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'FCA regulation is to be embraced'

Regulation will only formalise what funeral directors have done for years – put families and their loved ones first, says Golden Charter’s Suzanne Grahame

With the path to regulation now clearly set out in front of the funeral planning industry, it is important that we ask what really matters about the process.

It is only natural to be concerned when faced with change. The funeral profession has been self-regulated for so long that this external scrutiny will feel like an imposition.

But any changes the FCA introduces are only likely to reinforce the principles that most funeral directors have always followed.

The relatively small, family-run funeral directors may lack the resources and time needed to respond to something of the scale of an FCA consultation process. Yet it is those same, independent organisations who will most welcome support once regulation happens.

Luckily, independent funeral directors have a voice through Golden Charter. We exist to promote and support independent funeral directors, and to protect their market share of future funerals. We work with 3,000 funeral director branches across the UK, but there are more out there working under extremely challenging conditions and with little time to reflect.
Hopefully, this summary will help.

We have pinpointed three areas to focus on: treating customers fairly; supporting vulnerable members of society; and keeping the customer at the heart of funeral planning.

Treating customers fairly has been a key principle of the FCA for some time. It looks to uphold six ‘consumer outcomes’, which together protect the interests of customers. I believe these outcomes are already second nature to funeral directors.

They are quite simple things like ensuring clients get what they have paid for; offering the best possible products and services; resolving complaints properly and quickly; being flexible and understanding; and, above all, being crystal clear.

And while not taking this approach would jar with most funeral directors, whose first thought is always to protect and care for people, it is undoubtedly a new standard for us all to follow.

The FCA is also looking at some specific measures it thinks could help customers. We don’t yet know if all of them will be implemented, but they are all designed to improve people’s experiences.

A great example is how funeral directors and funeral planning companies interact with next of kin. It has been mooted that a next of kin will be required for every plan, and will receive a copy of the plan itself, plus annual statements. With long-term products like funeral plans, these simple communications seem like good ways to reassure the public while reminding customers and their families of the provisions they have in place.

Indeed, getting communications right is vital for more vulnerable members of society. Protecting the vulnerable has ever been more important, thinking of the increased hardship and distress Covid has visited on the nation. Indeed, the loss of a family member often throws people into poverty, debt or both, so vulnerability is not just about health or physical capabilities – it’s a financial and emotional concern, too.

Whatever their individual circumstances, vulnerable customers deserve the same quality of service and attention to detail as any other client.

The final area of focus is one I am particularly passionate about. Since arriving at Golden Charter, I have placed the customers at the heart of our business. The FCA calls them consumers; many funeral directors call them clients or families. Whatever your word, these are real people who are trying to make major financial and life decisions.

The FCA protects consumers by scrutinising our behaviour and the products we sell. It does this to build trust in our marketplace and encourage more competition and transparency. The theory goes that this in turn leads to increased consumer confidence and protection.

But put simply, the one thing everyone expects from a financial transaction is trust. The fair treatment of customers should be at the heart of your business because it underpins the relationship between funeral director and client.

The good news is that these principles – of fairness and transparency – already run through the heart of independent funeral directors. That’s why the regulatory process should be embraced. It’s also why those who take simple steps like following our handbook guidelines or working to the formal agreement we have in place, are most likely to find the transition easiest.

Although there are bound to be challenges in the road ahead, Golden Charter has been preparing for regulation and laying the roadmap for several years. If we all put our customers first, regulation will only benefit us all.

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