“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.