It’s been over 30 years since we sold our first pre-paid funeral plan! Find out more about the story here…
Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors has been established in West Sussex since 1855 and proudly serves local communities in Horsham, Billingshurst, Crawley, and Hurstpierpoint both by providing a professional and caring service at the time of need and also through the selling of its popular prepaid funeral plan. Freeman Brothers sold its first prepayment plan on 20th April 1990 – 31 years ago today – and Manager Abi Pattenden outlines some of the plan’s key features and how it has changed over time.
Freeman Brothers has always been a company that wanted to respond to its customers’ requirements and so, when we were asked about offering pre-paid funeral plans in the late 1980s, we were keen to adopt this then-new product. Paying for a funeral like this had been common in the USA for some time but, in the UK, funerals were mostly paid for in other ways. Agents who visited homes regularly sold plans designed to provide a lump sum in future by instalment, there was always life insurance, and, of course people always saved to pay for any eventuality.
However, pre-paid plans were a brand-new product. The aim of charging someone today’s price for their required funeral when the time came – whenever that might be – is something we take for granted now, but then it was revolutionary in providing a future product (regardless of its prevailing cost) as opposed to a sum of money.
Initially, Freeman Brothers used a national supplier but Peter Freeman, who is the fifth generation of his family to operate the business and remains proprietor today, soon realised that prospective customers were local people who wanted us to fulfil their funeral when their time came, as had happened in previous generations of their family. Therefore, it made sense for us to operate our own plan, meaning there would be no middleman (so the plans could be better value for the customers) and giving us the control to create our own offering. Therefore, a firm of solicitors was commissioned to create the Freeman Brothers Funeral Trust in 1990. A key aim was the investing of money prudently and fairly, to create growth which would cover likely cost increases over the life of the plan, while not taking unnecessary risks. The Trust continues to be managed with this ethos in mind.
At first, all plans sold were ‘Tailor-made’ – entirely bespoke to the planholder’s requirements. A hallmark of Freeman Brothers’ plans has always been that – should particular needs be different from what is thought to be ‘standard’ (however that might be defined) – a plan can be made especially for you. However, it became apparent that many people’s requirements for a funeral at that time fitted into one of three tiers and the Standard, Principal, and Supreme plans were born.
Throughout the 1990s and into the late 2000s, the plan remained more or less the same. The three tiers initially only varied slightly but became more demarcated. All tiers included a service in a place of worship and the use of a limousine, and the most significant differences were the choice of coffin and the option of burial. However, it became apparent that not everyone who was willing and able to purchase a pre-payment plan required these more complex arrangements and so, over time, the offering in each of the tiers was refined so that they could be differentiated from each other and each offered the best value for money. The Tailor-made plan continued to be offered for customers whose requirements were more simple, more complex, or otherwise different.
Over time, the plan has continued to evolve. As pre-paid funeral plans became more popular, many providers entered the market and some of the biggest started large advertising campaigns, which led to more prospective customers being aware of them, and enquiring as to Freeman Brothers’ own offering. This led to a far broader range of requirements. We continued our principle of being led by what customers told us they wanted, and increased choice also dictated people’s future preferences.
In the mid-2010s, the plan was overhauled completely with a fourth, Simple, tier being offered for those whose needs were the most straightforward, and the Standard, Principal, and Supreme schemes having their inclusions altered to be more appropriate – for example, printed Orders of Service were included as they became commonplace and willow coffins were introduced as an option due to customer feedback.
The plan has since been further refined with the addition of the Basic tier after some customers told us they would like to pre-pay but that even the Simple tier was too complex for their requirements. They were still able to avail themselves of the Tailor-made option but, again, it is important to us that we are seen to be responsive and shift to what is wanted. We now employ a specific member of staff, Natalie, to administer the plan and help our customers with it – they appreciate the continuity this gives.
When the plan was instituted, it had been assumed that only those who had more complex and, therefore, costly, requirements would benefit from a pre-paid funeral plan. It is true that a plan can work out as good value for a planholder. We have seen that some people who took out the first plans for less than £1,000 had requirements which would cost up to £4,000 today, mostly because of the increases in third-party costs such as crematoria and church fees.
Inflation since 1990 has been about 109%, which means the customer’s £1,000 is worth £2,090, so they have made a cost-effective purchase. This is partially because of the value of the Trust fund as a whole, which means it can invest in ways that individuals can’t, as well as the expert management of the Trust and the long-term strategies in place.
However, there is more value to purchasing a pre-paid plan than just financial. Often, customers tell us of the invaluable peace of mind they feel from having a plan in place. This is for many reasons. Our plan offers a full guarantee (not the case for other providers), which means that we promise nothing included within the plan will ever need to be paid for again.
It also gives the planholder the option to outline their funeral wishes. Many customers say that they want to make things easier for whoever will have to arrange their funeral one day, and part of this is stopping them from worrying about what decisions to make. We would always suggest that people discuss their funeral wishes but are aware that this doesn’t always happen, and so this is an alternative. We also know that some solicitors advise their clients to pre-pay their funeral to reduce the value of their assets without the implications that come with gifting money or possessions. None of these benefits are mitigated if the proposed plan is simple rather than complicated.
Freeman Brothers is relatively unique in being a small company which nevertheless manages its own funeral trust. Over the 31 years of its life, we have found it meets the requirements of local people, and I am proud of how we operate – we have always kept the plan as simple as we can, and are happy to spend as much or as little time with someone answering their questions before they make their purchase. We don’t exert pressure! Freeman Brothers has always seen itself as more than just a business – we hope we are truly part of our communities, and the ethos of our plan is just one of the many ways we seek to achieve this.
Further information about our plans can be found here.
Tel: 01403 254590
If you have an urgent query, please call 01403 254590. This number is answered by one our staff 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This is the quickest way to reach us.
Tel: 01403 785133
25 & 27 Brighton Road
Tel: 01293 540000
126 High Street
Tel: 01273 831497