Abi Pattenden, Manager of Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors
Freeman Brothers has been serving the communities of Sussex and Surrey for almost 165 years and is very proud of the place we have as funeral directors within our local communities. As well as helping families in Billingshurst, Crawley, Horsham and Hurstpierpoint and their surrounding areas at a time of bereavement, we also offer other services such as advice in advance of a death, and provide a popular pre-paid funeral plan, specifically designed with the needs of local people in mind.
In response to some recent publicity about poor practice by a funeral plan provider, Manager Abi Pattenden discusses why Freeman Brothers – and other organisations – suggest that buying a plan from a funeral director is the best route for a prospective customer to take.
When I saw an article in The Guardian about the alleged actions and sales techniques of ‘Prosperous Life’, I have to say my heart sank. Every now and again stories like this make the news and I always worry about the implications they will have for the sales of pre-paid funeral plans, because they are fundamentally a good idea and, when purchased by someone who has a good understanding of their chosen product and its attributes, give significant peace of mind and reassurance.
A pre-paid funeral plan does exactly what it says, in that it allows you to pay for, at today’s prices, some or all of the parts of your chosen funeral, to be used when the time comes. Types of plan vary in terms of what they will or will not include and the extent to which the inclusions are ‘guaranteed’, which means protecting you from potential price increases. Some plans will include virtually everything while others only include the funeral director’s charges. Some give a full guarantee on all charges, including those which will be levied by third parties (such as the crematorium and the person who is going to officiate the service) while some will exclude these or expect them to be ‘topped up’ should they increase by above a certain percentage over the life of the plan.
As The Guardian article indicates, there are companies who sell their plans at a distance by telephone and, indeed, use sales techniques (such as cold calling) which you might associate more with other types of products. There are also companies who will send salespeople to prospective customers’ homes. However, many funeral plans are sold by funeral directors, and I would argue that this is the most sensible way to make such a purchase. I’m sure it could be argued that ‘I would say that’, but hopefully some of the reasons that I can give for this will reassure you that my thought process is not a biased one.
Most people purchase a pre-paid funeral plan because they are seeking peace of mind. They want to know that their arrangements are taken care of and prevent worry or unexpected expense for their families when they die. There are several reasons why buying a plan from a funeral director can increase this peace of mind, not only for the purchaser but also for their family.
Many people will buy a plan from a funeral director because they have previous positive experience from that company. In fact, at Freeman Brothers, we often see people purchasing a plan after they have suffered a bereavement and have found how many decisions have to be made in arranging a funeral, and how hard this can be without guidance from the person who has died. As with many other purchases, previous good service is an excellent guide. It’s highly unlikely that, unless someone else you know has used the same company for their plan purchase, you will have had any previous contact with a company which only sells pre-payment plans.
Many people tell us that a source of concern over the purchase of a pre-paid plan is the future of the company from whom they are purchasing it. Obviously, there is no way of telling how long it might be until the purchaser actually needs to use the plan. Therefore, some reassurance that the chosen company is likely to be still trading is helpful when making such a purchase. Funeral Directors tend to be long-established companies, and even though many will not remain in the same family as Freeman Brothers has, this still gives some continuity. Funeral directors also tend to have been early adopters of the sale of pre-paid plans as they could see the benefits for their local clientele, and so have long experience in this respect. For example, Freeman Brothers has been selling funeral plans for almost 30 years. In contrast, the company mentioned in the article in The Guardian was incorporated less than four years ago (at the time of writing).
Local knowledge is also something that cannot be underestimated in the purchase of a pre-paid plan, especially if the plan is complex. For example, let’s say that the requirement is burial in a local cemetery. Your local funeral director will know if it is nearing capacity and may suggest purchasing a plot now, if possible, or discuss suitable alternatives to create a plan B. This level of knowledge may not be readily available when dealing with a national company and/or remotely – and it would be dreadful if the Planholder’s wishes were not able to be carried out because of something like this.
A funeral director has their local reputation to consider. In any field, it is far less likely that a long-established and well known firm will try to sell a customer an unsuitable product. Therefore, there is also piece of mind for the family, after the death, in the knowledge that the product is what the Planholder wanted. There are concerns about the possibility of pre-paid plans to be mis-sold – because of course the person who knows what they were told about the plan’s features is not there to raise concerns at the time the product is needed – but this is probably less of a concern when it is known that the customer visited the premises of a local company and discussed their wishes with a local expert, than if they bought the product following an unsolicited phone call.
Finally, when you buy a plan from a funeral director, you are buying it from the company who will ultimately deliver the service one day. When you buy anything from any kind of third party, you take their word that the ultimate provider of the service is being represented accurately in their willingness and ability to provide that service. Firms who only sell plans will then allocate them to funeral directors – there is no guarantee that this will even be the company you would ideally use. As funerals become increasingly personalised, it may well be considered a good idea to have the assurance that comes from removing the third party in this particular type of transaction.
There is nothing to say that a call centre-type provider of pre-paid plans is necessarily providing a bad service. However, the reasons outlined above hopefully demonstrate that consideration of your local funeral director as the best place for this type of purchase is both practical and sensible. It’s also worth bearing in mind that, unlike professional salespeople, funeral directors are used to dealing with people who are experiencing a range of emotions and difficult times, and can therefore assist you in a sensitive, non-pressuring way: this, in itself, may be enough for some to consider them a more suitable place for which to make this very important purchase.