Technology is transforming our profession

words: Mark Porteous, National SAIF President
Mark Porteous

I am amazed that there are funeral directors out there who don’t have a website and still use fax machines instead of emails! The use of modern technology is now one of the biggest changes to happen in our profession. Some may consider it a disruptor but what is clear is that it is here to stay. As a profession, we should not see technology as an obstacle but embrace it wholeheartedly.

Over the last few months, we have all probably used technology more than we have ever done. In my own company we have adapted quickly to communicating and arranging funerals through digital online platforms. Whether using Microsoft Teams, Zoom or any other video conferencing service, there is no doubt that technology has played a huge part within my business and will continue to do so in the months and years ahead.

Only in the last few weeks I have used video conferencing services to carry out my Presidential duties by conducting virtual meetings with the Scottish and National Executives. I have also communicated with members in the North East of England and with members in Wales by using online video conferencing. This has been very worthwhile to hear how our members in those regions are dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other areas where technology is playing a huge part in funerals now include live streaming, with the funeral service screened across the world on the internet. Just think about how many services you have conducted in the last few months which have been webcast. Most of the crematoria in the UK now offer this as part of their standard service but, for those that don’t, many funeral directors like myself can now offer recording and streaming of services using their own equipment.

Live streaming memorial services is now the new norm – we can use streaming to send the service to computers and mobile devices; some webcasting services include private websites where attendees can upload videos, photographs, and even sign a digital guest book.

The internet, social media and mobile apps are all changing the way we memorialise loved ones and leave legacies. In recent years we have all seen the change to the traditional obituary notice. They are also rapidly being replaced with digital technology. Newspaper obituary notices charge by the word for text and by the inch for photos, so costs for a complete obituary can soon mount up. In addition, papers will have a deadline for publication which can put added stress on to families to quickly confirm the details of the notice.

In contrast, consumers who use online obituaries to announce the death of a loved one know the notice will have a larger reach and a lower price tag. They last for years and offer more flexibility.

The public is now more in tune with technology and many of us now live digital lives. In short, technology has complicated our lives and, in turn, our deaths.

Many families have great difficulty in dealing with the digital assets of loved ones after they have died. The Legacy Association states only one in ten people have made plans for their social media accounts following their death. While families fulfil our final wishes, they must also protect us against identity theft so, along with executing our wills, our loved ones must cancel/manage our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts.

There is a valuable opportunity here for funeral directors to create a new digital life service which can help those families who need guidance and support on how to deal with the digital legacy of their loved one.

As you can see for yourself, technology is now playing a huge part in the funeral profession and I have not even touched on funeral comparison sites, digital document storage or digital afterlife services where you can leave a message for family and friends to be played to them in the future, whether that is for a daughter’s wedding, a son’s 13th birthday or a birth of a child.

All this technology will have a huge part to play in the development of your business, whether you like it or not, so make sure you do not get left behind!

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