By Dale Maroney – CEO at Walter Carter Funerals and Vice President of the NSW/ACT Division of the Australia Funeral Directors Association
Funeral directors are in the news. Recent reports tout the industry’s costs as “shrouded in secrecy” and label our pricing practices as “predatory”. The coverage has left me dismayed and more than a little disappointed with the lack of balanced commentary.
The reports stem from the release of a study by Professor Sandra van der Laan, who is an Associate Dean to the University of Sydney Business School. Her study found that “the average basic funeral in Australia costs $6000, despite the fact that all regulatory requirements related to the disposal of a body can be met for as little as $1200”.
“In the end, a lot of what you’re paying for is the funeral director’s fees and all they really do is organise to get the body from the hospital to the funeral service and then to the cemetery or the crematorium, as well as ensuring all the paperwork is in order,” the Professor said.
Yes, we’re responsible for transporting the body and ensuring all the necessary paperwork is done. But there’s so much more involved.
To equate the cost of a funeral to nothing more than transportation and paperwork shows a fundamental lack of understanding of the breadth of a funeral director’s role and what goes into running a funeral business.
The most basic of hearses can cost several hundred thousand dollars. Mortuary care facilities require specific equipment and highly-trained staff. The cost of compliance with health and other regulations is ever increasing. Insurances can be staggering. And let’s not forget staffing. This is a 24 hour a day, 7 day a week, 365 day a year business. No matter the time of day or night, someone has to be available to take the deceased into our care.
More than just a transaction
There are few services that are as sensitive or as personal as those provided by a funeral director. And few people understand the full extent of our role.
It starts from the moment we’re called and doesn’t end until the wishes and needs of the family are fully met. At every stage of the process, the wishes of the family are paramount and we’re focused on providing a service that meets the family’s needs and best honours the life of their loved one.
We’re not just glorified chauffeurs and paper pushers. We’re professional service providers who bring a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the table. It’s not an easy role and it’s not for everyone. Day in and day out, we’re working with people who are going through one of the hardest times of their lives – and we do it with compassion, care, skill and experience.
It’s not our role to tell a family how best to honour their loved one. But it is our role to guide them through the process and ensure they are aware of their full range of options.
The cost of a funeral service comes down to choice. Every funeral service is unique and is planned to meet the needs of the family. That’s why it’s so difficult to provide a ‘typical cost’ for a ‘typical funeral’ – because there’s no such thing.
Funerals serve an important purpose
It should never be forgotten that a funeral is an important ritual – and rituals are symbolic, because they help us express our deepest thoughts and feelings about important events in our lives.
Baptisms and christenings celebrate the birth of a child and their acceptance into a religious family. Birthday parties honour the passing of another year in the life of someone we love. Weddings publicly acknowledge the love shared by two people.
A funeral is a ritual too. It’s a public, traditional and symbolic means of expressing our thoughts and feelings about the death of someone important to us. Funerals help us to acknowledge the reality of death, express our grief and mutually support those around us. They help us to acknowledge the reality that someone in our life has died.
Just as there’s no such thing as a ‘typical wedding’, there’s no such thing as a ‘typical funeral’. Different families want different things.
For many families, it’s not about dispatching the body of their loved one in the quickest and cheapest way possible. The funeral is about honouring the person they’ve lost and creating lasting memories. It’s our job to make that happen and, in the process, be transparent about pricing.
Unfortunately, there are a small minority whose actions cast a shadow on the entire industry. In this way, the funeral industry is no different to any other industry. But the vast majority of operators are honest and professional, and this extends to the pricing practices they employ.
Our industry is not about profiting from grief. We’re business owners providing a professional service. And for the vast majority of us, it’s not just a job – it’s a calling.
At Walter Carter Funerals, we’re committed to transparency and our pricing structures are clear, itemised and there are no hidden charges. We always act in accordance with the pricing requirements set out by NSW Fair Trading, and we provide a wide range of options for families to choose from and can structure a package to suit any budget.
We welcome all enquiries about funeral costs and are happy to discuss our pricing. Please don’t hesitate to contact us to discuss your requirements. Simply call 1300 983 922 or email [email protected].