know, but you probably do.
Let’s not be daunted. There has to be a better way than the self-reinforcing shambles we have today.