It’s a new world out there.
Technology is changing the world faster than we could ever imagine. Things that we used to think were unimaginable - AI written articles, hologram presentations, jetpacks and smartwatches - are now a reality in our never ending search for more convenience and efficiency.
However, the call to modernity doesn’t just improve and enhance the way we live, it also extends to the manner of our death. Funeral arrangements are increasingly shaped by more advanced systems and software that are able to quickly organize processes and schedule with ease, preventing inefficiencies and reducing human errors.
Modern ways of managing funerals don’t just mean technological advancements either. The global trend of leaning towards simplicity and sustainability is equally applicable to the funeral industry. A sign of this is how families in the UK continue to adopt eco-friendly burial methods. In this post we will explore the future of the funeral industry in the UK and some of the implications for Funeral Directors.
Emerging Trends on Dealing with our Dearly Departed
What’s the best way to send off a loved one? Put coins over their eyes as the ancient Greeks used to do or cremate them on a pyre as the Norse did? Arrange a serene, peaceful ceremony before the burial? Or, is there a new, more modern way to manage these important events?
One trend is clear. It is increasingly apparent that there is a growing consumer demand for more convenient, eco-friendly ways of dealing with death. Changing lifestyle preferences and the search for affordability are commonly identified as the underlying drivers of this change.
Direct Cremation: UK’s Growing Trend
Direct Cremation, also known as simple cremation, is cremation without the traditional viewing or service. The advantages are two-fold; it is cheaper and it allows the family more time to prepare a meaningful memorial service more in line with the deceased’s beliefs. Cremation is by far the most popular funeral type in the UK with 77% choosing it in 2019 (up 4% on 2018) and of those, 4% were direct cremations according to SunLife’s report. According to the Royal London’s annual report however the percentage is much higher, at 9% (3% direct and no celebration of life + 6% direct and celebration of life).
As awareness of Direct Cremation grows it can be expected to trend upwards. In SunLife’s report only 52% (+5% since 2018) of respondents were aware of the option and once aware, 42% said they would consider it for their own funeral.
Direct cremation has emerged as a strong trend in part because younger generations perceive it as a more dignified way to say goodbye. While the majority continue to opt for the traditional cremation with viewing and service, there is increasing openness to different ways of saying goodbye. It allows for flexibility not just with when the ceremony takes place but also with where it takes place. With direct cremation the celebration of a deceased person’s life could be held weeks or months after the death in a park or in their favourite hiking spot, with family and friends gathering for a picnic instead of the traditional, and often sombre, religious memorial.
Going Green and Natural with Funerals
Growing concern for the environment has led people to search for more eco-friendly and natural alternatives to traditional burial and cremation, both of which can leave quite large carbon footprints. Everything from the large energy bill of cremation to the use of hardwoods like Mahogany in coffins (not to mention metal coffins) all ads up. Add to this the chemicals used in embalming and you can see why environmentally conscious people are looking for different solutions.
Chief amongst them is the woodland burial or green burial, where the deceased is interred in a biodegradable coffin in natural woodland. As the coffin and remains decompose they also feed the nature surrounding it, completing the circle of life. Loved ones can visit their dearly departed and instead of a static tombstone they can instead marvel as a beautiful oak grows from their remains.
There are many woodland burial grounds to choose from now in the UK and they are increasing in number.
Eco coffins are also increasing in popularity versus traditional caskets and look set to become a permanent part of the future of the funeral industry. Since they are made from sustainable material such as bamboo, wicker or even banana leaf, they are considerably cheaper and more convenient as well as being environmentally friendly. Companies such as Capsula Mundi are designing pod shaped biodegradable urns for the ashes but are also working on creating pods for the body. These are designed for use in woodland burials, with the body being placed inside in the fetal position so it departs this world as it arrived.
Water Cremation or Resomation is a relatively new technology for disposing of the remains using Alkaline hydrolysis. It has been in use for many years in the USA but ran into regulatory issues in the UK. After several tests to show that the water effluent did not contain human DNA Leeds based Resomation Ltd is now ready to provide the equipment to deathcare companies around the UK.
Natural Organic Reduction
Natural organic reduction creates an environment in which the body’s beneficial microbes thrive. Using a specific moisture content and ratio of carbon and nitrogen materials a body can be decomposed into fertile and nutrient rich soil in a matter of 30 days. The process is essentially what happens in a woodland burial but at a much faster pace. This makes it ideal for people in an urban area where there may be limited green burial sites available. This procedure is currently only available in Washington State in the USA but as legislation is passed we expect to see its use spread around the globe. The company pioneering this method, Recompose, recently secured $6.75M in funding so it’s definitely one to watch.
Streaming Funeral ceremonies is neither new nor unusual. In fact, families with relatives abroad have availed of these for many years as it considerably reduces the expense of attending memorial services.
Live streaming of memorial services also allows more people to “attend” since they can join in by simply clicking a link. Most streaming services even allow a live chat for people to pay their respects and sympathy messages. They may even link to an online condolence book service.
And with travel measures and regulations becoming more stringent than ever due to COVID-19, the adoption of this technology has been accelerated and may soon become the primary way to attend.
How Funeral Directors can Adapt to Industry Evolution
Not only the younger generations but even some senior funeral directors are starting to change and adapt. One way for funeral directors to be prepared for the future of the funeral industry is through the use of digital tools and software which help streamline their operations and adapt quicker. Even traditionally offline sectors such as the funeral industry are undergoing profound digital transformation and there is now a wide choice of online software to make financial and administrative operations more agile, professional and efficient.
One of the most common human errors committed by funeral service companies, for example, is double-booking arrangements with clients. But with scheduling features provided by digital tools such as Obit, the software will immediately recognize overlapping schedules and allow the user to correct the error.
Using funeral management apps gives a more modern and organised feel to funeral management. Online tools can also help documents to consistently be on-brand and professional-looking, which goes a long way to gaining the trust of prospective customers.
The more advanced packages offer invoicing, account management and even integrations with your favourite accounting software. This means funeral directors can simplify their workflow and worry less about managing their cash flow and their financials separately.
A lot of these packages are now cloud-based which offers an additional advantage of particular interest to funeral directors; complete independence from the office. With your smartphone or tablet you can login from anywhere and quickly get an overview of what needs to be managed or acted on.
These are just some of the most pertinent trends we see emerging and growing over the coming years. The future of the funeral industry will undoubtedly look quite different to today as clients break from tradition and look for more personal and meaningful ways to lay their loved ones to rest. Today's funeral directors must adapt if they want to stay ahead or, at the very least, remain relevant in rapidly changing times. Those that are wishing to enter the funeral industry or buy a funeral home would do well to consider the long term trends that will define the future of funeral management.