Understanding the true cost of dying

There was some interesting research recently that sought to define the true cost of dying. An annual report from the insurance provider SunLife suggested that costs had reached a record high: funeral costs have risen by 4.7% while the overall ‘cost of dying’ has reached more than £9,500.

It’s an alarming figure by any measure. It’s particularly alarming in the context that one in four of the bereaved admitted to having suffered a fall in their standard of living through having to fund all or part of the funeral. Also concerning is the true ‘cost’ which is probably far greater than the report suggests.

When these types of surveys look at the financial costs associated with dying, they tend to be through the comparatively narrow lens of the cost of a funeral. But what of the costs before and after the funeral?

The costs, for example, of notifying creditors and service providers (the utilities, telecoms companies, subscription providers etc)? The cost of sourcing and sending multiple copies of death certificates and other paperwork to notify that a death has occurred? And the emotional cost that comes from the frustration often felt when having to repeat the same painful stories and same information on numerous calls to call centre operators who are themselves having to spend time on calls for which they may have had little training and can only devote limited time.

It’s a familiar story to anyone who has suffered a bereavement. It’s a similar story too for the banks, utilities and other service providers who have no, mutually accepted single channel or process through which a notification can be managed.

In the public sector, ‘Tell Us Once’ has enjoyed some success, but since it only notifies government departments its use is limited, and the service is still far from perfect. The ambition, however, is still a good one and it is surprising that the private sector has not been quicker in focusing on its own ‘Tell us once’ equivalent, or in agreeing a programme where the channel can be used across public and private sectors alike.

That’s not to say that there hasn’t been some progress. Our own business launched NotifyNOW just over a year ago, which was, at the time, a partnership developed in collaboration with E.ON Next to give the bereaved (or the representatives of a deceased) a simple, single route with which to notify them of the death of one of their customers.

Most utilities and similar organisations face the same challenge, but all tackle the issue in different ways. E.ON Next was specifically concerned that its process was far too manual and offered little in the way of innovation. NotifyNOW is certainly innovative. And it is delivering some interesting results.

In the first 12 months of operation, it reported more than 11,000 registrations and freed more than 2,000 hours of call time into the business.

From a customer experience perspective, representatives of the bereaved no longer need to contact a contact centre or speak to anyone in person, a process that is not only cumbersome, but can also be emotionally draining. They can simply go online and fill out the form at a time that is convenient to them, outside of office hours, 24/7, without requiring any personal interaction.

The experience is more practical, and less emotional, and therefore involves less stress. It also involves less cost; only one death certificate (or similar documentary proof) is required.

It is disappointing that the conversation around the cost of death centres on the financial toll, while the biggest costs is often that of mental anguish. However, the UK Commission on Bereavement was clear in its message that two thirds of people dealing with a death have difficulties with at least one practical or administrative task following a bereavement. Digital innovation has a key role to play in reducing these difficulties, and in doing so, reducing unnecessary cost.

Luke Cheadle is Head of UK Operations for The Estate Registry


This article was submitted to be published by The Estate Registry as part of their advertising agreement with Today’s Wills and Probate. The views expressed in this article are those of the submitter and not those of Today’s Wills and Probate.

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