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What we’ve learned so far on the road to regulation

Following the news The FCA has included Golden Charter in its first published list of funeral plan providers that the regulator is ‘Minded to Authorise’ to operate once the funeral planning sector is fully regulated from 29 July, Suzanne Grahame, CEO at Golden Charter, details some of the lessons learned on the way.

As the 29 July approaches, the funeral planning sector prepares to turn a corner. While funerals are an innate part of society, funeral planning is a very modern construct in comparison.

And planning for death doesn’t come naturally to us. In the UK, just 6% of the population has a funeral plan in place. Perceptions of what may or may not be included in a funeral plan can differ widely and going through the process of planning one’s own future funeral may feel foreign.

As an industry, it hasn’t all come naturally either. It’s why we’re about to be regulated by the FCA, something that we’ve welcomed at Golden Charter with open arms.

Sadly, it seems, there have been examples of over aggressive sales tactics or suboptimal planning products that simply didn’t offer fair value to the person buying the plan. If, as an industry, we want to make one of the hardest times in life easier, we must ensure that the product is described and provided fairly and with care.

Plan providers and those acting as their representatives have a duty to make sure that from the very first conversation to discuss a potential plan through to the delivery of the funeral itself, the customer is at the heart of the process. They also have a duty to ensure that funds are safely held, so customers have no need to question whether their funeral will really be paid for when they’re gone.

As the planning industry has been preparing for regulation, the FCA’s requirements have forced some providers to learn what is, and what isn’t, acceptable for customers. Without regulation, practices which naturally feel wrong to most of us can find routes into an otherwise reliable and reputable sector. The abuses of customers’ trust evidenced in the recent Safe Hands debacle must never be able to reoccur.

At Golden Charter, we have always been led and guided by the independent funeral directors we work with. Now a network of approaching 3,000, we collectively have the largest footprint across the UK.

These independent funeral directors exemplify compassion and care for their communities and have strongly informed the approach we take to funeral planning today. They are true experts in how to treat their customers fairly and appropriately. As an organisation, we’re far better off because of the conversations we have with our partners.

They are also the people who customers are most comfortable discussing their funerals with. We are delighted that the FCA is minded to authorise Golden Charter as a regulated plan provider, so that these funeral directors can continue to do what they have always done, and keep having those sensitive conversations with customers. FCA regulation has shone a light on the lessons the industry needs to learn and forced those using poor practices to show face. The longer-term picture will be very different.

Customers will have assurances that even if their plan provider ceases to trade, their funeral will be safe. They will also have the reassurance that their money is held in a safe place, and that more importantly, what they want from their funeral is what will happen. Confidence will improve.

For funeral directors, the current regulatory standards mean that for the most part, they can continue to do what they have always done.

In the long term, I see regulation bringing benefits to the industry, funeral directors and the people they serve. Funeral planning is still in early days compared to the wider funeral sector itself, but as it becomes a regulated industry, the future is brighter than ever.

 

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