In 2020's final episode, Warwickshire funeral director George Locke gives his perspective on signing the Funeral Director Agreement.
In 2020's final episode, Warwickshire funeral director George Locke gives his perspective on signing the Funeral Director Agreement.
Malcolm Flanders [00:00:05] Welcome back to the Partnership Podcast, and I hope you're well. Last time I talked about the beginning of a busy winter period, exacerbated by the pandemic, and focused in on regulation, speaking to independent funeral director Edward Poole about the funeral director agreement. Both of those issues are still at the fore. The funeral director agreement is a major step, and with independents across the country reviewing and signing in their hundreds now, we want to give you further perspectives from those who have signed and what it means to them and the process they went through. So this time I'll be chatting to George Locke of R. Locke and Son in Warwickshire.
Malcolm Flanders [00:00:39] Since our last podcast legislation has now been laid in Westminster, confirming the Financial Conduct Authority will be regulating funeral plans, and the FCA has confirmed it will take responsibility from the summer of 2022. So we'll be able to talk about the agreement in the context of current as well as coming regulation.
Malcolm Flanders [00:01:04] So, George, really good to see you. Thanks for giving up your time for the chat. How are you?
George Locke [00:01:09] Hi Malcolm. Yeah, I'm well, thank you. Tired, but well.
Malcolm Flanders [00:01:13] Excellent, good man. Yeah, well, a week before Christmas, I'm not surprised and I know it's fairly chaotic. So again, thank you for your time. So look, we're going to have a chat about the agreement, and I know you've recently signed, I think in the last few days. So, how do you feel about the introduction of strengthened FPA regulation for the funeral plan market generally?
George Locke [00:01:36] I think it's got to be a positive move. I initially had some reservations that the FCA might come in a bit heavy handed and want to move the whole sort of funeral planning solely into the financial market, or regulate it so heavily that we didn't really have any choice for it to go that way. But I think, from what I can pick up, what the FPA has been putting in place, it's really a good stepping stone towards the regulation and this will, what I hope, just enable a smooth transition, so we can pretty much carry on as we have been already, but albeit under regulation.
Malcolm Flanders [00:02:15] Okay, thanks, George. And what does this actually mean for you and your business? I guess from a business perspective, how do you feel about actually signing up for the agreement?
George Locke [00:02:27] On the surface of things I think it'll largely be business as usual. Behind the scenes I think we're going to have to do quite a bit to make sure that we're complying, but that doesn't actually worry me, because I think what we do already is very compliant and is close to what's going to be in the agreement and things.
George Locke [00:02:51] I think our biggest thing is that we're going to have to take steps to be able to prove that we're being compliant. So I'm very much hoping that what's in the handbook is going to help us with that. And I think signing up to the agreement is obviously going to help us with that.
Malcolm Flanders [00:03:08] Sure. Okay, thanks, George. And just stepping back for a moment, I know your business is long established. If you step back and look at the industry, do you think the industry will benefit collectively from the regulation?
George Locke [00:03:24] Yeah, hopefully it's just going to create a much more client focused area. It's going to give them a lot more protection. In turn, I'm hoping that's going to increase confidence with clients and people looking to take out a funeral plan. And I think one of my big hopes is that it's going to eliminate or certainly make it very difficult for some of the poorer practices that are out there, the upselling and the pressurised sales, which I'm sure we've all heard, heard of various poor practices.
Malcolm Flanders [00:03:59] Yeah, that's a good point actually George, thank you. And just looking at it from a Golden Charter perspective for a moment, how do you feel about the responsibility being placed on us and other funeral plan providers, to be actually held accountable for the behaviours of funeral directors?
George Locke [00:04:19] I think that's all quite reasonable, the plans are actually held with the provider, so ultimately it's them who, you know, Golden Charter and other plan providers who are going to be held accountable. And so I think it makes a lot of sense for them to be able to oversee the way that their plans are being sold and administered, whether that be through other third party sellers or funeral directors. And they can do that across the board with regular contacts, with the funeral directors and just working in partnership with them.
Malcolm Flanders [00:04:52] And just out of interest, because it is obviously a more formal agreement, how do you feel about the way it was written? And I know this is now the second version. Did you have any difficulty at all with the way it was written?
George Locke [00:05:10] There were various rumours and grumblings going on at an early stage before I had sight of it, and that was initially raising some concerns for me. But once I actually received the agreement and the handbook and I was able to gently go through it and digest it, I was desperately looking for these catches or clauses which are going to ruin our business.
George Locke [00:05:34] I couldn't find any. It was quite a bluntly worded document, which is fine, I think is as far as a legal document goes, I thought it was really well written. Very straight, very plain English. Easy to understand, and I particularly like the handbook. I thought that was very well done, and the agreements referred to handbook quite a lot I felt, and to be able to read the two together made a lot of sense, and just help clarify things. So I thought they were both very well worded and complimented each other well.
George Locke [00:06:18] I did sit on the agreement for a little while once I'd gone through it. I just wanted to have a little bit of time just to make sure that I hadn't missed anything, or to let any revelations unfold. As you said, I did sign it last week and yeah, very pleased to have done it.
Malcolm Flanders [00:06:34] Excellent. Thank you, George. And look, quite right too, it's an important document. And, you know, it's about your business. So actually taking the time to reflect and reading it properly was absolutely the right thing to do. Let's just turn to families for a moment and customers. So from your perspective, and your business, where you are in Warwickshire, do you think the strengthened rules will help protect your customers?
George Locke [00:07:03] I think it's going to have the added benefit that it'll be able to provide protection across the board, so when the FCA does this takeover, there won't be any other unregulated providers out there. And I think that's the biggest thing. And I think if we're all under this one umbrella of the FCA, it's going to be a much safer place for clients and families to purchase a funeral plan, and do that securely in the knowledge that they're going to be looked after well.
Malcolm Flanders [00:07:32] Yeah, no, absolutely. And I guess you will have your own service standards and the kind of pride in the R. Locke brand locally, so I guess your challenge is to sort of weave some of these processes and documentations in a way that your families still feel they're getting the service that you know you want to deliver. But at the same time, there's sort of strength and professionalism, I guess, around the selling of funeral plans.
George Locke [00:08:04] Yeah, I don't feel that it's going to tie our hands in any way whatsoever. As I said before, I think it's largely going to be business as usual. If anything, the way we sell the plans, hopefully, will come across more professional because we're going to have that sort of extra weight behind us of regulation, and if we tick that box and get that sticker in our window to say that we're regulated and adhering to those standards, it's a bit like going out to restaurants, isn't it? You look for the five star rating of the kitchen, and hopefully that's what we're going to be having in our premises.
Malcolm Flanders [00:08:43] That's a very nice analogy, although when we'll actually get to go to a restaurant, I'm not quite sure, George, but we live in hope, don't we? So just to go back to the process. I know you said you're going to reflect on it for a while. Did you have any other concerns about the way we communicated the agreement and the process you went through up until the point you signed it?
George Locke [00:09:09] The agreement, I know, came out in batches or out of different funeral directors in stages, and I completely appreciate the way that had to be done. In reality, you couldn't just hand out to everybody all at once. It would have been bedlam. I guess we were probably somewhere in the middle. It was slightly frustrating hearing people talking about it and not having sight of it, particularly for us. It happened just to be we had quiet couple of weeks back in October, and I would have loved to have spent just two weeks reading and digesting it. But that wasn't to be. It got to me just as we started to get busy again.
George Locke [00:09:48] Reading through it, I had a few minor points, which I largely could get the answers from by going back to the handbook. But I needed a bit further clarification. And we had a Teams meeting with Kristi, our business manager. I'm just going to name drop her there and say she's been absolutely brilliant, very patient lady, but she went through the questions with me, just step by step. I got them in order of the way they appeared in the agreement and we just went through them, generally got the answers, had a couple of more questions after our meeting, I was able just to e-mail her and just got answers back quite quickly. So yeah, no problems with that, that was all good.
Malcolm Flanders [00:10:35] Good. Thank you George. And in terms of our approach, i.e. Golden Charter, and what we're trying to do is uphold the commitment, do the right thing for customers, and how do you feel about that? Do you see that in what we say and what we do?
George Locke [00:10:53] Yeah, I think Golden Charter been very proactive in doing what they're doing. I gather that they're the first ones, the ones leading the way in getting the agreements out, I'm not sure quite where other providers are at that stage, or whether they've even started yet. But there's been lots of reference to partnership, you know, it's the Partnership Agreement, Partnership Portal, we're on the Partnership Podcast now, and I think that's really showing in the approach Golden Charter been taking with us. I feel that I've noticed a real difference in the way that they've been interacting with with us as company to company. And it's been really pleasing. I'm very pleased to be involved and pleased to be involved with a plan partner provider who are being proactive about it.
Malcolm Flanders [00:11:40] Okay, thank you, George. And right, final question, you'll be pleased to hear. If I asked you for one word or a sentence to describe your confidence in Golden Charter's partnership approach, what would you say?
George Locke [00:11:55] I think I'm very reassured in what Golden Charter are doing, and the approach that they've taken. I think it's going to put us as funeral directors in a very strong position to carry on selling plans, much in the same way as we've done before, just with added security and added support. And I'm actually genuinely quite excited about what shape the future's going to hold. There will be some issues, I'm sure, along the way, but I think it's all going to come out good in the end.
Malcolm Flanders [00:12:29] Great. Thank you, George. That's brilliant. And again, thank you for your time and thank you again, you know, for your involvement during the year. I know you've been a regular on our sort of fortnightly and weekly management information calls across the country during COVID. And you've also taken part in peer to peer as well. So thank you for your support. Appreciate it.
George Locke [00:12:57] If anybody hasn't taken part in any of those, I strongly recommend having a go, having a listen, you don't have to talk or participate. You can just join in and listen. And I've certainly found them an excellent resource. Knowing you're not alone out there. There are other people in the same boat as you.
Malcolm Flanders [00:13:16] Thank you, George, appreciate it. And look, all the best for Christmas, I hope you get that break when it starts sometime next week. But enjoy your Christmas and have a well-earned break. And thank you for your time today.
George Locke [00:13:29] Thank you, Malcolm.
Malcolm Flanders [00:13:35] Thank you for listening to another Partnership Podcast, if you have any further questions about your agreement or anything else we touched on today, your local Golden Charter Business Manager can help. As you know, you can contact me on [email protected] about the podcast more generally, and get our full back catalogue at goldencharter.buzzsprout.com, or on any podcast app. That includes the last episode's discussion about the agreement and a previous appearance from FPA Chief Executive Graeme McAusland. I will, of course, forgive you if you've got better things to do during the festive period, of course.
Malcolm Flanders [00:14:13] So this is our last episode for 2020 and what a year it's been. For all our listeners, thank you for all your support during the year and I really hope you get the chance to have a great Christmas with those closest to you and the chance for some well-earned rest. Until the New Year, stay safe and I'll talk to you again on the Partnership Podcast.