Paul Allcock considers the challenges facing SAIF members in 2018 in this month’s blog.

January 11, 2018   //   No Comments

A happy new year to all.

As we enter 2018, it would appear that the challenges facing independent funeral directors continue to grow. An ever increasing number of alternative funeral related services are being offered by new businesses, many of whom have expertise in professions unrelated to funerals.  The majority of these businesses have been simply funeral related businesses, offering the public an alternative way of choosing and subsequently contacting a funeral director. A further challenge to the independent sector has now presented itself with some local councils, and now the proposal of hospices setting up their own funeral directing service in direct competition to local established funeral directors.

We need to ask ourselves, why is this happening? What has caused these organisations to feel the need to provide funeral services? The answers to these questions will undoubtedly be many and varied, dependent on who is being asked. My personal view is twofold.

Firstly, it would appear that there is a huge need for councils to increase their income streams and they are seeking various options to achieve this. We know about the large increases in burial fees across the country and now it would appear that some are endeavouring to add to this income by adding funeral services to their portfolio. Now we find the proposed hospice funeral service seeking to do the same for hospices, potentially countrywide, although I am aware of some who have stated publicly that they will not be offering this service. Turning back the clock a few years, I recall many financially stable council run crematoria being sold to the private sector to give an instant income, without, it would seem, taking the longer term profitability into account.

My second view is that regardless of what I believe to be true, that there is a perception by many that the service offered by existing funeral directors, is business based rather than care based and takes advantage of bereaved families financially. Therefore there is an argument that the wonderful care given to the dying, can be continued with a funeral service following the same ethos as the hospice.  Historically, funeral directors have been known as a group of very caring individuals offering the very best in care, support and service at a time when people need it most. I have no doubt that for the vast majority of funeral directors that this is still the case, and it saddens me greatly when a minority whose practises are evidently questionable, tarnish the reputation of the majority. This in turn gives voice and reasoning to those who would benefit from offering alternative services.

I have always emphasised the importance of the very highest standards of care and quality of service provided to the public. Subsequently, I have no issue with competition from any source, provided it is of a suitable quality and follows the recognised guidelines of good practice as laid out in the codes of practice of SAIF and the NAFD and that premises are also of the highest possible standard. It is so important that the public receive the very best service possible at their time of need. It will be interesting to see if any of the proposed businesses mentioned above will be applying for membership of one of the recognised leaders and setters of quality in the UK. If not, I wonder on what grounds they would be able to claim that they are offering the best option to any families they serve, without the support, backup and guidance that a professional association provides. I would like to think that any staff employed to run these businesses are sufficiently experienced and qualified to do so. If not, there is only one likely outcome of these ventures and that is failure.

I don’t believe however, that we should assume that these ventures are doomed to failure. As I have stated above, the most important thing is quality of care and service. There is no reason to assume that any business will get this wrong. But to compete with the best from a fresh start in a market already swamped with funeral directors in many areas of the country is a very real challenge for any start-up business. Therefore as members of SAIF we have to ensure that what we offer to the public is the best service and care available to them. If, as individual firms we do this, then there should be nothing to fear. As the famous saying goes: the cream will always rise to the top.

The biggest challenge for all funeral directors is therefore not who the competition is or how much money or influence they can throw at potential clients, but ensuring that your business remains the cream and continues to rise to the top.