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.

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Isn’t it About Time You Made a Will? 0

couple holding hands

Most of us plan on making a will – one day. One of these days, we think. One, far-off day, when we have a bit of time free, and nothing better to do. I should really get on that.

But every year, thousands of us die without one. 60% of Brits don’t have a will. And while that number dwindles as we get older, the consequences of dying without a will when you’re young can be, in a way, even more devastating.

Alex and Nic’s story

In 2018, Alex and her husband Nic were starting a family. A “typical London couple,” the two of them had met online 10 years before, and had been married for 4. Now settled into their own home, they’d started planning for a baby. But all that was derailed in an instant when Nic died of a pulmonary embolism.

He was just 39.

“You don’t expect someone of 39 just to drop down dead,” Alex says. “He just died very, very suddenly.” Nic had a blood clot in his leg, which travelled to his lungs and became a fatal pulmonary embolism. The condition often strikes out of the blue, and rapidly becomes deadly. Sufferers can be almost any age.

“My whole world exploded,” Alex says. “A decade’s worth of building a life, of hopes and ideas of what the future will be, was just ripped apart.”

“You don’t think the worst is going to happen to you, but, actually, it does happen.”

Nic hadn’t made a will. While the two of them had discussed it – the latest conversation being just a week before Nic’s death – the task hadn’t been high on their to-do list as future parents.

“Life just gets in the way, and you never think it’s that urgent, do you?” Alex explains. “Most of my friends are in their mid-30s, and they have kids, and they don’t have a will. Now, I try to tell people: ‘You don’t think the worst is going to happen to you but, actually, it does happen to people.’”

With Nic gone and no will, Alex had the heartbreaking task of trying to guess what he would have wanted. A funeral had to be planned; Nic’s belongings had to go somewhere; their home, with its mortgage, had to be accounted for – and all without any instructions. It was hard.

“You’re doing your best, but you don’t actually know if it’s what the person would have wanted.”

“Telling institutions that, as a spouse, you’re entitled to this, that or the other is tricky, because it’s not clear what he wanted, necessarily,” Alex says.

That lack of direction hit hard on an emotional level, as well. For Nic’s funeral, Alex wanted a cremation with a Humanist ceremony, like their wedding – while some of his family would have preferred a Catholic ceremony.

In the end, Alex chose the Humanist option. But that was “based on a gut feeling,” about what Nic would have preferred, she explains. “And that feels terrible, because you’re doing your best, but you don’t actually know if it’s what the person would have wanted.”

“I guess people get too upset to talk about these things because they don’t want to think about their death. But it meant that I was angry with him for a while, because he was disorganised – and he should have prioritised this aspect of our lives.”

“You don’t want to debase what you’re feeling by talking about money.”

The lack of will wasn’t the only issue. Nic had a pension, but as it was set up before Alex and Nic were together, the beneficiary was his mother. The pension provider refused to make a change that would recognise Alex’s arguably greater claim as Nic’s spouse, only eventually compromising on a 50-50 split. Alex and her mother-in-law had to agree a final, much fairer, settlement between themselves.

“Luckily, you know, she’s an incredibly kind woman and she was happy with that,” Alex says. “But not everyone would have done that.

It’s a terrible thing to think about at a moment in your life when you’re grieving, and you don’t want to debase what you’re feeling by talking about money.”

In the end, Alex was saved a lot of hardship by something almost incidental. While Nic hadn’t made any provisions just in case something happened to him, his workplace had a ‘death in service’ policy that meant that she received enough money to pay off a lot of the mortgage.

It could have been much worse, she admits. “We were just at a point where I was getting ready to be pregnant and to be way more reliant on him financially. I’d already taken a slightly less-stressful job, and all of that stuff that women do. And yet he didn’t have a will or life insurance. It was just sheer luck that he worked for a company that had good employment benefits.”

“I consider myself lucky.”

Alex’s status as Nic’s wife also meant that under intestacy law, she could inherit most of his estate. Other bereaved partners aren’t so fortunate.

“We were married, and so I had a certain level of legal protection, even if we hadn’t got around to doing a will,” Alex says.

“I’ve heard stories from people who weren’t married to their long-term partner, and so their partner’s parents came and took away X, Y or Z amount of money, or whatever they could take – and they’re not even considered the next-of-kin. My heart goes out to them, because it all gets much blurrier.

“I miss Nic more than I can say. But I still consider myself lucky, because it could have been so much worse.”

A year and a half on, Alex is finally in a better position, at least, financially. But she has some advice for those who are putting off making their wills: “Stop procrastinating and get on with it! And have honest conversations with your friends and family. Even if he’d told his mum what he wanted, but not me, I wouldn’t care.

“Obviously, you should formalise it in a will, but just writing down anything about what you want will make a difference. Just get on and do it.”

Make a will today

Ready to make your will? Click here to use Beyond’s online will service. It takes just 15 minutes to protect your loved ones and get peace of mind.


Do you have a story to tell?

Have you struggled because someone close to you died without making a will? We would love to hear from you. Contact our team at [email protected] to tell your story.

Launch of Children’s Funeral Fund Promises Help for Bereaved Parents 0

Children’s Funeral Fund

The launch of the Children’s Funeral Fund was announced this week, over a year since then-Prime Minister Theresa May approved it. The Fund offers bereaved parents much-needed help with cremation, burial and coffin costs.

The Children’s Funeral Fund comes as a result of a lengthy cross-party campaign led by Labour MP Carolyn Harris, whose son Martin died tragically at the age of 8. Harris’ tireless campaigning has already led to success in Wales, with England following suit now.

 

Who does the Children’s Funeral Fund help?

The Children’s Funeral Fund offers financial support to parents who have lost a child under the age of 18. The Fund also supports parents who lose a child in the late stages of pregnancy, after 24 weeks.

 

What does the Children’s Funeral Fund cover?

The Fund will cover:

  • All cremation costs, including certificates
  • All burial fees, including grave digging 
  • Up to £300 towards the cost of a coffin

 

How do parents claim from the Fund?

The Children’s Funeral Fund is organised so that most parents won’t have to do more than they usually would to arrange their child’s funeral. Instead, funeral directors and staff at crematoria and cemeteries will simply apply to the Fund for payment for their services.

Families who choose to arrange the funeral themselves, without the help of a funeral director, will also be able to apply to the Children’s Funeral Fund on their own behalf.

If you are a funeral professional and you’d like to find out more about how exactly to claim from the Children’s Funeral Fund on behalf of a family, click here.

 

What doesn’t the Children’s Funeral Fund cover?

Most funeral directors waive their professional fees when caring for a child who has died. Now, with the coffin,cremation and burial fees also taken care of, the cost of a funeral is almost completely covered. Parents will only have to pay for a few third party services, such as flowers and a venue for the wake.

 

Is other help available?

For parents who need financial help with the remaining costs, it’s useful to know that they will still be able to apply for the Funeral Expenses Payment. This is a type of government grant available to pay for a funeral if the family is on certain qualifying benefits. You can find out more about the Funeral Expenses Payment and other forms of financial support here.

Are you a bereaved parent, or a funeral professional? Share your thoughts about the new Children’s Funeral Fund here.