SAIFCharter: Business update from the Chairman

words: Julian Walker

The Golden Charter board has been working hard to adapt to an increasingly dynamic funeral and funeral plan market and understand the emerging threats from several quarters, while ever mindful of the full impact of decisions on the shareholders and their long-term success.

As your representative, I addressed all members of Golden Charter staff in January at their annual company-wide conference. My aim was to encourage a broader understanding of funeral director culture: our strengths and weaknesses and how we perceive our relationship with Golden Charter, the good and the bad. I can report that our company is in good shape, more than aware of its weaknesses and aligned with our collective values of personal service and customer focus.

The recent SAIFCharter price survey was successfully completed – thank you to those businesses that took the time to respond. The evidence we gathered will become highly relevant in the coming months.

There were a significant number of member firms that chose not to respond and I particularly wish to highlight to them two matters that are keeping me up at night, which I hope will remind them of the need to work as a collective – without doing so, we will be unable to maximise our effectiveness and almost certainly weaken Golden Charter, a company we own that has only our best interests at its heart.

The first concern is the revitalised Co-op, which has announced a plan sales increase of 73% in the last three months of 2016. This was achieved by dropping its basic plan price to one significantly below ours, accompanied by aggressive and effective marketing, particularly online and on TV, showing a direct comparison with Golden Charter plans.

We are certain this action is promoting a price sensitivity within the funeral plan market which had not been present previously. One thing is certain: our superior service levels and quality of care are no longer enough, particularly online.

After taking soundings with funeral directors, we have chosen to make a robust and immediate response – discounting our standard plan range to match Co-op prices. This will result in lower payments on maturity for these plans when allocated in the future and those standard plans sold directly by funeral directors.

The funeral directors consulted were steadfast in the view that they would support this measure to protect our current collective market position as the largest seller of plans in the UK and demonstrate that we aim to continue to serve our communities with our values and service.

This action will create challenges to those selling the standard plans, but the option to offer Independent Way using your own prices remains. The Co-op also has several marketing initiatives focused on its at-need price levels.

The second challenge is so-called ‘direct cremation’, sometimes called body disposal. Our findings are that it is increasingly sought by bereaved families, and I would appeal to all SAIFCharter funeral firms to offer such a package and advertise the fact, particularly on your website.

In my own firm, we introduced this service at the beginning of January and did two direct cremations within the first two weeks – a pattern repeated for other recent ‘converts’ within the SAIFCharter Executive. We have learnt this is about a lifestyle choice rather than funeral affordability, and offering it maintains our relevance to the evolving needs of our communities.

I hope you will join me at the SAIF AGM in Harrogate in March, and I look forward to collecting your views on these and other matters.

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