I’ve been mystery shopping Funeral Plan providers. Who does what, and what’s on offer to the unwitting great, British public.
Brace yourselves. This looks like the start of a major rant.
When I’m talking to clients, one of the last things I’m likely to say is, “Okay, so that’s the eulogy done and dusted for the person who has died, but how about we start writing yours too?” (Actually, I might say that. Dark humour is helpful sometimes.)
Even so, the chatter very often turns towards death and dying in general. Mostly, this happens because talking through a eulogy opens up the subject in a gentle way; not least because I try to get a few mirror neurons firing away, as we’re talking.
[Mirror neurones fire in, like, zillion directions as you reflect language and body movements accurately. This highlights synergies between us, which helps to develop empathy and build a level of confidence – and that makes my work slightly easier.]
When the conversation DOES move that way, I’m sometimes asked for pointers. To products, to organisations, to services, to ceremony options, and FDs or people who can help with grief counselling or alternative ceremonies . . . you get the idea.
Recently I was asked:
“What do you think of Funeral Plans?”
I take questions like this as a huge compliment. I also get asked for advice on annual commemorations, and ways to carry memories from a service, back into everyday life. In every case, I take the responsibility of passing information on very seriously: there are significant differences between making a recommendation, offering a suggestion, and providing more details so that someone can make their own decisions about a next step. Or a purchase.
In this instance, I knew it was curiosity about Funeral Plans. The thing is, I have a background in writing for the financial services industry; I understand regulation; and I can point out the weaknesses – oh heavens, the gaping holes – in the FPA’s Code of Practice. Still, this person wasn’t asking me for thought leadership on shoddy practices in that department. Instead, I was being asked, “Are they worth it?”
My answer is always the same: “Any plan you make for your funeral is valuable, but there’s a cost attached to not understanding what you’re buying from a Funeral Plan provider.” Next question? “Okay, so tell me what you get for your money if you buy a plan.”
Oh heck. Here it comes:
“They're impossible to compare like-for-like”
I should know. I have put the hours into creating a detailed spreadsheet of who’s offering what in terms of a basic, traditional (insert your own interpretation there), standard (ditto) funeral, paid for via a recognised – by the FPA – funeral plan provider.
Yes, there are regional variations in pricing, but let’s leave location out of this. Disbursements vary, as do margins – no shit, Sherlock.
But if, as a person who may be handling the arrangements for a person who has died, you don’t understand what the options involve or mean, then how can you work out if a plan offers real value?
“The question is not, 'what’s in the plan'."
Take the process of embalming, for example. It’s not included in basic plans, but it is offered by most providers in their ‘higher end’ plans. That’s fine, but there are no explanations or descriptions of embalming; it’s just included as a service, people aren’t told what it involves or why it may NOT be needed. Or wanted.
And – in its brochure – one of Britain’s largest providers goes to great pains to point out their plan can be ‘cashed in at any time’. It’s almost a feature. It’s only when you get into the terms and conditions with a fine tooth comb that you realise a cancellation after 28 days will incur a £395 cancellation fee.
Providers appear to be very happy to cite the Sun Life ‘Cost of Dying’ report (don’t get me started). They reference the rising costs of planning a funeral to highlight how much people could save by freezing the costs of specific services, now.
What funeral plan providers don’t do well enough, is explain what’s not covered by their plan – and what people could do – what their other options may be – instead.
“The question is, which questions should you ask.”
In the financial services industry, even in the energy industry, there’s an implicit regulators’ requirement that providers’ communications are fair, not misleading, transparent, insert synonym of customer-care-values here, do. They must be CRYSTAL CLEAR, in all regards.
I understand, very well, all the commercial drivers leading to the evolution of a product’s message or a brand’s positioning on a portfolio of services. I DO have sympathy for companies that want to market any product, even a sensitive one, against a backdrop of increasing regulation.
But it seems to me there is NOT enough focus, from the FPA, on the language and content that’s being used – online and off – to market and communicate the benefits of funeral plans in Britain, at all.
End of rant, Part One. THERE WILL BE MORE.
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