The Partnership Podcast

The future of funerals with James Daley

April 30, 2020 Golden Charter Season 1 Episode 8
The Partnership Podcast
The future of funerals with James Daley
The Partnership Podcast
The future of funerals with James Daley
Apr 30, 2020 Season 1 Episode 8
Golden Charter

James Daley of consumer champion Fairer Finance rounds out his interview with Malcolm, describing how he expects the funeral sector to look to a newcomer in the future, and underlining why it's important that families can get information online.

Show Notes Transcript

James Daley of consumer champion Fairer Finance rounds out his interview with Malcolm, describing how he expects the funeral sector to look to a newcomer in the future, and underlining why it's important that families can get information online.

Malcolm Flanders [00:00:04] Welcome to episode two of the Partnership Podcast interview, with consumer champion James Daley. James is Managing Director of Fairer Finance, who have looked at the world of funerals in detail, and is now a member of the Funeral Service Consumer Standards Review, which aims to improve standards for families in the lead up to regulation.

Malcolm Flanders [00:00:25] Last time James talked about what today's customer is looking for and the importance of transparency. On this episode, we want to hear his view on the future and the emerging opportunities it holds for funeral directors and plan providers.

Malcolm Flanders [00:00:53] So, James, curiosity here: given what you know about funeral planning companies since you got involved, and I noticed you started your own business a few years ago, if you were to create a new funeral planning company, what would the ideal provider company look like?

James Daley [00:01:09] Well, you know, in this day and age, I think digital first. That's where I'd want to start. And, of course, you know, the personal element of funeral planning and the funeral director business is incredibly important. But actually, people want to be able to do their initial shopping around in the privacy of their own home without being pressured. And so, you know, I would want to create something that was really market leading on the web so that people would come. And even if they didn't buy from me, I could help them understand what the differences in the market were. 

James Daley [00:01:46] And then, you know, of course, having excellent standards once you do get customers would be the next thing. And, you know, some of the things that are missing at the margins, you know, are proper facilities, you know, storage that is close enough, the ability to see the deceased, you know, in the days after they've passed. You know, things that are not consistent across the industry, and I think having a business that just either met every customer expectation or was very clear where it didn't. And, you know, I don't want to tell the industry that they have to offer a full service offering. You know, there's a growing market for direct cremations, and that's fine if people want that.

James Daley [00:02:29] But you just have to be clear about what you don't offer, and be very clear about what your customers expect. And I think, you know, people don't necessarily expect their loved one to be shipped off 50 miles to a storage facility, or worse still, to be put in a shed round the back. 

James Daley [00:02:47] And training your employees is another one, you know, making sure that if people are offering any kind of embalming services, or whatever, that they have the appropriate training for it. None of that is subject to scrutiny at the moment. And I think I’d just want to say, this is the bar. We're going to show you what you deserve. And if you want to buy with us, you'll know exactly what you're getting. 

Malcolm Flanders [00:03:08] Understand, thank you. So do you feel in the three years since this all started, from your perspective, that there's been a positive change? Can you see any sort of improvement already since you got involved?

James Daley [00:03:22] We've seen an enormous amount of change. You know, I know we can't take all the credit for that, but I think in the pre-paid funeral plan market, we have had a material impact and we did very quickly. We created ratings off the back of the piece of research that we did, and we did that initial piece of research with Dignity, but we did a follow up piece where Golden Charter, Co-op, Ecclesiastical, were also co-sponsors. And all of that experience led us to create these ratings where we focused on some of the things that we didn't think were necessarily offering customers good value.

James Daley [00:04:00] So particularly, say, cancellation fees. That is one area where the average has just kind of collapsed over the last three years. And I think we can take quite a lot of the credit for that. And of course, you know, we engaged with the minister, we engaged with the FCA, and within a year of publishing that report, the Treasury was announcing that it was going to regulate funeral plans, and although that hasn't happened yet, I think it is, you know, 99% certain it's going to happen. The legislation is just in the queue behind everything to do with Brexit.

James Daley [00:04:31] So things have changed. And because the regulation is coming, the industry is getting ready for that. And then at the same time, we've had the CMA review in the at-need market. And, you know, as you mentioned in your intro, I'm part of the industry group looking at how we can raise standards now because we know from the experience with pre-paid plans, that it may be some years. Even if the CMA comes out and says, "We're going to regulate this market, we're going to change this market," it may be three, four, five years until that actually happens.

James Daley [00:05:05] So let's not all sit on our hands. Let's agree where there are problems and try and address them today. And all of that effort and focus and thought is leading to demonstrable changes day by day. And we haven't even mentioned the price wars between Dignity and Co-op.

Malcolm Flanders [00:05:23] Indeed, thank you, James. When I'm out and about meeting funeral directors, I have to remember they wear two hats, where one is being a funeral director and helping families through that process, the other is they are business people. And many of the ones that I meet have a horizon, 10 or 20 years, of the next generation coming through. So if you put yourself in the shoes of a younger funeral director that that's just taken the reins of such a business, how optimistic would you be, from a business perspective, of this industry and how it copes with the changes going forward?

James Daley [00:05:58] Well, having just read the CMA papers that came out in the last few days, there is an extensive study around profit margins in the funeral directing market. And it doesn't sound, from their analysis, like anybody is going hungry today. So, you know, I think there are significant margins still to be made in this market. 

James Daley [00:06:19] Having said that, I think they are going to be chipped away at over the next few years. There is going to be regulation. There is increasing price competition between the biggest companies in the sector. So, you know, I think it will be an uncertain time to be opening up a new funeral directing business, to be honest. You know, it takes years to build up a reputation in your local community. And, you know, I think probably in 10 years time, it will not be as attractive to run a funeral directing business as it has been in the last decade.

James Daley [00:06:54] But having said that, if you set out for the right reasons and you're determined to build a reputation for good service and quality, people will always be willing to pay for that, I think. And, you know, there will be healthy margins to be made for the responsible business owners in the long run in any market like this.

Malcolm Flanders [00:07:14] And I guess, if we go forward five years, then we've gone through the sort of FPA phase, we might have regulation probably in place for funeral plans. Do you think there's another wave of change after that? Is there evolution in this market or will that be it in terms of change?

James Daley [00:07:31] I think that will just be the beginning, because there's always unintended consequences of regulation. You know, once we've dealt with some of the initial problems that the CMA has focused on, there'll be new problems. And, you know, we do have to find a way of unlocking reliable ways for customers to get a read on quality. And that's not easy to do.

James Daley [00:07:55] You know, obviously, when people have just been to a funeral, they're not necessarily in the mood to answer a survey about how great the funeral was, so it's quite hard to get customer feedback. Do we have something a bit like the food hygiene ratings where there's an inspection regime and people are scored? Maybe. But that doesn't really take into account the kind of more pastoral side of the funeral directing business.

James Daley [00:08:21] So, you know, I think that's going to take some while to crack this as a problem. But I don't think any respectable, honest business should be concerned about the change. You know, I think it will, you know, it'll raise standards, it'll raise the reputation of the sector, and it'll be good for anybody that's willing to act with integrity and build a business on that.

Malcolm Flanders [00:08:48] Thank you. And actually, that's quite encouraging way to end, because at the end of the day, other business sectors have gone through this kind of change, if you will, customer orientated. So it's a natural evolution for the funeral director sector, isn't it?

James Daley [00:09:01] Exactly. People are always scared of regulation. But actually, as you say, people have been there before. It generally is the right thing to do. And if you were already doing the right thing, there's nothing too much to be scared of.

Malcolm Flanders [00:09:13] On that note, James, thank you ever so much for your time and your insights. Really appreciate it. Thank you.

Malcolm Flanders [00:09:23] That brings to a close our two part interview with James Daley. If you want to hear more from James, the new Spring 2020 SAIFInsight has a feature from him on online transparency. You can also hear James' previous podcast episode at, or wherever you get your podcasts. We have a growing archive of interviews and episodes on subjects that remain relevant to funeral directors across the UK. Thank you for listening to another episode of the Partnership Podcast and I'll talk to you again in a fortnight's time.