The product that has turned every sadness into a sales-op and every funeral into a retail event?

Charles Cowling



“The ‘buy now, die later’ brand of package deal has meant a lost connection between the sale of funerals and the delivery of them, and with it the loss of face-to-face accountability between buyer and seller that used to provide reliable consumer protection. Now the recipient of the services (the bereaved) and the provider of same (the funeral director) are both perilously out of the loop of the original transaction: a deal often brokered years before, between a commissioned salesperson and the now newly deceased. In such an environment there can be little real accountability.”Thomas Lynch

Over at the Oldie magazine agony aunt Mary Kenny is talking about funeral plans: JR from South Wales warns that, even when pre-paid, there can be a hefty bill – “she was appalled by the undertaker’s charges after her husband’s recent death.”

Here at the GFG we were invited a couple of days ago by the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries IFoA) to contribute to a consultation which will “address concerns regarding actuaries’ involvement with pre-paid funeral plan trusts” and “help them develop a mandatory Actuarial Profession Standard leading to members playing a stronger role in “assessing the financial viability of such trusts and in helping trustees and plan providers ensure that they can continue to provide the funerals they are contracted to provide to planholders.”

Down in Bristol, according to the Daily Mail, “Barbara Graham, 72, was left in tears after salesmen from Golden Charter funeral planners asked her if she wanted to pre-plan her own burial. Despite telling them she was currently battling cancer, the firm called back again a few days later to try and sell her the same service. 

We’ve had quite a lot of angry reaction to this, so we asked Golden Charter to respond. This is what they said:

Golden Charter do not cold call. Any agency from whom we receive leads complies fully with all relevant legislation and codes of conduct. Despite what you may have read we did not contact her after being told she had cancer. We did not call her twice in a week. We contacted her on the 20th October. Erroneously we left that lead in the list that could be called, as she informed us that she had arrangements in place. On the 6th November we called her again at which stage she informed us of her health issues. Our representative apologised and removed her from our list.

It seems Mrs Graham took part in a third-party survey and indicated that she was interested in funeral planning. A third-party survey is a survey done by a third party research company sometimes by phone, sometimes online, sometimes on the high  street or in retail shopping centres where people are asked if they are interested in a specific range of products. If they indicate they are, and the person consents to being contacted, then these companies offer those details for a consideration to organisations who sell those services.”

It goes without saying that Golden Charter deplore the Mail’s failure to get in touch and check facts.

What do we think? We think that funeral planning is inherently a vexed business. There are people passionately for and people passionately against.

Over in the US, Thomas Lynch is passionately against:

“The aggressive pre-selling of funeral wares is a late-twentieth-century invention, driven entirely by vendor interests and the cash hunger of consolidators”

Boomers “love these things. Planned parenthood, prenuptials, prearranged funerals – always this hopeful notion that we might pre-feel the feelings … the sense that these unpredictable existential events might be turned into manageable retail experiences.”

’You don’t want to be a burden to your children, do you?’ Why shouldn’t I be a burden to my children? My children have been a burden to me. Lovely burdens, every one of them … And they will be paying for [my funeral] emotionally, financially, actually. Since they have to live with the decisions, why shouldn’t they make them? … If the burden of my death, borne honourably, makes them feel as capable as bearing the sweet burden of their births has made me feel, I can do them the favour of leaving well enough alone.”

“The pie of funeral expenses and revenues, formerly distributed among providers of goods and services, rarely provided more than single digit profits. Now the slices were many more and accordingly narrower – a commission for the contract seller, a piece for the referral and finder’s fees, something for the marketing and management of the pre-need account and, of course, a profit for the financier … These transactional expenses, which paid for neither mortuary services or merchandise, came out before the funeral director and the clergy, the florist and newspapers, the soloist and cemetery, stood in line for theirs. It was money spent on the shuffling of paper.”

“The junk-mailed, telemarketed, bargain-in-the-briefcase brand of pre-sold funeral service that has turned every sadness into a sales-op and every funeral into a retail event has not been good for the funeral, the funeral consumer or the funeral director. Nor has it been good for their [professional] associations.

“… there ought to be no profit in in pre-need transactions … the buyer, not the seller, should initiate the transaction.”

Finally, Lynch quotes Howard C Raether: “If funeral directors insist on soliciting preneed funerals, they are in fact prearranging the funeral of their profession.”

Do feel free to sound off. Passionately.

23 thoughts on “The product that has turned every sadness into a sales-op and every funeral into a retail event?

  1. Dog eats dog. Move on, leave them to it - The Good Funeral GuideThe Good Funeral Guide

    […] forward, we recommend that funeral directors subject a funeral plan to the Lynch Test before endorsing it. The Lynch Test? Yes, the Lynch Test. It goes like […]

  2. Charles Cowling
    Lucy Jane

    I think funeral plans bring a great deal of comfort to people. After they have had all of their arrangements written down and after they have handed over their money, they feel like “everything is sorted and my family don’t have to worry.”
    However, as Paul said, their arrangements and wishes (which have been added to the plan and paid for) are not legally binding. The family can change anything they like. Do the clients know about this when taking out a plan?

    As for which company to use, there are so many and trying to find the best plan to offer my clients took months of research.
    I couldn’t offer Golden Charter plans unless I signed up to be a member of SAIF (where for nearly £600 for two years membership and I wouldn’t be able to use their logo until I was “officially” invited to join after the two year probation period, I thought I wouldn’t bother).
    I then looked around at other providers and it was a minefield! If I found it hard to find a plan I would be happy to recommend to my Grandmother, how on earth would the public find one?

    I have since been asked to undertake funerals for pre-payment providers and for what the plan stated the client would get and the amount of money I would be paid for doing so, it just didn’t add up.
    I was offered £1695 for a hearse and one limousine, solid wood coffin (specified upgrade that was paid for), embalming, washing and dressing the deceased in their own clothes and unrestricted viewing times to include the weekend.
    As I hire all my cars and bearers in, and costing everything up on my price list, I would have been over £1200 worse off.
    The client would have paid over £3000 for that plan, so again, where did that money go?
    While I agree it is work I wouldn’t have got anyway because I didn’t offer that plan, funeral directors will be expected to undertake this work for very little money because the funeral won’t go ahead otherwise. This is going to be a very common problem for funeral plan providers in the near future where funeral directors will be turning them down because the cost to them is too great, and then what the providers do?

    Charles Cowling
    1. Charles Cowling
      Charles Cowling

      ” If I found it hard to find a plan I would be happy to recommend to my Grandmother, how on earth would the public find one?”

      I think you make an excellent point there, Lucy Jane. Which is why the marketing spend by plan providers is going through the roof – they have to jostle for our attention. At Golden Charter, remuneration for employees rose in the 12 month period to 31 March 2014 from £5,498,000 to £10,790,000. In the same period, directors’ pay rose from £583,000 to £1,248,000. There are 8 directors, and they include 2 funeral directors – go figure. Turnover was up from £19,529,000 to £32,591,000 and gross profit was up from £9,027,000 to £18,068,000

      The second point at issue is that if I buy a funeral plan whose value at the time of purchase is £3000, that means I want a £3K funeral, not a £2K funeral carried out by a FD who feels ripped off and sore. From the consumer point of view this is just utterly crap and unacceptable. Where did all my money go?

      The third point I’d make is that funeral directors need to consider the danger of plan providers morphing into funeral brokers, exerting the same sort of power over FDs as supermarkets do over dairy farmers. It’s obviously in the interest of a plan provider to beat down the price of the funeral provider to the lowest price possible. Do we have a turkeys-voting-for-Christmas scenario developing here?

      Lastly, to disempowered FDs I would add disempowered consumers. My Mum dies and I am told I don’t get to choose my FD, I must go to D Kay & Son and get what I’m given. The disempowered mourner is the principal ingredient in a bad funeral, and bad funerals are bad for everybody.

      Charles Cowling
      1. Charles Cowling
        John Taplin

        Charles, don’t forget that in the year to March 2014 Golden Charter also took over £8,200,000 from their trust fund for head office costs, marketing, bonuses etc.

        Charles Cowling
  3. Charles Cowling
    John Taplin

    As a trust based funeral plan provider I frequently read comments, articles like these and of course Lord Hunts letter with equal amounts of frustration and joy.

    Quite frankly we should be regulated properly to avoid the reputation damaging activities of what is sadly, as far as we can identify, the majority of the market.

    I’m often told by our own funeral director customers of the frustration and anger they feel when they are offered plans at sums substantially less than a customer has paid the plan provider. In the last month alone we’ve been told that Golden Charter, Avalon and Safe Hands have all offered funeral directors many hundreds of pounds less than the customer has actually paid.

    I’m not naive, I accept that the world in which we live is becoming ever more commercialised but that shouldn’t apply to everything surely? In 2003 when Open launched we set out to provide a plan that was fair, decent and open in the way it operated. 11 years on we still stand by that.
    A one off administration fee of £195.00 for the life of the plan.
    No commissions, bonuses, incentives or anything else taken from the trust fund by the limited company (unlike the £8.2m taken by one of the providers in their last financial year).
    No cancellation fees.
    Solid growth of 3.5% per annum applied monthly to every single plan and once growth is attributed to a plan that new value becomes set in stone.
    There are more benefits but this a rant not a sales pitch!
    Are we members of the FPA? No, we choose not to be, why would we, it’s run by our competitors? I’m not prepared to be told what I can and can’t say in my marketing, I’d rather the truth did get out and I’ll wait for proper regulation thanks.
    Our trust fund is genuinely in surplus. It could pay out all plans at full value including growth and still have some left over for a contingency. If we were taking large sums from the trust fund/plan sales values we’d be having to make as many sales as possible to keep the fund growing so as to cover redemption and payments to funeral directors be they redemptions, commissions or ‘bonuses’ to FDs for the number of plans sold in a year.
    Is that a bonus if it’s taken from the trust fund in the first place? Seems more like an early payment of the plan to me.

    Don’t worry though, more sales will be made to keep it all ticking along. Let’s just hope that plan sales don’t slow down or that markets falter. Hmmm, that never happens does it?

    Because the industry isn’t regulated people are taking the proverbial with other peoples money and funeral directors are, and will continue to underpin the prepaid industry until eventually so much money has been paid in bonuses, commissions and incentives funeral directors will eventually say no more, the bereaved families will suffer because only after death will it all come to light, no one will carry out the funerals, and then they’ll regulate the industry. All far too late, regulate the hundreds of millions of pounds paid for funerals now, not when it’s all been spent chasing its own tail, propping up its own industry.

    You might gather I’m angry and frustrated about the business I’m in. We provide a genuinely decent, honest, ethical plan that puts service and performance for our funeral directors and plan holders first and foremost. Shouldn’t prepaid be treated with the same respect as at need? It’s difficult knowing what’s going on but struggling to be heard. It finally looks like that’s starting to change now though. About time too.

    Charles Cowling
    1. Charles Cowling
      Andrew Hickson (Kingfisher Funerals)

      Never having heard of Open Prepaid Funeral Plans, I had a look at your website, John. It’s good to be open, and I liked your idea, and wanted to find out more. I quote from your website “Open differ from other plan providers by being just that – open.”

      As a potential customer, I choose the Simple Prepaid Funeral Plan. That seems to suit my needs perfectly. Collection, care, basic coffin, hearse, bearers, payment on my behalf of the disbursements. I don’t really know what that means (as a member of the public, not a funeral director) but it sounds like what the others all tell me, so it must be standard. I don’t read the smallprint, no-one does. It’s available from £1,595. I don’t want any extras, you’re a very open company, so I expect to pay £1,595.

      I happily fill in the form, ready to pay my £1,595 at the end. I get to the disbursement part, and there’s the option to add £950 towards these. I read the explanation, and decide it’s not necessary. I don’t need doctors. I don’t want a member of the clergy. And anyway, the plan includes “payment on [my] behalf of disbursement fees…” so why pay more?

      I get to the next page, and, oh £195 plan administration fee needs to be added. I don’t seem to be able to deselect this, so it must be compulsory. So my payment jumps to £1,790.

      Yet on the front page of the Simple Prepaid Funeral Plan details on your website it states quite clearly “Available from £1,595”.

      Then I decide that our definitions of Open differ, and I go elsewhere.

      Charles Cowling
      1. Charles Cowling
        John Taplin

        Thanks for looking at the site Andrew, and for your comments.

        ‘No one reads the small print’ – you may be right in some cases but you don’t actually have to read the small print to find the information you want or need, just show a little interest in the business you’re thinking of buying a plan from (as a consumer), you’d do that wouldn’t you? And do a little reading, perhaps even look at the FAQs or the News section, they might also help. You might even consider reading the About Us page, then there are always the terms and conditions as a last resort.

        Every single plan listed has an asterisk at the end of the disbursements bullet point and a paragraph immediately below the plan content that explains disbursements aren’t included in the plan price because they are a separate element from the funeral directors charges. We always encourage people to take disbursements out but we do openly explain the risks of a shortfall at the time of need.

        In relation to the admin fee this is also mentioned as a separate element in a number of places on the site including the Why Choose Open, About Us, the News section and the Terms and Conditions.

        Thanks for highlighting the potential for confusion in relation to the bullet point
        Payment on your behalf of disbursement fees to clergy, doctors and the crematorium and/or cemetery*.

        Complete with asterisk that highlights the text immediately below the plan

        *Disbursement fees are currently set at an optional additional payment of £950 when taking out the plan and are in addition to the plan cost stated. This sum is invested alongside the plan price and the same growth is applied to it. If not taken out at the time of plan creation disbursement costs contribution can be added in the future. Please see terms and conditions for more details.

        I may well seek to clarify in more obvious detail that payment on your behalf means an administrative action. That said, this is the first time it’s ever been raised.

        It’s incredibly rare that someone just takes out a plan online without any contact whatsoever with us either by phone, email enquiry or post. Every person that enquires and provides contact details get two brochures with even more detail. There is never any doubt for a plan holder about how a plan is structured financially before they make the final decision to buy online or otherwise.

        However, I shall seek to make our structure even more obvious. Open by name Open by nature.

        I did look on your site for terms and conditions but couldn’t find any. Although I did notice that you use FPS who also take an administration fee from the trust fund (it’s in their terms) so does that mean that you’re charging an admin fee to the plan holder and FPS are taking one from the trust? Any idea how much? It can only be a negative impact on the trust value.

        FPS phoned me the other week as if a customer, asked me lots of questions about fees, where they came from, how we made our money, if we took anything from the trust fund, if we charged a cancellation fee, an amendment fee, an FD change fee etc. They seemed quite disappointed to hear that our only income is the £195.00 per plan for the whole of its life.

        Incidentally, what rate of growth are FPS returning to you on your plans? CPI? RPI? Either is poor compared to the 3.5% that we apply to all Open plans for all of our funeral directors whether they use their own pricing or ours.

        In fact over 10 years for a £3,300 plan you’d get over £500 more from an Open plan compared to current RPI of 2.3%.

        Who wins then? The funeral director and the plan holder.

        And that’s how it should be.

        Charles Cowling
        1. Charles Cowling
          Andrew Hickson (Kingfisher Funerals)

          Thank you for your very reasonably reply, John.

          I know I’m picky, but I still believe that stating that something is available “from £1,595” means that it should be available at £1,595. I couldn’t live with myself advertising, as we do here a funeral at £2,470 if it didn’t mean that my client could write a cheque for that amount.

          Perhaps I differ to most other funeral directors, in believing that the client is the person who matters most? We guarantee all funeral plan payments, as I believe that “a contribution towards” anything is pointless. As a consumer, if I pay for something in advance, I want to know that there won’t be any more to pay at the time of need. Full stop. If that hits the business a little, then so be it. Every funeral plan we have sold that has come to fruition has outperformed my expectations and I never have and never will ask a client for a penny more. That makes us both winners in my book, but I’m not here to be a winner. Most importantly, it gives my clients the security they want.

          Incidentally, a link to our T&Cs is at the bottom of our ‘Kingfisher Costs Less’ page, here

          Charles Cowling
          1. Charles Cowling
            John Taplin

            Thanks for the info and link Andrew and I do understand the position you take as a funeral director. In our experience it is indeed very rare for an FD to ask for additional funds from a family at the time of need.
            However you are taking a big risk in guaranteeing disbursements no matter what. I notice that FPS doesn’t do this either so you are leaving yourself open to financial harm.
            Not so long ago when the clean air act came in crematorium fees virtually doubled over night all over the UK.
            As an independent funeral director could you afford to suffer that change in every plan? Like many other plan providers we choose to refer to disbursements as a contribution towards but we don’t shy away from the fact. We make it very clear and the reasons why. I would never try to tell you how to run your business, that is totally up to you of course but from one small business owner to another we should always remember there are things that are outside of our control.
            BTW, taking on board your earlier comments you’ll see a few changes to our site next week!
            Open by name Open by nature.

            Charles Cowling
    2. Charles Cowling
      David Latham (NFFD)

      Hi John, David Latham from the National Federation of Funeral Directors here. I read your post with interest. Despite the fact you mention Safe Hands in a negative context, we absolutely share your concerns that the rather sharp practices of some operators in the funeral plan industry reflect badly on those of us who always sell our products ethically and responsibly.

      You say that Safe Hands, among others, has recently offered a funeral director ‘hundreds of pounds less than the customer actually paid’. If you’re going to make a statement like that, then it really needs to be given some context. Let me explain…

      If a client buys a Safe Hands plan direct from the funeral director, then when the client dies, the funeral director receives 99% of the total plan value (plus whatever uplift is applicable at the time). Yes, you’re quite right, if someone other than the funeral director sells a Safe Hands plan, then naturally, the funeral director, if he chooses to accept the funeral, will receive slightly less than the client has paid. But that’s not because the client is paying more than they should (the content of each of our 4 plans is worth exactly what the client pays for it). Instead, it’s the funeral director, who, by choosing to conduct the funeral, very sensibly considers a reduced profit margin to be worthwhile given that he’s effectively being gifted business that he otherwise wouldn’t have had. You could argue that had Safe Hands (or any other funeral plan company) not got to the client first, that they (the client) might have bought the plan direct from the funeral director. Perhaps so – but there are very, few funeral directors who have the time and capacity to get out there and do the hard yards in the field in an effort to secure themselves future business – future business which, I might add, the corporate giants will be more than happy snaffle instead! So that being the case, the many independent funeral directors who reject funeral plans as a concept would be well advised to review their stance and look at 3rd party plan providers in a whole new and much more positive light.

      So long as those companies act responsibly and ensure all their staff are professionally-trained, and so long as their prices represent exceptional value all parties concerned, then there really shouldn’t be an issue.

      Think about it…the Post Office are now selling funeral plans. So are Age UK and countless banks and building societies. Plus, don’t forget about the hundreds of thousands of Parkinson-esque over-50 plans sold every year. But who do you think conducts the funerals that result from all these sales? That’s right, the Coop and Dignity! So please do the whole industry a favour, and understand that the companies you speak so poorly of in your post (Safe Hands, Avalon, and Golden Charter) are actually intrinsic to the long-term sustainability of the independent sector.

      In your post you go on to speculate that if things continue that independent funeral directors will start turning all funerals away that have been sold by 3rd party plan providers. They’d be crazy to do that and you must surely know it.
      Obviously I appreciate why funeral directors would probably much prefer to sell their own plans direct to their own customers, given that there’s more profit to be earned that way. However, if a funeral director turns a plan away that has been sold by a 3rd party company, it doesn’t mean the plan holder will cancel their plan and buy one direct from the funeral director – it simply means the funeral will instead be assigned to an alternative local firm. It’s also vital to remember that accepting plan funerals sold by 3rd parties provides a gilt-edged opportunity for funeral directors to demonstrate the quality of their services to a new audience…individuals and families who they might otherwise never encounter. By turning plans away, that opportunity and all its associated benefits is effectively gifted to the competition. Surely, from a commercial point of view, it makes so much more sense for funeral directors to supplement the presumably larger they make through the sale of their own plans, with the smaller (presumably) but still extremely generous profits that are to be enjoyed by also accepting funerals through the sale of 3rd party companies.

      What too many operators in this industry fail to realise, John, is that every day, more and more funeral directors are waking up to commercial reality. Gone are the days when families would automatically turn to the same funeral director, time after time, whenever there was a death in the family. Thanks largely to the internet, to comparison sites, and to the growth of communities to far beyond old local lines, consumers are now much more transient and price-led, making the market so much more cut-throat and competitive. You can preserve and ‘sell’ the profession’s traditions to a certain degree, but for most people, in these straightened times, cost, I’m afraid to say, is King. Safe Hands, by keeping their overheads to an absolute minimum, are able to offer a product that is both the most affordable on the UK market (outside certain funeral directors’ own products, that is), whilst also giving every self-respecting, commercially-minded funeral director a fantastic, and in many cases, unbeatable, sum of money when clients pass away.

      Finally, John, hats off to you for not entertaining the Funeral Planning Authority! We at least share one thing in common. So why not give us a buzz and let’s see if there are any other similarities between us…honest, conscientious, types are always welcome here at the NFFD!

      Charles Cowling
      1. Charles Cowling
        John Taplin

        Hi David, Thanks for your openness and the frankness in your post. There are points that you raise that I completely understand and yes the world in which we and independent funeral directors operate is indeed becoming ever more commercial and price sensitive.
        I do also get the’loss leader’ model you refer to, an FD that carries out a funeral plan funeral with less profit than they’d normally seek is indeed showing off their skills and service and it could well lead to more business through those attending the funeral.
        Funeral planning certainly seems here to stay but compared to the funeral profession we are still nothing more than a cell in a body waiting to develop.
        We can turn into something ugly or not and luckily we have the power within us to do that.
        We choose to take a cautious position, we don’t do anything to impact negatively on the plan value for a funeral director in the future, we try to do quite the opposite and provide the best return in the market, and I’m talking about genuine return, actual well invested financial growth, not reliant on new plans sales the whole time to keep things rolling.
        Any model which relies on sales to pay ‘growth’ is ultimately destined for a problem.
        We’ve stayed true to our goal and our model since our launch in 2003. And it works. We may not be the most exciting or dynamic of plan providers out there but that’s not what we’re aiming for anyway.
        Sorry if I caused you any offence, wasn’t intended that way, I was just stating facts as we’ve experienced them.
        And yes, let’s talk.

        Charles Cowling
        1. Charles Cowling
          David Latham (NFFD)

          Thanks for your considered reply, John. I’ll give you a buzz.

          Charles Cowling
  4. Charles Cowling
    Girl on the Hill

    Recently I officiated at the funeral ceremony of a close relative who had a funeral plan. ( I don’t know who with) I was prepared to take the ceremony with no fee but was informed by the FD that a minister fee had been paid for within the plan and if I didn’t take the money it would be paid to them! Remarkably honest I thought. But…. Does that lead to other FDs not recommending things just so that they can pocket the money?
    I took the fee and all the family had a lovely meal together paid for by mum in law!

    Charles Cowling
  5. Charles Cowling
    Nick Gandon

    Thinking back to the early 1990’s, when Golden Charter were in their early days, telesales for such services / products were unheard of, and would somewhat rightly have been regarded as outrageous. Golden Charters advise to FD’s who were contemplating a “mail-shot” were to enclose the funeral plan brochure within a plain envelope, except for the wording “This envelope contains information regarding funeral planning. Please accept our sincere apologies if it has been delivered at a time of loss or sorrow”

    I was part of a mail-shot that delivered information in that that exact way, and yes, we did get complaints. We tried to do it as tastefully as possible, but it was ahead of it’s time.

    Since then, our friend from Barnsley, appearing as Mr Michael Parkinson’s face in many years of adverts has lulled most of us into accepting funeral planning / insurance to be a normal sales product.

    Moving on to today, the Cooperative Funeralcare, who, like or hate their ethos, have pushed the boundaries even further with TV adverts for actual funerals (not just plans – a much softer product), and are a first, as far as I am concerned with blanket area leaflet drops advertising their local funeral homes. Two came through my front door last week.

    If the CoOp’s sizable PR team think it’s time to adopt leaflet drops advertising their funeral homes, then obviously their research must hint that people won’t be offended any longer by such a move.

    Time to visit my printers perhaps …. but, not being a fan of telesales methods, we certainly won’t be going down that particular road.

    I have always found Golden Charter to be of excellent repute, and one of several outstanding plan providers, but I think that all of the major players in the industry must recognise that there are bridges that perhaps should not be crossed (i.e. semi-cold telesales) in the clamour to sell their product.

    A very delicate subject and product, arguably best left to the people providing the service on the day….

    Charles Cowling
  6. Charles Cowling

    I am not speaking as a representative of Golden Charter but I have worked for them in the past and I feel that this so called ‘story’ has been blown out of all proportion.

    GC do operate a sales force that is motivated on results as nearly all companies across the world do but they do have very strong ethics in my experience regardless of how this article may appear. I don’t want my comments to cause offence in any way and my sincere sympathies go out to this Mrs Graham but let’s get this in perspective. The article itself is a little vague on the facts and is written to inflame an unfortunate situation.

    The story is simply this when you break it down. A woman who is unfortunately suffering from a terminal illness received two phone calls from the same company trying to sell her a product. That product just happened to be a funeral plan. Funeral Planning sellers buy data from reputable organisations who operate opt in, questionnaire style data collation. The articles ambiguity left me dumbfounded at the scare tactics the author used to make a story and I was in no doubt, even before GC confirmed this, that Mrs Graham was not targeted a second time because she was terminally ill.

    Mrs Graham isn’t quoted as saying that they did this in any way! As far as I can tell, she was upset, and rightly so, as she has terminal cancer, and the telephone calls, especially the second one, exacerbated her emotional distress. She is not quoted as saying that the company called her back because she had a terminal illness, just that they asked if she would like to plan her own funeral, which is a pretty standard telesales line from any funeral planning company generic scripts. The article doesn’t say that when Mrs Graham told them that she was terminally ill that the representative of Golden Charter asked her this question!

    If they had targeted her because she had a terminal illness as a sales tactic then that’s not only despicable, but a very unproductive, stupid sales tactic that simply would never work and any idiot could see that!! If the journalist had genuinely got any quotes from Mrs Graham that they specifically rang her back because she was terminally ill, or they made any specific indefensible statements after they became aware of her situation, then they would have printed it and not just left this up to the reader to surmise!

    I understand that funeral plans or any other end of life related products or services need to marketed with sensitivity and some people will feel that making outbound telesales calls (albeit from opt-in highly relevant data) is a bit strong. But what is acceptable? You can’t just be reactive or the variety of businesses wouldn’t exist in the first place, just one or two very large providers who would dominate the industry for the worse. I agree there needs to be some change in the industry but stories like this don’t help anybody one bit.

    Andrew Hickson’s figures regarding being offered a funeral from GC seem incorrect. I don’t think you’ve got them wrong at all Andrew but maybe the person communicating the offer didn’t do a very good job or it was a mistake. I understand why they offer an incentive for reputable funeral directors to offer and receive GC plans but you shouldn’t have been left feeling so aggrieved with the financial aspect of the arrangement and the plan price and pay out seem inconsistent as far as I was aware.

    As many funeral plans are sold through various channels and not just via funeral directors, If someone has purchased a plan and stated they have no preference of funeral director, or the funeral director they have chosen is no longer operating in the same capacity when they pass away; or the customer has moved location, the funeral should be offered to a reputable local funeral director at the location of the deceased if in line with the family’s wishes. I understand you being appalled with the low figure offered for your services but this must have been a mistake for the plan they have purchased. I’d be interested to know when the plan was sold and is the price offered to you in line with some new financial tracker from the plans inception.

    With regards to the FPA, any government body has to utilise industry knowledge from the directors of leading companies. Most industry regulators have to have board members from the various companies within their respective industries and I would imagine the FPA are the same.

    Charles Cowling
  7. Charles Cowling
    Simon Lamb

    Readers of December’s FSJ may have already seen the article from Lord Hunt regarding the long term financial viability of funeral plans. He is an ex Cabinet minister, solicitor and writes as Chairman of the British Insurance Brokers Association. In a long letter he writes: “As funeral plans sales in the UK grow, funeral plan providers have an increasing responsibility to provide full and accurate information regarding what happens to the customer’s pre-payment so that customers can make informed decisions as to whether their funds are properly safeguarded for the future…I urge funeral directors fully to research and understand the arrangements they enter into with funeral plan providers. There are significant financial and reputational risks for independent funeral directors and the funeral profession if anything goes wrong.”

    Charles Cowling
  8. Charles Cowling
    David Latham (NFFD)

    One more thing…

    Paragraph 1 on the FPA’s website states as follows: “The FPA are staunchly independent and impartial in all our dealings on behalf of consumers”. Really? So again, perhaps, Charles, you might be able to ask Mr Ronnie Wayte (FPA Board Member) how they can possibly peddle such tosh considering the fact he is also the Managing Director of Golden Charter? Perhaps that explains the FPA’s unwillingness to get involved…after-all, surely they wouldn’t consider allowing Mr Wayte to preside over his own company’s disciplinary! Or would they?

    Also, Point 7.2.1 of the FPA’s Disciplinary ‘Rules’ states: “The Disciplinary Panel shall be appointed by the Authority and shall comprise a chairman who is a legally qualified indepedent person and two other persons, ONE of whom shall be independent”. What? Only one? So what about the rest of the panel, or are they, like Mr. Wayte, also directors of the companies that the FPA claims to ‘regulate’? I note that Graham Williams (Director of Funeral Planning Services) is on the FPA’s Board too, so perhaps so!

    Charles Cowling
  9. Charles Cowling
    Ian Quance

    As they say ‘The Daily Mail, like spending 20 minutes in a lunatic asylum’

    Charles Cowling
  10. Charles Cowling
    Paul Sinclair

    Often people who sign up pre-payment plans make specific requests such as a particular type of coffin, vehicle to carry them and/or service, but when they actually die all of these requests, paid for requests, can be overruled. The person can be carried off in the very coffin or vehicle to the type of service they were trying to ensure the would not get. The pre-payment plan providers insist this is perfectly legal, but is it ethical and shouldn’t the client taking out the plan be made aware of the fact their wishes may be ignored when they die?

    Charles Cowling
  11. Charles Cowling
    Andrew Hickson (Kingfisher Funerals)

    A week or so ago we were contacted by Golden Charter and told that a client of theirs had purchased a funeral plan and nominated us as her chosen funeral director. This seemed strange, as we don’t sell Golden Charter plans, and so far, every client local to us who has approached a variety of plan providers, including ourselves, has bought one from us.

    The person on the end of the phone knew very little about what the plan was actually for – a cremation at our local crematorium was the extent of his knowledge. I asked him where our local crematorium was. He didn’t know. Did the lady want a religious or any other sort of ceremony? ‘Whatever we decide at the time’ was the answer (‘we’ being us, the funeral directors, I believe).

    So he wanted us to take on a funeral plan for someone who probably hadn’t nominated us, at an unknown crematorium, with no notion of what the lady’s wishes were.

    How much had the lady paid for the plan? £3285. Does this include disbursements? £1100 towards them. How much was the plan worth to us? £958. What happens to the other £1227?

    Ahhhh, funny you should ask that [not funny, more vital I’d’ve thought?] because if you sign up to sell our plans, it will be worth £600 more to you. And if I don’t? Words to the effect of it will go into the pot that feeds funeral directors that do sell their plans. Was the lady to whom the plan had been sold aware of this? Yes. Really? She knows what she’s signed up for. Really? No. So you’re playing with her money and she’s been ripped off? End of phone call.

    I’ve said it before on this blog, I have no problem with funeral plans, in fact I think they are a good thing, provided they are sold by people who know what they are talking about (ie funeral directors) and are fully guaranteed. There is no point whatsoever, from a client’s perspective, of paying for something in advance, then being asked for more at the time of need.

    I firmly believe that funeral plans should only be sold to people who initiate the approach. We market funeral plans actively – recently mailing every house in the town with a leaflet – leaving people to make their own choice whether they respond or not. We need to do this, as we need to compete with the corporates if we are to retain our market share in the future. But selling by people who have no idea of what they are selling, only driven by the commission they receive, has to be verging on criminal.

    As before, I openly declare that I used to work for Golden Charter as a Regional Support Manager, but left when the S changed from Support to Sales, and it became so sales-orientated that I couldn’t stand it. And I’m not the only one.

    Charles Cowling
    1. Charles Cowling

      I notified Golden Charter that I would be blogging about them, so you can confidently expect a response, Andrew. As can anyone else who wishes to comment.

      Charles Cowling
      1. Charles Cowling
        David Latham (NFFD)

        Some great points raised here. Here at the NFFD we seized on the Daily Mail story immediately…not necessarily because it involved Golden Charter, but more because it raises serious concerns about the so-called ‘Funeral Planning Authority’s willingness to enforce its own rules and regulations (Golden Charter are ‘regulated’ by the FPA, for those of you who don’t know). The NFFD, as past victims of self-serving and misinformed prejudice, has no intention of using the GFG to throw Golden Charter to the lions. Without doubt the case surrounding Mrs. Graham’s treatment will contain nuances that have either not been picked up on, or not revealed, by the Daily Mail. Nevertheless, any funeral plan company that employs a telemarketing team to sell its products is leaving itself wide open to exactly this kind of negative exposure. I can’t state categorically that Golden Charter’s telemarketers will be driven to meet sales targets, but if Andrew Hickson’s comments are anything to go by, they almost certainly will be. Add to that the fact that they (the telemarketers) will inevitably be on a low basic wage, and it all adds up to people like Mrs. Graham being hounded into buying something that they simply don’t want or need.

        Now, the Funeral Planning Authority’s website clearly states numerous examples of conduct that it states are unacceptable under their Code of Practice. These include, but are not limited to:

        • Member plan providers must not engage in any sales or marketing activities that are in bad taste, or that are likely to bring the funeral planning industry into disrepute.
        • Member plan providers must act in a courteous, sensitive, dignified and professional manner.
        • Member plan providers must not make unsolicited visits or telephone calls to potential customers (though Golden Charter will almost certainly be calling leads that are compliant with legislation, if they call those leads back once they have been instructed by the ‘target’ not to, then by law that call is unsolicited).

        We did approach Mr Stuart Harland at the Funeral Planning Authority to bring his attention to the article and to ask how they would be dealing with Golden Charter’s clear breaches of ‘regulation’ (there’s that word again). I’m afraid his only response was, ‘we are unable to respond’. Perhaps you, Charles, and the Good Funeral Guide, might be able to use your influence to persuade the FPA to comment – and by extension demonstrate to the buying public that they adhere to their own rules?

        Let me be clear, our issue here is not with Golden Charter. Whatever our views may be on pressure-selling, they haven’t, as far as we are aware, done anything illegal. Our issue is with the FPA given that they supposedly have the ‘authority’ to enforce measures that prevent situations like Mrs Graham’s from occurring. What a great opportunity this is, from the FPA’s point of view, to prove that their grand title is more than just, well, titular.

        Andrew Hickson (Kingfisher Funerals), Hello, I hope you are well. I know that in the past you haven’t exactly been the NFFD’s greatest supporter and I’m sure you have what you believe are good reasons for that. Nevertheless, it was with great interest that I read your post. I have to say I am appalled that you only received £958 for a funeral from Golden Charter, for which the client paid £3285! Now that really DOES bring the industry into disrepute! (Charles, perhaps the FPA might offer up an opinion on that, too?) I also noted, Andrew, that you are ‘pro-plans’, so to speak. As you know, we work hand-in-glove with Safe Hands. Perhaps you might like to get in touch so that we can offer you and your all-important customers much more attractive terms, funeral-plan-wise, than you’d get from the majority of the other plan providers.

        Charles Cowling
        1. Charles Cowling
          David Latham (NFFD)

          One more thing…

          Paragraph 1 on the FPA’s website states as follows: “The FPA are staunchly independent and impartial in all our dealings on behalf of consumers”. Really? So again, perhaps, Charles, you might be able to ask Mr Ronnie Wayte (FPA Board Member) how they can possibly peddle such tosh considering the fact he is also the Managing Director of Golden Charter? Perhaps that explains the FPA’s unwillingness to get involved…after-all, surely they wouldn’t consider allowing Mr Wayte to preside over his own company’s disciplinary! Or would they?

          Also, Point 7.2.1 of the FPA’s Disciplinary ‘Rules’ states: “The Disciplinary Panel shall be appointed by the Authority and shall comprise a chairman who is a legally qualified indepedent person and two other persons, ONE of whom shall be independent”. What? Only one? So what about the rest of the panel, or are they, like Mr. Wayte, also directors of the companies that the FPA claims to ‘regulate’? I note that Graham Williams (Director of Funeral Planning Services) is on the FPA’s Board too, so perhaps so!

          Charles Cowling

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