A broad curriculum
This year’s SAIF Education Day returned to Leicester Tigers’ Stadium for the first time since the pandemic, allowing Independents to hear from – and question – people at the forefront of changes to the funeral profession.
Both Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) and Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) regulation were on the agenda, alongside wide-ranging issues that will impact funeral directors’ work well into the future. The day touched on funerals’ environmental impact, diversity and inclusion, professional qualifications and grief support, as well as bringing together funeral plan providers.
Terry Tennens set the scene: “We’re facing extraordinary change within the funeral profession. Are we facing a revolution of customer behaviour or are we in evolution mode? There’s a great deal of transformation in many communities.
“The pandemic has sped up the proportion of direct funerals – now 60% of customer journeys start online when organising a funeral.
“This requires great leadership from you and your businesses, but it also moves us into a space that some of us are not fully comfortable in: the digital space.”
Speaker: Declan Maguire
Managing Director of Anderson Maguire As a way of helping members approach various digital questions, Declan Maguire introduced SAIF Digital, a pilot programme to support with all aspects of online engagement.
Declan said: “SAIF Digital is focused on supporting members with their digital engagement. We’re looking at website design and content, search engine optimisation, pay per click advertising, social media and customer feedback.
“The project has launched with 20 funeral directors, and we’re going to work with them very closely to put them at the very top of every single aspect. We’ll then bring those outcomes to the wider membership early next year, aiming to launch it to the full membership in April.”
Diversity and inclusion within the funeral profession
Speaker: Sheri Hughes, UK Diversity and Inclusion Director, PageGroup
“You don’t go out and hire diversity to get inclusion,” Sheri told the audience. “It has to be the reverse: you have to create an environment that is really inclusive, and by having an inclusive environment you allow your diverse people to thrive.”
The advantages of diversity and inclusion include “a huge commercial benefit”, Sheri said, quoting data that showed that the more diverse voices involved in your business’ decision making, the more you can outperform less diverse competitors.
She offered some advice for smaller funeral directors: “Even though you might not be physically able to have diversity in the room, can you at least bring other perspectives into the room? Can you go and seek somebody’s opinions that will be very different to yours?”
In PageGroup’s case, it invited a “shadow board” into the room alongside its UK board to encourage a diversity of voices.
Sheri added: “This isn’t about you changing who you are. It’s about being seen as respectful of other cultures. Are you adaptable, are you understanding, do you factor different funeral timings in?
“It’s okay not to know. So ask the question, whether it’s of your customers or others. Make sure you’re respectful and you make no assumptions or shortcuts.
“Diversity does enhance your value proposition, it enhances everything you stand for.”
Where can we access materials to help look into diversity and equality?
Sheri pointed to simple online tests including the Harvard Implicit Test: implicit.harvard.edu
The UK is already a multicultural place, why are we finding it challenging to be diverse in the workplace?
“I’m not going to be out of a job any time soon, that’s for sure,” said Sheri.
“There is a lot to do. It’s slow: we’ve been talking about gender equality for, what, 50 years? That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it, that’s an important point to make. It’s slow, it can be really hard at times. But if we don’t then we’re never going to get anywhere.”
Environment and impact on the funeral profession
Speaker: Simon Holbrook, Senior Advisor on Regulated Activity at the Environment Agency
The Environment Agency is currently reviewing statutory guidance to the operators of crematoria, to help manage the emissions into the air that come with cremation.
The review of crematoria guidance is being scoped right now, and Simon said he expected to complete the review in around a year.
Simon explained the key principles of environmental regulation, with the priority to prevent emissions and otherwise reduce them to ensure there is no significant pollution through an Environmental Permit. He also explained the role of guidance, and current discussions happening across UK bodies.
Who is responsible for monitoring emissions?
“The responsibility is with the operator, who then has to engage a competent contractor to do that work for them and to submit that data to their local authority.”
If local authorities are effectively the regulator but also have crematoria, will they be regulating themselves?
“Nearly every local authority has a planning department and nearly every local authority brings forward its own planning applications, and they have a way of managing that such that the decision-makers and those making the proposals have some kind of separation. That’s the way it should be within a local authority. There are mechanisms to try and manage that difficult interface.”
Has the Environment Agency had any input into the regulation or introduction of water cremation?
“The short answer is no,” Simon said. “I’m keeping an eye on it, as is my colleague in Scotland. There are no emissions to air from alkaline hydrolysis so it is unlikely to be a regulated activity in the same way as cremation. There is the question of what you do with the wastewater. I don’t think you could rule out that that might come to have some regulation in the future.”
Speaker: Sean Martin, Head of Operations, Peasgood & Skeates
Sean outlined how SAIF’s CMA task group has been working for Independents and said: “I think it’s fair to say that many of our members are not happy about the outcome, it has put funeral directors in a place they have never been before.”
He went on to share the journey SAIF has been on to secure the best possible outcome.
“The CMA is not used to dealing with an industry with so many moving parts. This is a profession that’s had no regulation at all for a very long time, with each Independent working in its own way.”
He warned that if pricing rules were not satisfactorily followed, the CMA may choose to go further.
“There was a very great risk that the outcome of the legal order was to go straight to statutory pricing with the order.
“What it has also kept in its back pocket is the threat in two years’ time of a further market investigation. If it does that, it will want to be sure of the outcome it will get: probably statutory price controls.
“SAIF at the moment is reviewing members’ websites. SAIF Business Centre is still on hand to support members. We have a review point where we will go back to the CMA and say look, you didn’t get these parts right, there is lack of clarity.”
EQ – the secret superpower of funeral arranging
Speaker: Joanna Williams, Head of Counselling at Professional Help
The ability to empathise and read people’s moods and needs is independent funeral directors’ “superpower”, according to Joanna Williams, part of SAIF Support and a published author.
“Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is the ability to recognise your own emotions, regulate them, express them, and from that, to read other people’s emotions. It starts with you: you have to have
that vocabulary and sensitivity.
“In 1990, people started to suggest that IQ was not the only measure of how well people would do in life. In the profession you’re in, you might argue EQ is more important.”
Attendees were shown how to tell whether they have EQ, and how it can be developed.
“In any job that requires real listening you’ve got to be good with silence happening, and with leaving that space. And that’s a learned skill, a skill we can all have.
“For funeral arranging in particular, understanding and managing your own emotional state is important: how you enter the room affects how they leave it.
“A lot of funeral professionals talk about not just reading the emotion in the room but going along with it. Letting a conflict sometimes play out to get to a better conclusion, but also knowing when to defuse.” Joanna concluded: “While some people seem to have charisma or empathy as a gift, I think EQ can be developed and should be in a caring profession.”
Is there anything that could impact the level of EQ – age, experience, background?
“There are definitely some environmental factors and some around demographics as you describe. Broadly, some research seems to show that women find EQ comes more naturally but it’s marginal. It seems to be more experiential.
We can watch people who do it well and emulate them, so your propensity to high EQ depends on whether you’re around people with high EQ. I certainly think everyone can improve it.”