The funeral industry is having to adapt by force rather than by choice. Knowledge, someone once wrote, is power. I disagree. Knowing trends is not enough – action makes the difference. Adaptation and creativity are how we will survive as celebrants.

How are you adapting to these three changing trends as a Funeral Celebrant?

1. Ongoing lockdown restrictions for funerals will continue long into the future

The SAIF Coronavirus Update (050520) identifies what many know already – removing social distancing at funerals is not going to happen anytime in the foreseeable future. The Government’s plans will be a “gradual unlocking.”

Wuhan Reopens,” is a fascinating insight from the epicentre of the pandemic, the city trying to come back to “normal.” Some workers are returning, but strict restrictions are still in place for the public. One of those is still with funerals. As SAIF predict, when closed crematoriums and churches reopen, it will only be for limited numbers at funerals.

How will this trend impact celebrants?

Leading services with limited numbers of people provide more significant challenges.

Speaking in public to smaller groups requires a change in vocabulary. It’s making the sentences much more “you” than “we and us,” – a conversation with the family instead of the larger gathering of mourners. That needs a change in writing services.

I’ve been watching a few live-streamed funerals. The inclusive collective words that fit with more mourners seems to sound hollow when repeated to the very people who gave that information in the first place. Often the person leading did not acknowledge the “unseen guests.” Things like this are easy to overlook when working in new ways. 

To survive, celebrants need to keep learning and growing their skills in writing and public speaking.

Tip – Have you recorded yourself taking a service? Have you watched back a live-streamed funeral? It can be painful! But it will help you see where you can improve like nothing else.

Many new styles of funerals are appearing, and this leads to the next developing trend.

 

2. The rise of the online service, virtual memorials and the move to alternative funeral venues

Creativity in the marketplace is booming as businesses in all sectors “pivot” online to keep trading. The same is happening with funerals. The creativity, innovation and willingness to try new ways of helping families are astounding. Before COVID-19 this trend was appearing, the pandemic accelerates its impact.

The live-stream service is nothing new. The rise of the online service, however, while not commonplace, is developing in its acceptance and use. The trend is this format will become more evident in the future. Linked in part to COVID but also the rise of direct cremation.

The “Zoom” funeral is here to stay, along with creative ways of using audio and the written word. This trend speeds up the opportunity for families to take the celebration of life service away from its traditional locations and towards alternative funeral venues.

In a 2019 survey by Coop Funeralcare 4000 adults took part in a YouGov survey on funerals. Interesting before the impact of Coronavirus, the information now takes on even greater significance.

 

  • In the last five years, 77% of Coop Funeral Directors have received a request for funerals to take place in less formal settings.
  • 36% of those surveyed wanted families to have a get-together to celebrate their life, as opposed to a full funeral service.
  • Given the option, respondents said they would rather have their funeral at the beach, in woods or at their favourite beauty spot.

How will this trend impact celebrants?

Celebrants who don’t adapt to digital technology and develop an online presence, will see their services limited. Out of this trend celebrants need to consider how they could promote, organise and lead celebrations away from traditional locations as families choose direct cremation and more emphasis on the celebration or wake.

To survive, celebrants need to adapt to online trends creating products and services that families can access. In addition, starting to think and plan taking your celebrant service away from the crematorium and into the woods! 

Tip – Do you have a connection with any local venues suitable for funerals? Could you put together a “funeral package” idea and see if they are interested in it for the future. One AOIC celebrant seeing this trend developing has already purchased a mobile PA system!

These two may not be that much news – yet, it is the next trend that is surprising some. The virus is revealing a worrying trend for the global funeral industry.

3. COVID-19 increases the number of funerals – but decreases the profits

I have incredible admiration for Funeral Directors and their staff. All front-line workers, all unsung heroes in the battle against COVID-19. Funeral Directors are responding to COVID-19 and responding with courage, tenacity and ingenuity.

Funeral Directors are not only grappling with safety issues, some are finding costs increasing, but profit falling. Families are choosing cheaper coffins, not requiring orders of service, and limousines are sitting idle in garages.

In a recent Guardian article, Steve Murrells, CEO of the Co-op said, “Without financial help for the sector, there will be many businesses (funeral) that won’t survive this COVID-19 period…” “The lockdown requires a simpler funeral. Which, if the volumes continue in the way that they are, will bring a huge strain on the profitability of the market.” I’m sure he knows. According to the Co-op, one in every 25 funerals arranged by Co-op is direct cremations, making the funeral provider market leader in this space.

Major financial brokers are commenting on the same worrying trend. In a post titled, Coronavirus Is Slamming Funeral-Services Stocks Too, Nick Ravo says most sectors have plummeted. Still, you might have expected a “grim bounce” as the Coronavirus spreads across the world. Not so. The funeral marketplace is dropping around 30% of its value. SCI, the largest company in the funeral sector in North America, is 31% down. Ravo cites three other large businesses in the same industry are down in the same regions.

If profits are being affected this much by major funeral players, how must some of the Independent Funeral Directors that make 70% of the UK funeral business be faring?

How will this trend impact celebrants?

I don’t know!

Perhaps some of the smaller Funeral Directors you are working with need help in other ways to survive. Can you offer that help? Taking the trends above, could you write a proposal that includes an option for your Independent Funeral Directors to join forces with a local venue. Could you combine in developing the idea in your area, introducing the two together?

Tip – Are you at home self-isolating or shielding, pulling your hair out because you can’t work? Why not offer to create some social media posts for your local Funeral Directors?

Or, spend some time developing your online presence as a celebrant.

 

Don’t have a Google My Business page yet? Set it up! It’s free, and it will bring business your way.

Maybe not tomorrow, but it will! That’s a trend taking place, we might just not see that one yet!

 

Peter Billingham is an AOIC celebrant at Memorable Words, a writer, and broadcaster at Death Goes Digital.

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