NAFD Conference 2024 Review

Freeman Brothers was first established as a funeral director in Horsham, West Sussex in 1855. The company now has a further three offices across the county – in Billingshurst. Crawley, and Hurstpierpoint. In 2024, the business remains actively engaged with colleagues across the funeral industry via membership of the National Association of Funeral Directors. Funeral […]

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Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors staff member Wilf

Freeman Brothers was first established as a funeral director in Horsham, West Sussex in 1855. The company now has a further three offices across the county – in Billingshurst. Crawley, and Hurstpierpoint. In 2024, the business remains actively engaged with colleagues across the funeral industry via membership of the National Association of Funeral Directors. Funeral Director, Wilf Freeman, recently attended his first NAFD Annual Conference, and shares his experience here…

On Saturday 11th May I had the privilege of attending the NAFD (National Association of Funeral Directors) conference for a morning of educational seminars. Despite some initial apprehension, the event was very much an interesting and engaging experience

There were four main sessions:

  1. Why Regulation Is Good For Business
  2. Policy Updates
  3. AI For Funeral Businesses and
  4. Recruiting, Engaging and Retaining Gen Z

Compliance is crucial for success as it demonstrates due diligence, safeguards our business during challenging times, and helps avoid fines or operational shutdowns. This ultimately ensures financial stability for the company, job security for our employees, and continuous business operations.

Approaching Session 1 through the lenses of Continued Personal Development and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), we gleaned insights into the FCA’s focus on workplace culture and lifelong learning. It’s crucial to educate employees about our business goals and promote diligent record-keeping, particularly in customer interactions, such as with pre-paid funeral plans. Equally vital is fostering an environment where employees feel comfortable reporting issues without fear of reprisal. This not only showcases the business’s commitment to risk management but also emphasises personal accountability and enhances staff retention. As the saying goes, “If it’s not in writing, it didn’t happen.”

Whilst 15 hours evidenced Continuing Professional Development (CPD) per year is required as a minimum to prove competence in a role, we are encouraged to increase this where possible. At Freeman Brothers we complete a minimum of 75 minutes per month, although this figure is often exceeded owing to additional session preparations, e.g. a group session or workshop for colleagues or personal homework related to a topic.

From a staff perspective we must educate employees and colleagues that CPD gives each a learning pathway and improves the service that we as a business are able to offer to our customers. Equally, Freeman Brothers will be better positioned to future proof our business by identifying risks and to support, attract and retain the best staff through the encouragement of lifelong learning.

The NAFD lead the narrative for the funeral sector. Despite the recent headlines regarding a funeral provider, there has been no significant change yet; the industry still lacks statutory regulation, and the government remains uncertain about its response. Fortunately, Freeman Brothers, along with 80% of funeral directors in the UK, holds membership in both the NAFD and SAIF (National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors), which uphold stringent principles for membership. We undergo inspections every two years conducted by Independent Funeral Standards Organisation (IFSO), a part of the NAFD. However, some contend that this interval is inadequate. Limited funding poses a challenge for the NAFD in expanding IFSO to a national level, potentially limiting inspections to members only, leaving non-members outside its scope.

Both SAIF and NAFD forming a single independent inspectorate were queried, although this was mooted several years ago and did not come to fruition. Moreover, there are reservations about the industry self-regulating.  There are expectations that the new government will have different policies in relation to funeral industry regulations.

Working within an industry that has many traditional values and is perhaps more reluctant to change than others I can certainly see scope for AI within various roles in our business. Email optimisation, natural language processing, obituary writing, proof reading, content creation and image restoration will all benefit us.

At Freeman Brothers, we’re eager to embrace emerging technologies as they become available. Among these innovations are advancements in AI, such as virtual reality headsets, which hold the potential to enrich the customer experience. In our industry, this technology could enable virtual showcases of coffins, tours of crematoria chapels or wake venues, and pre-purchase viewings of flower arrangements. However, like with any new technology, there are considerations regarding cost and whether the enhancements to customer experience and business efficiency justify the investment, as well as practicality versus novelty. Nonetheless, we’re open to collaboration with startups interested in showcasing their technology and proving its value to us.

In the final session, I gained valuable insights into the characteristics and expectations of Gen Z in the workplace. Gen Z individuals exhibit strong soft skills and demonstrate pragmatism, diligence, and a penchant for obtaining first-class degrees (with 30% achieving this). They prioritise the purpose of their work over salary considerations and are generally willing to work flexible hours, including nights and weekends. However, there’s a notable increase in their concerns about work-related stress and mental health, highlighting the importance of employers being more attuned to these issues and taking proactive measures to address them in the workplace.

How can we address the needs of Gen Z to benefit our business? We need to clearly communicate our purpose and values from the beginning, providing detailed and transparent onboarding. Gen Z faces numerous challenges and demands clear information about their career paths, including pay, hours (especially if they vary and why), work-life balance, flexibility, and the status of colleagues who started in similar positions 5 or 10 years ago. Further, we must highlight that the industry offers incredibly fulfilling career opportunities to capture their attention and interest.

After the sessions concluded, I had the opportunity to speak with a few industry partners, including MuchLoved, Obitus, Cashflows, Royal Refining, and SEIB. I look forward to meeting many more at the National Funeral Exhibition on June 13th.

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Written by Wilf Freeman

May 29, 2024

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