We’re Shorting Dignity PLC Stock 5

Warning: This blog post is not investment advice and neither is the report which it links to. By accessing either, you confirm that you have read and agree to the Terms of Use.

Hello,

We’re rapidly bringing price transparency to the funeral industry

At Beyond*, we’re on a mission to make choosing a funeral director a more transparent process. To that end, and to date, we have signed up over 800 independent funeral directors to share their full, itemised, comparable prices online.

There are, however, two large obstacles to price transparency in this market, namely Dignity PLC and Coop Funeralcare. They represent 34% of the market and are desperate to avoid price transparency, despite occasional claims otherwise.

UK Funeral Market Affiliation Dignity PLC
UK Funeral Market Affiliation

Dignity’s business model is unsustainable

Why such shyness with prices? It’s because they are significantly more expensive than the rest of the market – Dignity by 83% compared to prices on our site. If they were to put transparent, easily comparable prices online, consumers might realise this price differential and take their business elsewhere.

Dignity are, in my view, the worst offenders – because not only do they hide their prices, they also hide their name. When they buy up independent funeral directors, they don’t rebrand them as Dignity. Instead they keep the old family name above the door, so that consumers don’t realise that the branch has become part of a corporate. They simply swap out the staff, put the prices up and no-one’s the wiser.

Here at Beyond, we believe that Dignity’s business practice and model are unsustainable. We think it has been propping up its share price with unearned price increases and self-defeating acquisitions for years. That it is a house built on sand, with a tsunami on the horizon.

We’ve published a detailed analysis on their business

Now, I hear you say, it’s easy to make a few disparaging comments about a £1.3bn market cap company. Especially a company who could be seen as a competitor. So, to that end, I offer you two tokens of our conviction.

Firstly, today we publish a 13,000-word analysis of Dignity PLC entitled “The Reaper Calls For Dignity” written by my co-founder James Dunn. Within the report he examines Dignity’s business in detail, using both publicly available information and our market expertise to make a clear case that they are grossly overvalued.

And we’re shorting Dignity’s stock

Secondly, we are so confident of their failings that we have taken a short position on Dignity stock to the tune of £50,000. To clarify, we have placed Beyond’s money (and some of our own) on the belief that Dignity’s share price will fall. I’m not sure this is traditional business practice or expenditure for a start-up. Then again, I’m not sure there has been another such market where a large incumbent has escaped even the lightest of scrutiny.

We’ve been in the funeral industry for a couple of years now and one of the key things that has stood out to me is that, notwithstanding the many genuine people trying their hardest to serve the consumer, there is an entrenched fear of rocking the boat; of calling out the elephants in the room. Despite the constant public consternation at funeral price cost rises, there is little desire from the industry associations or the media to call out the big guys and their opaque practices, which drive up prices and bring the overall industry into disrepute.

Well, today Dignity PLC, here’s us calling you out.

Best

Ian

P.S. Dignity CEO Mike McCollum recently sold most of his shares – we wonder why?

 

*Previously Funeralbooker

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5 Comments

  1. Will read the detailed report with interest, thanks. I couldn’t agree more with the fear of ‘rocking the boat’. As a team of over 30 celebrants, we have been trying to challenge the outrageous prices for years but all this has meant is that FDs won’t use our team, a form of blacklisting going on for anyone who will speak out about it. I would be happy to share a several pieces of info with you.

  2. Brian Howard B M &C Howard Funeral Services. I will send you a copy of a letter that I wrote to the local press and MP Mr I Duncan Smith then minister of the DWP in 2013, there was quite a few letters sent during 2012 and 2013 concerning the Social Funeral Fund, Dignity, Co-op, and the NAFD. The problem with Dignity, Co-op funeral care, and other funeral groups are backed up by the NAFD which is just puppet and not fit for purpose.

  3. Dignity stock fallen from £22 at time of article to under £10 today.

    classic case of a business that has enjoyed high margins but is vulnerable as the higher priced service offered does not add value to the customer.

  4. Only just discovered this website. What an excellent and accurate piece of research. Well done. Whether or not it was your intention, you’ve benifited society as a whole. Thank you.

  5. Amazing that Dignity’s share price has recovered a little after an initial 20% drop in the in the light of the Competition and Markets Authority investigations into the funeral market – you’d have though the only way was down!

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What Do Customers Want From Funerals? 0

What do bereaved families want from funerals? Beyond CEO and Founder Ian Strang shares his take on why price transparency is just the beginning …

In a few weeks’ time, the CMA will publish a report concerning its enquiry into the funeral industry. The focus of this enquiry – and indeed, the focus of much of the media coverage around the industry over the last few years – has been cost. Are funeral costs going up or down? Are prices transparent? What can we do to help consumers with the cost of funerals? And so on*.

*The answers, by the way, are: flat for independents, up for chains; transparent for around 20% of the industry; and encourage people to use comparison websites.

These are worthy questions, and (disregarding my own self-interest here) it would be difficult for anyone to dispute the fact that Beyond has made huge strides in addressing the issue of price hikes and transparency over the last few years.

Because of our efforts, Dignity have been reduced to calling in the management consultants, and Co-op have (laughably) begun claiming to have started a price war (without actually publishing any pricing, but that’s a blog post for another time). The move towards fair transparent pricing throughout the industry is gradual, but likely now inevitable.

“Is it enough to simply make traditional funerals more affordable? I’d argue that it isn’t.”

But is it enough to simply make traditional funerals more affordable? Is that all that we can do to make bereaved families feel that we, as an industry, are meeting their needs? I’d argue that it isn’t.

When we talk about cost, and the public’s dissatisfaction with the cost of funerals, what we should really be talking about is value. Sure, people aren’t happy paying £5,000 for a traditional funeral with hearse and limousines – but in many cases, they wouldn’t be happy paying £500 for it either. It’s just not the service they’re looking for.

As an industry, we aren’t offering families a lot of choice. Yes, there are options out there if you dig around – you can find suppliers for anything from rockets that shoot your ashes into the air, to flammable Viking longboats. But these suppliers don’t (yet?) have the budget to advertise nationally, and many funeral directors don’t exactly push them.

“When you’re bereaved, feeling under pressure to organise a send-off – any send-off – and you know nothing about the industry, you’re not in any state to research different options. But families do want more choice.”

A lot of us in the business, intentionally or not, steer families towards a pretty standard format funeral. And when you’re bereaved, feeling under pressure to organise a send-off – any send-off – and you know nothing about the industry, you’re not in any state to research different options.

But families do want more choice, and we’re beginning to see some pushback.

Direct cremation is growing in popularity, for one. Often in a Sunday supplement or similar you’ll see articles about it: “Bury me in the garden”, “Stick me in a cardboard box”, etc. Many take a deliberately reactionary stance – rebelling against a status quo that dictates that a traditional funeral is the only “proper” option by shunning a funeral altogether.

That’s not surprising. It’s a lot like the dissatisfaction that many people feel with politics right now – “I don’t like any of the parties, so I won’t vote at all”. Direct cremation is also the least expensive of all the current options. But this recent increase in interest in direct cremation doesn’t mean that this is how the market will go or that it’s what people really want. Direct cremation is just the one of the few alternatives to a traditional funeral that’s easily available.

“No-one knows what bereaved families really want, because we haven’t been asking them. At least, not properly.”

So, what do bereaved families actually want, if not a traditional funeral?

Now, there’s no shortage of vocal factions promoting their own understanding of what families want, which generally correlates perfectly with something they are selling, whether that be service or a product.

But I’d argue that no-one knows what consumers want, because we, as an industry, haven’t been asking them. At least not properly, in a rigorous way.

To find out what the bereaved want, you need to ask them at the point of bereavement. You also need to offer them a wide variety of options, options which may not even exist yet. You also need to ask them in the exact same way each time, without the biases of different funeral directors, contexts or sales materials affecting their decision. And you need to ask a lot of people – at least 1,000 for any kind of statistical significance.

“It’s only now, at Beyond, that there are enough bereaved people going online and choosing funeral arrangements to create a data source set that’s robust enough to analyse. And analyse we do.”

It’s only now, at Beyond, that there are enough bereaved people going online and choosing funeral arrangements to create a data set that’s robust enough to analyse. And analyse we do. We constantly run tests across our website, much like any online business, to try and understand what users want.

Sometimes we invent a service and put it up online for a few weeks to see how much interest it gets. We might take it down again because no-one has clicked on it, but we still count that as a success, because the result is that we understand the consumer – bereaved people who need our help – better.

However, if people really like that service, we may look to develop it. This could be in tandem with our funeral director partners, or we might build an in-house offering, such as with estate administration. In that instance, our partners can then benefit by offering it to families themselves, increasing their service breadth.

“Over the next few years, the funeral industry is going to change more rapidly than anyone can imagine.”

Some of our partner funeral directors would rather we didn’t test. They see every new potential development on our website as a challenge to their business and post furiously about it on social media. This is short-sighted.

Over the next few years, the funeral industry is going to change more rapidly than anyone can imagine. It’s becoming ever-more-obvious that families are seeking different services, different ways to interact with funeral directors.

If individual funeral directors are not prepared to keep up with the pace of change, to invest in technology or partner with technology providers, to work in new ways, then they will stagnate. Because the chains certainly won’t sit still.

Dignity, despite previously being guilty of falling asleep at the golf buggy wheel, are now investing £50m in overhauling their business, introducing tablets, technology and home visits. The Co-op machine will likely respond in kind. And Dignity have the crematoria as an asset. You can see the benefit of that with their new “full-attended cremation service”, booked over the phone.

Will it be popular? I don’t know, but I’m impressed that they are testing new products for their customers. We’re interested to learn as well, so we’ve popped a similar product up on our website to find out whether this is the future or not.

“Funeral directors who embrace the testing, learning and development of new products to serve changing needs will flourish.”

For the first time in decades, we are starting to discover what consumers – bereaved families – really want. We need to be open to this journey of discovery and adaptable to the changes it will bring.

Those funeral directors that entrench solely around their traditional offerings and reliance on walk-ins for customer acquisition will slowly but surely die out. Those that embrace the testing, learning and development of new products to serve the changing needs of the bereaved will flourish.

Change is coming. Let’s embrace it, learn together and better serve the families who need our help.

It’s Not So Nice to Be Beside the Seaside: People of Blackpool Die Youngest 0

  • Blackpool has the lowest life expectancy in the country, new analysis shows
  • Residents are not likely to see their 77th birthday
  • Their average life expectancy is almost five years less than the national average — and more than 8 years less than highest placed Kensington & Chelsea

The people of Blackpool have the lowest life expectancy in the country — almost five years below the national average — new analysis from funeral comparison website Beyond has found.

Residents of the seaside resort now live to an average 76 years and 11 months — eight years less than those in longevity capital Kensington & Chelsea.

The research is the first to identify true overall average life expectancy for each place by using gender population data to weight the life expectancies of men and women fairly and accurately. Life expectancy in the UK is now 81.6 years.

Mancunians do not live much longer than residents of Blackpool, at 77.4 years – more than 5% lower than the national average – with Middlesbrough, Hull and Liverpool completing the bottom five places for life expectancy.

Table: Bottom ten places for life expectancy

Place Overall average life expectancy (years) % difference to national average
Blackpool 76.9 -5.78%
Manchester 77.4 -5.12%
Middlesbrough 77.7 -4.75%
Hull 78.2 -4.18%
Liverpool 78.4 -3.96%
Blackburn 78.4 -3.92%
Knowsley 78.6 -3.69%
Oldham 78.8 -3.46%
Stoke-on-Trent 78.8 -3.43%
Rochdale 78.9 -3.34%

Meanwhile, people in Kensington & Chelsea live the longest, beating the national average by 3.5 years and reaching the ripe old age of 85.1.

All ten places with the lowest life expectancy are in the North, while the top ten places for life expectancy are within 40 miles of the City of London – with eight of the top ten falling in London boroughs.

Table: Top ten places for life expectancy

Place Overall average life expectancy (years) % difference to national average
Kensington & Chelsea 85.1 4.23%
Camden 84.4 3.47%
Harrow 84.2 3.19%
Richmond upon Thames 84.2 3.13%
Westminster 84.1 3.09%
Barnet 83.6 2.47%
Bracknell 83.4 2.22%
Wokingham 83.4 2.17%
Kingston upon Thames 83.3 2.11%
Bromley 83.2 1.93%

Life expectancy can be attributed to a variety of factors, many of them surrounding quality of living and health resources that reflect the socio-economic divide between the North and the South.

One other area where the poverty line has an impact is in will writing. The majority of the country (60%) have never written a will, a crucial preparation for what happens after life, despite Beyond leading the way by offering a free will writing service.

Ian Strang, co-founder of Beyond, comments:

“The North-South divide is alive and well in death it seems.

“But it doesn’t just stop at death. Northerners are penalised after life too.

“Because of cost concerns, fewer people in the North get around to making a will, meaning they are more likely to die intestate than Southerners.

“It’s vital that wherever you live in the country, you write a will to spare your family legal issues. There’s no longer any excuse not to because you can quickly do it for free, online via Beyond.”