Getting the best advice before your time of need

The following article was published in the December 2017 edition of Swansea Bay Business Life. The article was written to raise awareness of a funeral comparison website ‘About The Funeral’ which assists the client in making an informed decision at their time of need.
Written and published by Chris Pyke, Business Correspondent at Media Wales.

It’s something that none of us want to think about before it happens, but sooner or later most of us will have to arrange a loved one’s funeral. When the time comes most people just want to get it over with and don’t want to worry about how much it is costing.

But with the average price of even a basic funeral coming in at more than £4,000, it’s not surprising that one in 7 people go into debt to pay for it with an average debt of £1,668.

In fact, Britons amass a total of £160m of funeral debt a year.

As with most things, people could save a lot of money by shopping around, with funeral directors’ costs varying by as much as £2,365 within the same postcode area.

Despite this, only 6% of people get quotes from more than one funeral director and 89% of us go with the first one we contact.

Now one woman is trying to help people save money by providing a comparison site where you can compare the costs of different funeral directors in your area.

Kim Bird set up About the Funeral after years of working in the funeral business and seeing how people depended on their funeral directors.

“When you have to arrange a funeral you just want to get it all done and for it all to be over as quickly as possible,” she said.

“Many people want a funeral director to do all the work but you don’t have to, you can do a lot yourself. But most people want the funeral director to do it because it’s too emotional.”

In Wales the average cost of a simple funeral is around £3,500. Three quarters of people opt for cremations, which is perhaps not surprising given that burials cost on average at least £1,000 more.

The website allows you to compare the costs of different funeral directors in your area, but also to see how you can bring the cost down by choosing different packages.
Ms Bird came up with the idea for the business 18 years ago while she was working as a funeral arranger and bereavement counsellor. She was touched by the experience of the bereaved families she met and how vulnerable they were.

“Funeral plans get a bad press because they are mis-sold by some unscrupulous resellers who won’t tell you that the plan doesn’t include everything,” said Ms Bird.

Most plans don’t include cremation or burial costs or the costs of a grave. Sometimes the family isn’t aware that not everything is covered, so Ms Bird urges people who take out a plan to make sure they and their family know what’s covered.

On the site a user can compare funeral plans. Funeral plans typically cost between £3,500 and £4,000 and can be a good way to save your family from having to find the money to pay for your funeral after your death.

About the Funeral has been hailed by GoCompare founding member Kevin Hughes as an industry disruptor by tackling the lack of price transparency head on.

Mr Hughes has joined the board as an investor and director. Two non executive directors bring different, but equally vast experience to the firm. Alan Slater is a former CEO of the largest funeral trade association in the UK, the National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD) whose members account for 80% of all funerals, and Rob Thomas is the former Chief Architect and Head of IT Delivery at Go Compare.

The cost of a funeral is made up of funeral directors’ fees and third party expenses. The funeral directors’ fees cover things like arranging the funeral, looking after the body, and supplying the coffin, hearse and staff on the day. The third party expenses include such things as cremation or burial fees, paying for a minister or celebrant, flowers, newspaper notices, order of service sheets and the costs of a wake.

And Ms Bird cites a study that says 85% of consumers want funeral prices to be published so she believes there is an obvious demand for the site and the industry needs to respond to this and change.

One firm that has signed up the site is Swansea’s Sims & Jones Independent Funeral Directors.

With more than 50 years’ funeral experience between father and son undertakers Gareth and Matthew Sims, the pair created their business, along with family friend Geraint Rhys Jones and Elwyn Marfell Jones, in 2014.

Their endeavour was a response to what they felt was an increasingly corporatised landscape for undertakers.

“The funeral profession has been industrialised by big businesses,” says Matthew.

“We felt a lot of companies were taking away the compassion and personal touches that customers really need at what is a very difficult time for them.”

Matthew acknowledges that Sims & Jones is a profitable business, but says profit is not its main objective.

The company implements a cap on the amount of money it makes per funeral, keeping its services as cost effective as possible, and it’s happy to be transparent with its pricing.

“The prices we advertise are for complete funerals – there are no hidden extras, and we tell customers the full costs involved before we properly engage with them, so there’s no pressure on them to make a decision.”

This is partly why Sims & Jones signed up to About The Funeral, as the service allows customers to consider costs and quotes in their own time, without the pressure involved in meeting a funeral director face-to-face.

“When a loved one passes away people will make kneejerk reactions, mainly because they’re dealing with very intense emotions, and they want to offload some of the stress on to someone else,” says Matthew.

“Whether that someone else charges £4,000 or £3,000 doesn’t matter at that specific moment, but it could have significant financial implications later on. It’s important that customers make decisions will all the information available to them.”

The company hopes that About The Funeral will encourage people to ‘shop around’ for undertaking services. “It’s made us, and other independent funeral directors, known to customers who mightn’t have sought us out before,” says Matthew, who notes that in times of distress it’s easy to simply choose a big, well-established name.

“It’s not just about getting the cheapest funeral, it’s about getting a funeral that’s right for the customer. About The Funeral allows independent undertakers to demonstrate exactly what they can do for every customer – their dedication to compassion and personal service – with the transparent pricing that’s sorely needed. It’s evened out the playing field for the profession.”

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