Funeral director and former SAIF President Jim Auld returns, to talk about how his sole trader business had considered dealing with FCA regulation by becoming an Introducer Appointed Representative.
Malcolm Flanders [00:00:05] Over our regulation miniseries, we've been hearing a range of views on how to approach the Financial Conduct Authority's changes. We've heard from Golden Charter's Head of Compliance, and from funeral directors in the South and Midlands about their plans. Today, we'll hear from another distinct voice. Jim Auld of James Auld Funeral Directors in Scotland's Argyll and Bute. We've heard from Jim before as a past SAIF president, but today he's bringing another different perspective. Unlike our previous two funeral director guests, Jim's business is of the type that may favour, on the face of it, the introducer appointed representative model under regulation. So we'd like to hear from Jim where his head is at the moment, and what steps he thinks he'll take next as an independent.
Malcolm Flanders [00:00:56] Jim, nice to see you again. How are you?
Jim Auld [00:00:58] I'm very well, thank you, Malcolm. Nice to see you. I'm sure we'll meet in person one of these days.
Malcolm Flanders [00:01:04] I hope so, Jim, it's been a long time. Now, firstly, we all couldn't help but notice on social media recently that you led the funeral for Walter Smith. Wow! Could you just tell our listeners a little about what that experience was like?
Jim Auld [00:01:18] I think it's probably like a funeral like no other. But it was actually, one of the most easiest funerals that I've ever organised. The family were an absolute delight to deal with. They wanted a very traditional Church of Scotland funeral at the crematorium, didn't want a church service or anything. One of the considerations was that there had been so much outpouring of public grief in Scotland, and further afield, on the loss of Walter. Within 24 hours of his passing, Ibrox Stadium was festooned with flowers, and scarves, and memorabilia, and they thought it would be a touching tribute to go past Ibrox on one last visit on the way to the crematorium.
Jim Auld [00:02:02] It had its challenges. It was the week of COP26 in Glasgow, so there was very little police forces. Unless you were a head of state, you are not going to get a police motorcycle escort. Rangers Football Club and Police Scotland absolutely bent over backwards to facilitate the funeral. And lo and behold, they managed to get quite a number of police to police around at Ibrox. And also we got the motorcycle escorts as well.
Jim Auld [00:02:32] He was a bit of a legend, he was respected by all teams and folk with no connection to football, but it was a great honour. It was a very simple, very easy funeral to arrange. They were a delight to deal with and I have dealt with more complicated funerals on many occasion.
Malcolm Flanders [00:02:49] Well done you, because I think you represented the independent sector beautifully. And I do remember your comment actually about you'd have done the same for any family in terms of the service you provide.
Jim Auld [00:03:00] That is so true. We had a funeral two days before, there was only three distant cousins and three people from the nursing home. And to me, that funeral was no less important. The nursing home had said that the chap was pretty well non-verbal the whole time he was at the nursing home. But the one thing that he did like was bagpipes, so we got a piper for six people at the funeral, but the nursing home felt it was important because that was the one thing that they got a response from him.
Malcolm Flanders [00:03:29] That's a great story. Thank you, Jim. OK, well look, you're our first three time guest on the podcast series, so well done, and a past SAIF president. So plenty of our listeners will be familiar with you. But actually, can you just give us a quick rundown of your business background? Now, I think it's essentially that you operate as a sole trader. So, what's the history? How did you get to running this business where you are now?
Jim Auld [00:03:54] Well, my family business was farming and when there wasn't enough income for my brother and I in the farm, and I went to work with a small local undertaker and joiner. When he was 60, he stopped doing any joinery work, and he had absolutely no real facilities or anything. And I just helped him out with the funerals in the villages. And when he retired about 28 years ago, they wouldn't sell the business to anyone, because it'd been in his family for 150 years, that led me the opportunity, with a bit of support from the clergy in the area and the medical staff in the area all saying, "well, we would like the funerals to stay locally."
Jim Auld [00:04:34] The business has grown over the years to move in to Helensburgh, which is our main town about 16 miles away from where it all started. And we now do the highest percentage of the funerals in Helensburgh, and esisentially, it's still me that does all the arranging, all the conducting, unless I'm on holiday or away on SAIF business, like I'll be a couple of days this week with SAIF. But maybe I'm a control freak, and nobody arranges pre-paid funeral plans but me. They're all something I've held very dear to myself and a very important part for the business.
Malcolm Flanders [00:05:10] I know you do. Thank you, Jim, and we'll hold that thought just in terms of putting ourselves in your shoes and how you run your business. So that's quite important in terms of the debate we're going to have. OK, so you're based in Scotland, of course, where an inspection regime has been set up, but the FCA and the CMA are UK wide bodies. So what would you say is most different, and what is the same for an English and a Scottish independent dealing with regulation?
Jim Auld [00:05:37] I just think that we are just probably slightly ahead of the game. We've had the threat of inspection and things, and a national inspection of funeral directors, and I think it's only a matter of time before something like this rolls out the rest of the United Kingdom. We've had longer to think about it, and Scottish SAIF has always had, for quite a number of years, a high standard for the mortuary, and an insistence on membership that you must provide refrigeration, which I think is absolutely essential in this day and age.
Jim Auld [00:06:05] I don't think there's that many funeral directors throughout the whole of the UK now that doesn't have refrigeration, but I think when we started that in Scottish SAIF, there was quite a number of members in Scotland didn't, and the ones that have put it in, that complied and readily complied actually, think it's now one of the best investments for their business that they've ever purchased.
Jim Auld [00:06:29] CMA, you know, it's nationwide, and we aren't where we are with it. Slightly disappointed to see quite a number of funeral directors not displaying their prices online and on their business premises, and I'm also disappointed in some of the larger companies that haven't done that.
Malcolm Flanders [00:06:50] Yeah, there's a lot of focus on that. I think we're hoping that over time, more and more will become compliant. OK, now look, we're coming into 2022 with a lot more information on FCA regulation. And I know the last time you and I had a conversation as part of the regulatory working party, you were considering the two main options of introducer appointed representative, and appointed representative. And your initial thinking, as I recall, was because you were a sole trader, and you sell all your plans yourself, then possibly the IAR, which is the introducer route may have applied. But I guess you've had time to reflect, you've listened to a bit more of the information that's available and possibly you've shifted? I mean, where's your head on this now, Jim?
Jim Auld [00:07:41] You know, I think at the time, the FCA thing came out, and the different options, was just round about the time of CMA in September, or just before then. I think our brains were absolutely fried and I thought, we've struggled through the pandemic over the last 18 months. And I think probably at that time, it came out at the absolutley worst moment and you think, "gosh, can I really be bothered doing any more of this, you know?".
Jim Auld [00:08:12] And I thought introducer, IAR, would be probably ideal, and then we sit back and reflect it. And the last few months we've been out selling funeral plans, and brought people in for funeral plans. And actually, it just reminds me how much I enjoy that part of the business, seeing people beforehand, talking about things, hearing about their story before they've gone, and connecting with people, I really, really enjoy that. But I also worried, and I always have worried, and it's always been me that whenever somebody has enquired about a plan, I deal with it personally, and follow it through, we price it and we make sure everything's right.
Jim Auld [00:08:55]But there's ones that - I feel that I have had folk come to see me and think, maybe a funeral plan is not for them. Maybe they've got more than enough assets that will pay a funeral at-need, but then maybe don't have too much cash about them. We're in an area that's quite an elderly population, living in large houses, that are difficult to heat and everything, and you think "gosh, can they afford £4,000 for a funeral plan, or is that something that they can worry about when assets are released at the time to their estate?" So that's always a slight worry with me.
Jim Auld [00:09:31] When I think about it, the FCA thing is probably not too different to the Funeral Director Agreement that I signed a year ago, with Golden Charter. I felt that that was probably actually paving the way quite a bit to regulation, and I know it met a bit of resistance at the time, but I think it was probably people just being slightly naive about what further regulation would mean by showing resistance to it. And I think actually with hindsight, it was a good pathway to the future, with funeral plan sales. And I, for one, think that I will probably be going down the AR route now.
Malcolm Flanders [00:10:13] Yeah, and I understand that, you know, from what you've said, Jim, because the introducer appointed representative essentially means if a family member approaches you either by telephone or stops you in the street, you can take some details, but after that, you'd then be required to pass those details on to your provider. Whereas the appointed representative route means you can have that kind of conversation that you've always had in ensuring that the customer has the best outcome in terms of their funeral planning requirements. And it sounds like you appreciate that kind of relationship you have in your community with those family members.
Jim Auld [00:10:51] Yeah, I think that I would miss the connection with folk, and folk do like to speak to someone that they know and they recognise, and I think it would have certainly made life a wee bit easier for me, but I think we have to think we would continue selling plans, because that's what makes us slightly different from the big multinationals and the people selling.
Malcolm Flanders [00:11:17] So it sounds like after some thought, you're doing the right thing for your business, yourself, but more importantly, for your families, your customers. Yeah. Okay, so all of this only impacts funeral planning, of course, the FCA regulation. Your at-need work, as you've already referenced, has already been impacted by the Competition and Markets Authorities work, the CMA. In terms of complying with that, how difficult was that and are there any lessons learnt for us with FCA regulations in terms of that process?
Jim Auld [00:11:52] I thought it was all okay. I'm hoping the FCA will be more clear cut on things. I thought there was too much ambiguity in the CMA, because a lot of my competitors are pricing a standard funeral as I would interpret as a basic funeral, as a simple funeral, and I don't think that a simple funeral is a standard funeral. So while my price, on my CMA price list, look considerably more expensive than a company 400 metres from me, I think it's honest and transparent. And I don't think that the CMA have just got the transparency that they'd perhaps would have been expecting, because of the kind of wooly interpretation of a standard funeral. It'd be interesting to see how some of the people outside the price an at-need funeral, when somebody actually goes in and doesn't take something that's from the standard.
Malcolm Flanders [00:12:48] Indeed. No, no, I get that. So tell me, just to finish that one off, your prices are on your website, you're displaying them in your business, but has it really changed the kind of conversation you're going to have with family members who come in to see you?
Jim Auld [00:13:02] Not really, no. Because they've always the price list from us. And actually, I don't think there's that many people actually have looked at the CMA price list. I thought, "can you put a value on personal service?" And I think that's what folk are looking for. They're not looking necessarily for the cheapest. They're looking for what they feel is the best support at a time of loss.
Malcolm Flanders [00:13:27] Yeah, so value and service are just as important, if not more important, than price in its own right. Great. Now finally, last question from me, it is Golden Charter's place to support you towards regulation, whichever you take. So how's that been so far in terms of support? And has your business manager actually been in touch yet to talk you through your options, etc.?
Jim Auld [00:13:51] Yeah, we've had a couple of conversations with Stephen, who I haven't met. He's new to the company, but he comes with quite a FCA background from a previous job, so he's got a great understanding of FCA. He's been very supportive, and we'll get another meeting scheduled for next week regarding regarding FCA, probably looking more to apply. But he's been very good at keeping us up to date, and his communication has been absolutely excellent. He's on it, and we're happy, and I feel that Golden Charter have really been there since day one with FCA. And I hope that continues, and there's nothing in my mind at the minute thinking it's not going to.
Malcolm Flanders [00:14:36] I'm sure it will, and that is our role, and that is our intention to try and take the heavy lifting out of this. But that conversation is important when you have it so that you can formally choose appointed representative, if you feel that's the best option for you. Okay, Jim, thank you for your time today. It's been really nice to catch up with you. Sounds like you're just as busy as ever. I know you've just come off a very busy weekend with a book festival, but lovely to see you, and thank you for your time today.
Jim Auld [00:15:05] That's great. Thank you.
Malcolm Flanders [00:15:11] Thank you for listening to our latest Partnership Podcast episode on regulation. The other three episodes in our FCA series are available on goldencharter.buzzsprout.com, or on a range of podcast apps, as are all 30 of our other past episodes. FCA regulation isn't too far away, starting July 2022, and we'll return to it as it approaches and beyond. Meantime, you can also contact me if you have anything to contribute or suggest at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks, and I'll talk to you again on the Partnership Podcast.