The 2017 NAFD Autumn Meeting, held at Coombe Abbey in Warwickshire, attracted one of the largest ever turnouts of members and included a keynote presentation from Funeral Planning Authority CEO Graeme McAusland, as well as a much-anticipated debate regarding the funeral plan market.

Making the keynote address, Graeme McAusland took NAFD members through a detailed overview of how the FPA works and is structured, and also offered further information on the recent change of structure from self-regulatory to Community Interest Company, with independent non-executive directors and a stakeholder group.

He also took delegates through the process for FPA registration, emphasising that the decisions were taken by the Compliance Committee having requested and considered information including: independence of trustees, financial structure, arrangements with funeral directors, complaints process and numbers, accounts, marketing literature, actuaries report and much more.

Given the growth in third party sellers in the market, Mr McAusland stressed that he expected registered providers have to ensure third party sellers are meeting FPA standards and must be actively checking call scripts, processes, complaints processes and termination rights among many other indicators.

The panel for the funeral planning debate comprised Graeme McAusland; Ronnie Wayte, Chief Executive of Golden Charter; Barry Floyd, Managing Director of Golden Leaves; Abi Pattenden, NAFD Vice President and manager at Freeman Brothers, West Sussex; Nigel Lymn Rose, CEO of A W Lymn – The Family Funeral Service, in Nottinghamshire and Chris Clark, Managing Director of  Ecclesiastical Planning Services Ltd.

The debate was introduced by NAFD President Alison Crake, who set the scene, saying: “As we all know, funeral plans have an important role to play in terms of helping people to plan for and off-set the cost of their funeral, and remove some of the uncertainty and distress for their families when the time comes.  However, there are clearly a number of issues in relation to the way the market works at present. There is a real opportunity to use this debate to forge a new consensus and closer working relationships between funeral planning firms and funeral directors – and between the trade associations that represent them.”

The debate, which lasted more than 90 minutes, covered a diverse range of topics including: whether funeral directors should always be contacted during cooling off period to ensure they are given an opportunity to accept the plan and the basis of payment; the effect that direct regulation would have on funeral plan providers and funeral directors; whether commission rates should be disclosed to clients; the need to ensure plan purchases understand what they are buying and what it will cover; whether preferential terms of exclusivity were appropriate; how funeral plan providers could guard against incorrect information provided during the sales process; and whether the panel believed that only funeral directors should sell funeral plans – the latter topic proving to be one of the most contentious of the debate.

As the debate drew to a close each panellist summed up their thoughts on how the funeral planning providers and funeral directors, together with the Funeral Planning Authority, could work together to ensure the funeral planning sector worked well for consumers, for funeral directors and for plan providers. There was general agreement that the market has changed significantly since the Article 60 exemption was enacted and the FPA needs significantly more powers, including the power to expel a member, and that the option of becoming a statutory body needs careful and serious consideration as the alternative, regulation by the Financial Conduct Authority, was not something to be called for lightly.

At the end, NAFD President Alison Crake summed up the challenge ahead: “We need to pull together as an industry and change is needed on both sides. On behalf of the NAFD, we look forward to closer working relationships that help to shape the future regulatory structure and working practices in this area of the profession.”