The many sides of digital

SAIF Digital

At the SAIF AGM, Declan Maguire and Karen Trickett looked at SAIF Digital, while Ciarán O’Toole talked and Golden Charter support, and Tremayne Carew Pole outlined Life Ledger.

An afternoon on technology kicked off with Golden Charter’s Director of Product & Innovation, Ciarán O’Toole.

“In the last year alone, 1.5 million people have now gone online for the first time,” he said, noting that 95% of the UK now uses the internet. “We’ve made developments to meet that demand.”

Ciarán called out, which he said over the past four years “started from nothing, became something, and is now one of the market-leading websites in the UK to find a funeral director. And it leads families exclusively to independent funeral directors, that’s all we’re interested in, making sure you have a presence online and families can connect with you.

“In just three years, has generated 18,000 qualified enquiries – that means someone who actually needs a funeral director to arrange a funeral. More than 10,000 of those have turned into a funeral for an Independent.

“It does get results. And that’s beyond families searching for a funeral director, there’s bereavement support, death notices – and it’s free. We don’t charge you and we don’t put you at any unfair disadvantage against other businesses or corporate entities. It’s your service.”

Helping in the background

“We’ve been working hard for the last few years to start to really make a difference in helping you digitally in the background,” Ciarán continued, pointing to the plan administration support on

Singling out the portal’s ability to offer fully paperless online plan sales processes, Ciarán noted how this was built with regulation in mind and supported families’ needs.

Another step Ciarán outlined was fully digital plan sales so a customer could buy a plan start to finish online through their funeral director rather than Golden Charter. That approach has been trialled with a pilot group of funeral directors, around half of whom have now experienced selling a plan in this way.

“It’s all about what’s right for you and your families. These are things to think about now and into the future, and services Golden Charter has been developing to give you options.”

Life Ledger

Tremayne Carew Pole introduced Life Ledger, a “baby of the pandemic” created in 2021, with a personal story.

“Life Ledger effectively came about three or four years ago after the death of a great friend of mine’s mother.

“My friend Ruth invented premium economy when she was marketing director at Virgin Atlantic and went on to be the first CEO of Virgin Media. When her mother died, she crumbled: she wasn’t able to really get to grips with the administrative burden her mother left behind, and after a year she effectively gave up trying to close accounts and left whatever was to be, to be.

“We sat down and thought, ‘what can we do to help people when they are struggling after a death, after the funeral director’s job is done?’. And we felt we could and should consolidate death notifications into one place.”

How does it work?

Describing Life Ledger as a private sector equivalent of the Government’s ‘Tell Us Once’ service for reporting a death to most Government organisations, Tremayne said it involves providing the key details of all accounts at once. The service is free to use, presently funded by charges to professionals similar to those charged by probate companies and solicitors.

“The private sector is where most of the work is: the banks, credit cards, social media, streaming services. You name it, you have an account you need to close down.”

Funeral directors’ place

“We would like you to signpost to us. We have a whole range of collateral we can provide to you, including leaflets you can include in packs to families, digital collateral, or some companies are signposting to us on their websites.

“We also have a data feed linked to Oak Technologies so that when you are arranging a funeral and entering a deceased’s details there is a ‘notify Life Ledger’ button. That means the details we need come directly through to us.

“Families typically start the notification process seven days after a death, after they have visited you to arrange a funeral. 32% of people we talked to said they had encountered some form of trauma dealing with death notifications so it has a real ability to help people when most deaths involve 20-30 notifications.

“And we’re free, we don’t charge. It is free for families, we want to help them.”

Life Ledger is at or visit the associates’ page at

SAIF Digital

Declan Maguire outlined SAIF Digital, a project SAIF has been working on for nine months in partnership with Golden Charter, and its progress since its launch at Education Day.

He said: “Post regulation there are different demands on funeral directors, and one key area we weren’t supporting our members in was arresting decline in business or helping grow business. We discovered the area we were struggling the most in was digital marketing.”

From there, SAIF launched a three-step programme:

1. Find out what the consumer is doing to find funeral directors

Golden Charter Chief Commercial Officer Karen Trickett explained how Golden Charter insights helped establish families’ behaviours.

“We have a huge amount of insight available to us from a multitude of sources,” she said. “We looked at what that was telling us.

“Lloyds found that as well as 95% being online now, they’re spending 13 hours more online than they have before. 16-44 year olds, people potentially helping to plan funerals when parents and grandparents pass away, are up at 99%.

“Mintel says 83% of over 75s occasionally or regularly use a smartphone or tablet. In these people’s everyday lives they’re used to using digital, there’s no question.

“Coming out of the pandemic restrictions there was a question of whether that would revert. 60% say they would still prefer to obtain information digitally – the first port of call is Google and that looks set to stay.

“We also research the ‘next generation of funeral planner’. We’re seeing an increase in doing research up front, and shopping around, particularly for funeral plans.

“The big statistic is that for every two funerals delivered in the UK in 2020, one person searched online for funeral services. 50% of customers looking to make at-need funeral arrangements start their journey online, and that’s huge.”

2. What is the competition doing?

“We see our corporate core competitors still play a very big part at-need and pre-need, but Pure Cremation has benefited from the perfect storm around the pandemic and is spending a lot of money, mainly on TV and leaflet drops.

“Generally, the [big traditional competitors] are getting their elbows out [and specifically reference] going after the Independents’ market share. They’re investing heavily in digital, as well as being all over the television. Then there are many disruptors. The common denominator behind all competitor activity is huge investment in the digital landscape.”

3. Assemble a test group and build a programme of support

Declan explained common issues funeral directors can have in areas like mobile design, pay per click advertising and search engine optimisation (SEO), where the inclusion of one additional term can be the difference that ensures you appear at the top of Google’s listings.

“The first step is finding the funeral director online. Search engine presence is really important,” he said. “A member I know very well did not have ‘direct cremation’ as part of their SEO. If you search for that they come up seventh in their area, whereas for everything else in funerals they come up first, second or third.”

Other simple fixes included changing opening times to be 24 hours a day. Declan said: “Is there any funeral director in this room who doesn’t take calls after 5 o’clock?”

He pointed to an example in the test group where an otherwise successful online funeral director presence would still not lead to a funeral because the search took place outside of business hours so the business was shown as closed.

Declan pointed funeral directors to to sign up and benefit from a free digital audit, a library of social media templates, and guidance on digital issues.

“By acting independently, we act collectively as well. We do need to work hard to fight back right now, and the first step is to register for SAIF Digital.”

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