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

Charles Cowling

Mail

 

“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.

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Dog eats dog. Move on, leave them to it - The Good Funeral GuideThe Good Funeral GuideDavid Latham (NFFD)John TaplinCharles CowlingLucy Jane Recent comment authors

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[…] 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 […]

Lucy Jane
Guest

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… Read more »

John Taplin
Guest

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… Read more »

Andrew Hickson (Kingfisher Funerals)
Guest

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… Read more »

John Taplin
Guest

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… Read more »

Andrew Hickson (Kingfisher Funerals)
Guest

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 http://stneotsfuneraldirectors.co.uk/a-low-cost-funeral-in-st-neots/ 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… Read more »

John Taplin
Guest

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… Read more »

David Latham (NFFD)
Guest

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… Read more »

John Taplin
Guest

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… Read more »

David Latham (NFFD)
Guest

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

Girl on the Hill
Guest
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… Read more »

Nick Gandon
Guest

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… Read more »

John
Guest
John

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… Read more »

Simon Lamb
Guest
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… Read more »

David Latham (NFFD)
Guest

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… Read more »

Ian Quance
Guest
Ian Quance

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

Paul Sinclair
Guest

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?

Andrew Hickson (Kingfisher Funerals)
Guest

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… Read more »

Charles
Guest
Charles

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.

David Latham (NFFD)
Guest

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… Read more »

David Latham (NFFD)
Guest

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… Read more »