Maria of S Stibbards & Sons talks about what the business is doing now to prepare for FCA regulation and how it plans to approach it, as well as reflecting on what the CMA has already taught them about being regulated.
Malcolm Flanders [00:00:04] Welcome to the Partnership Podcast. This time, we're returning to our series on Financial Conduct Authority regulation. Previously, our head of regulatory compliance, Mairi Rodger, laid out the FCA's approach, and the steps to take to ensure we can continue to sell plans together with a minimum of change. Today, we're getting a funeral director's opinion on regulation. Maria Stibbards, of S. Stibbards and Sons, is the fifth generation in a family business that stretches back more than 150 years. They're based in South Essex, in and around the new city of Southend. Today, she'll be looking to the future, and talking about how independents can start preparing now, to hit regulation running from next summer.
Malcolm Flanders [00:00:57] So, Maria, lovely to see you again, albeit on Teams. How are you?
Maria Stibbards [00:01:01] Oh, I'm not too bad to be honest, enjoying the rest, from what has been a very challenging year. Enjoying the opportunity to be able to focus a little bit more on our funeral plans, than perhaps everything else that was going on around us at the time. So, yeah, I'm good. Thank you.
Malcolm Flanders [00:01:18] Excellent. OK, well look, really appreciate your time today, all right. I'm sure it's going to be interesting conversation. So look, we're talking about how businesses can successfully adapt to change today. And I mentioned at the beginning how long running your family business has been. So can you talk a little bit about how it's evolved over time, and what Stibbards looks like today?
Maria Stibbards [00:01:40] I can indeed bore you with the history.
Malcolm Flanders [00:01:43] Go for it.
Maria Stibbards [00:01:45] I mean, over 150 years. To sort of look at the at-need market for us, which is probably what has somewhat driven the evolving of us, first of all, and then we concentrated later on, on the funeral plans. But yeah, I mean, they started off, everybody knows how funeral directors used to function. Very much one man bands running out of houses. Usuall a carpenter, or something woodcraft, which gave them the skills to make a coffin and help a family.
Maria Stibbards [00:02:12] So that's very much where Samuel Stibbards started from, and then it kind of evolved, and the market changed, and that need to look after the deceased at home kind of went, and we all needed chapels, and then as funeral directors, probably like every other funeral director, you're starting to need premises. And they started off with just one, at Hadleigh, and then gradually expanded. And then, I think probably when David Stibbards, who is our current owner, took over, we had three offices. And then it's expanded even more under his guys. And then he's sort of taken a little step back to allow his son Martin to come through, who is my husband. And they've been opening more offices still.
Maria Stibbards [00:03:00] So I think the market has changed. The people that live around us are little bit more transient, I think as the cost of houses go up, people move out the area, more people move in. So that need to have more signage, presence on the high street. It always used to be people just knew where you were. That's changed, they don't. So we have things like the internet, the shopfronts, so making premises bigger, having more premises. Yeah, a lot has changed, and I'd like to think that we're somewhat on the forefront of that wave, but who knows? The reality could be very, very different.
Malcolm Flanders [00:03:37] Wow. Right. So you married into the business, so how do you find it yourself?
Maria Stibbards [00:03:44] Well, I already worked within the funeral industry. I met a very sarcastic gentleman an an embalmer's educational weekend, probably about 17 years ago now. And his sense of humour rivalled my own, and he could give me a run for my money. So that's where that friendship, and later on relationship started up. So I was already within the industry, although doing very different a very different role to what I now do. I've jump the river, which in London terms, means I am a traitor. Because I'm south London girl, and I'm now in Essex. It's been an amazing opportunity to broaden my knowledge, and perhaps, find skills that I didn't have, and I very much concentrate now on our funeral plan side of things, our training, arranging, conducting, and everything else that comes with the role of working in a family funeral directors.
Malcolm Flanders [00:04:40] Wow. Sounds full on. Excellent. Thank you. OK, now how do you view FCA regulation as a business going forward? Where do you see the opportunity to evolve? And what do you think will stay the same?
Maria Stibbards [00:04:54] I think it's a good thing, which I think is quite a... As funeral directors we never like change. We're practically allergic to it. But having had many a conversation with different people about funeral plans, and the way the public go about seeking out information about plans, they don't always go and look for the information that I would like for them to look for. So they quite often look at the baseline figure, and they're not looking up what they get from that, and what level of protection they get for that, and ultimatley what service that they're buying for their family, and dare I say it, care.
Maria Stibbards [00:05:35] So there are some rogues out there. There are some very unusual funeral plan companies, is probably the polite way to say it, where to a family, they look at that baseline figure and say "I'm buying a £4,000 funeral, and they don't realise that, actually, they may be paying £4,000 for it, but the funeral director is only going to be paying £3,000 for that £4,000 funeral. It's enabling people to understand the market, and getting them to look at the finer detail of what is included within their plans, and I think with regulation, fingers crossed, that some of these lesser desired companies, I'm hoping, will be eliminated, which will protect the public long term. Which enables us to safeguard our families, and protect us as well.
Maria Stibbards [00:06:30] I think it's going to be a good thing. Regulation is always very frightening, and there will be some changes that we will have to make ourselves, as they slide in the rules and we find out what they all are, but hopefully it'll create greater trust and greater transparency for those that perhaps are not fully aware of what they should be looking for.
Malcolm Flanders [00:06:52] I'm with you, and I suppose it's important to note, the FCA regulation concerns the selling of funeral plans going forward. So in many respects, the rest of your business kind of stays as is, to be honest. It's just the selling.
Maria Stibbards [00:07:05] It is just the selling. And to be honest, I love a rule. I love a rule. Give me a rule, I'll abide by a rule. From our point of view, I think Golden Charter have been transitioning somewhat towards some of the guesswork, as to what the FCA regulations are going to be, for some time. So as a company for us, we won't be doing things all that differently. It's been quite a supported experience so far. I mean, when they first released that document, that I combed through it, that'll be a day of my life I'll never get back. It was educational. It was, and I think we will continue to do things the way we do, and just infiltrate the changes that we need to make, in order to comply, because we love a rule.
Malcolm Flanders [00:07:53] Excellent. Well, that's good news. Thank you. OK, now look, you've mentioned Golden Charter, and you have worked closely with us as we rolled out further digital support on mygoldencharter.co.uk. Now that site will help make the shift to regulation as simple as possible. Can you talk about how the digital build up has felt for you so far?
Maria Stibbards [00:08:12] Well I've had quite a lot of interaction with you're team that have been doing that, because we've been working on a few other things, and a few other trials. So the personalities involved, I've known, which has been quite comforting. I mean, there's just been a new changeover to the new portal, which we've done. There's always a few slight teething problems, but I think it's very difficult for Golden Charter to work with a massive amount of funeral directors, who will all work slightly differently.
Maria Stibbards [00:08:43] So to create something that works for all was always going to be a little bit of a challenge. But they're a fantastic team, and they work very, very fast to iron out glitches and go, "oh, perhaps we didn't consider a funeral director might want to use it that way." And the access to the training that's going to be on there, it's just going to enable everybody to be able to ensure that they are all compliant.
Malcolm Flanders [00:09:09] All right, great. Now I know you've been in touch with Ian, so Ian Catchpole your actual area business manager. How's that helped you so far? Just in sort of positioning FCA regulation and what happens next?
Maria Stibbards [00:09:22] Ian's fab, we love Ian.
Malcolm Flanders [00:09:23] Right, he'll be pleased, he'll be relieved.
Maria Stibbards [00:09:28] It will come as no surprise when he hears the podcast that we really like Ian. He's great. He always lets me know what's going on. We go at him with a million questions half the time, when we see him, because obviously we very much look at our funeral plan sales, and we're already looking at FCA, or what that might alter with, perhaps, working with third parties. And we've got a few questions in with that. He's are always very calm, very reassuring, and he always gets me the answers I want. And dare I say it, he copes with my 'shoot from the hip' personality when it comes to firing the questions at him.
Malcolm Flanders [00:10:08] Excellent, that's what we like to hear, no I'm sure you'll be relieved to hear that. Thank you. Okay, now look, do you think you can take any lessons or observations from the Competition and Markets Authority, CMA, regulation of your at-need work this year? Does going through that change to your core business helped to put FCA regulation in perspective in any way? And does it help in your planning at all?
Maria Stibbards [00:10:32] Yeah, it's helped with a million things. I mean, with the CMA changes that came in, we had to make those changes ourselves. So I'm very grateful that Golden Charter are going to be implementing an understanding of all the changes that have come in, or are going to come, with the FCA side things. Because I mean some of the CMA information, it depended on which representative from the CMA you spoke to, as to what information got. And there's a little bit of misinformation that's probably out there at the moment. So as a sector, we're going to be very much learning over, probably the next six months, as to exactly how that is going to work.
Maria Stibbards [00:11:13] I expect FCA is going to be something quite similar, although the FCA have been around for quite a while. So hopefully they might have all their ducks in a row and it might be a little bit of a smoother transition, maybe. Who knows? There's going to be challenges. I think we have to be aware of that. It's not going to be seamless. There's going to be things we need to do. We're looking already towards working towards it, because obviously there's the different types of operator that you are within it, that you have to choose. And actually some funeral directors are already listed directly with the FCA, under another guise, from when they used to do payment plans and things like that, and I believe it's going to cause a little bit of a challenge going forward if we are still on that list.
Malcolm Flanders [00:12:04] So as a business, what option are you considering and why under FCA regulation?
Maria Stibbards [00:12:10] So we're going to go for the appointed representative. That best fits the way we operate at the moment. So we will be an appointed representative, for Golden Charter, in order to sell the plans. And that's going to enable us to have all the interaction with the families that currently have, so that the family experience is not that different. Most people seem to come to us for the funeral plans, just for the name above our door, rather than the Golden Charter. Because obviously, we work in the independent way sector, and we don't want things to change for families, and if we were to just go, "we don't want the direct regulation, we're working to get our name under another guise, so that we can just be appointed representative for yourselves." We certainly don't want to be the type of company that just takes the contact details and passes it on to somebody else. We don't think that will give the best...
Malcolm Flanders [00:13:07] Which is the other option, the introducer appointed representative, isn't it? Yes.
Maria Stibbards [00:13:11] I couldn't think of the words.
Malcolm Flanders [00:13:13] Don't worry, there's lots of them, under regulation.
Maria Stibbards [00:13:16] We didn't think that was right for us. It's not right for our families. If they do walk in and say "we want to plan," what they really want to do is buy a funeral from us, but obviously that's not allowed. So they want to sit down and talk to us about it. So, because of what our families require, we will be going down the appointed representative line, quite happily.
Malcolm Flanders [00:13:39] Super, now regulation comes in next summer, July the 29th is the date. So what practical steps can you start to take in the weeks and months ahead to prepare your business, and your staff, for a smooth transition?
Maria Stibbards [00:13:50] Well, I mentioned earlier that we're trying to get ourselves removed from the CMA. Not the CMA, CMA and FCA, they're too similar, aren't they? The FCA list for direct regulation, so we're currently working on that. We have quite regular training with our colleagues, in order to keep them up to date and the funeral plans very much factor into part of that. And on the portal, there's some really good training material which you can pull down and talk to your staff about it. They can access it. Obviously, with the new portal, the colleagues will be directly registered on there. They will be able to access the training material on there.
Maria Stibbards [00:14:27] We also sit with them face to face. We did it with the CMA stuff coming in. We'll do it with FCA. It's really important that everybody knows the changes that are coming in, and why they're coming in, and to understand what their role is within that, and in that way they can own it. It's not going to do any particular change from us. We've always done the training, but the FCA stuff's going to be starting to slide its way in there, so that we can see it coming over the hill.
Malcolm Flanders [00:14:55] Understand. Fabulous. Maria, thank you very much. It sounds like you can sort of take FCA regulation in your stride, as normal, as Stibbards do, by the sounds of it. That's been very, very interesting. Really appreciate your time, Maria. Thank you very much.
Maria Stibbards [00:15:12] You are truly welcome. It's been a pleasure.
Malcolm Flanders [00:15:19] Thank you for listening to the Partnership Podcast. Our series on regulation will continue in the lead up to July 2022, when FCA regulation begins, and we'll keep you up to date throughout that period. You can listen to all our previous episodes on the FCA's requirements and all of our previous episodes at goldencharter.buzzsprout.com and contact me if you have anything to contribute, or suggest, at firstname.lastname@example.org. That's it for today. I'll talk to you next time on the Partnership Podcast.