“You are surrounded by simple, obvious solutions that can dramatically increase your income, power, influence and success. The problem is, you just don’t see them.”
What many people don’t realize is that their preneed trust account may be full of data that can be used to help build, define and guide current business strategies. If you take your preneed trust data and analyze and review it on a regular and ongoing basis, your preneed business is more likely to be viewed as a future asset rather than a future liability. Data can help you evaluate your business performance, analyze your business profitability, help you make decisions regarding investments, and provide guidance for the future.
In ClearPoint’s role as a preneed trustee and record keeper, it has become apparent that the data within a preneed trust account can be used in many ways, which are easily broken into two categories: Sales Guidelines built using your data, and Current Comparison Tools for your existing preneed trust.
Building Sales Guidelines
As with many other facets of life, when talking about preneed trust and the underlying data, it is often best to start at the beginning, or at contract set up and assumptions. You will want to consider the following items/terms when you are setting up your preneed trust program in order to increase the likelihood of a successful program:
- Setting a Preneed Objective
- Payment terms
- Finance charges
Setting a Preneed Objective. While setting an objective sounds both simple and obvious, it is not how all preneed programs start out. Many people make the decision to sell preneed trust because a family walked in the door and requested to preplan. While this is certainly a place to start, the most successful programs that significantly drive business growth have a specific and defined customer and objective. For example, is it your intention to only sell walk-in preneed business, and therefore you wouldn’t want to invest in a lot of marketing for growth? Or is it your objective to provide the least expensive option and out-price your competitors? Perhaps it is your objective to sell to primarily younger beneficiaries, but also to sell higher priced contracts because of the services you plan to offer?
Whatever the case may be, it is essential to set your objective up front, and, once you have an established preneed business, to regularly check in to confirm that you are still “on track” with that objective. You can use your average contract size, the amount of monthly new writing, or the average age of your beneficiaries to confirm your adherence to your stated objective.
Payment Terms. The average preplanned funeral or cemetery contract placed into trust will remain there for 7-11 years.[i] This is important to take into consideration when working with a family that wants to make payments on a contract over the next 10 years. If payments are being made over a longer period of time, there will be less time for the funds to be invested and grow to combat inflation. Over the years, we have found that it is best to not extend payment terms out further than 5 years, at the most, if trying to grow the funds through investments.
Finance Charges. How often are you allowed to buy something and make payments over time and pay no interest? When that does happen, aren’t there usually terms stating you will have to start paying interest, such as missed payments? If other sellers aren’t waiving interest for nothing in return, does that make sense for your business? Many states allow finance charges on contracts where payments are being made over time.
Often times, a counselor will offer a trust product to a family wishing to make payments over time rather than an insurance product. Since a trust product doesn’t lapse, this is often an attractive option for the family. However, it means that the burden of risk has been shifted from the family to your location by allowing payments over time. Finance charges are often used to alleviate some of that risk and ensure that families pay off or cancel their contracts in the time allotted. If your preneed business includes many families who wish to pay over an extended period of time, it makes sense to consider implementing finance charges.
Current Comparison Tools
The data associated with your preneed trust contracts can be very telling, but often overlooked. For example, when you’ve outsourced your preneed record keeping to a record keeping company, you may be able to turn to that company to get an idea of how your business compares to other industry standards. For example, if that record keeper has a number of customers similarly situated to you, they may be able to tell you how your preneed contract values compare to the data averages they have.
In addition to looking at your averages compared to others, it is important to use the contract data to compare the changes in your business year over year. Are your average contract values growing? Declining? Is that what you would expect to see based on what you know about your business?
A final essential piece of your preneed data that you will want to evaluate focuses on the age of your preneed contract beneficiaries. This in particular is an important data point, as it can be used to ensure that you have properly invested your preneed trust funds. Knowing the age breakdown of your preneed beneficiaries can be a driving force in your investment policy. If the majority of your trust contracts are written for people ages 85 and up, you may have a shorter term investment horizon, and therefore want to invest more conservatively. If the majority of the contracts you have written are age 65 or younger, you can invest more aggressively.
Critically evaluating the data that is already available to you when it comes to your preneed trust account can be the difference between a successful preneed program that supports the long term growth of your business versus one that produces negative results.
As mentioned in the beginning, you can certainly look at a preneed block of business to indicate and get some idea of the future health of your funeral business, but this cannot be taken on its face alone. It is important to understand the data behind the numbers and use that data to your advantage. We’ve walked through how to use data to set up and continue your preneed program through objective setting, payment terms, and finance charges, detailing how each of these items can significantly impact the success of a preplanned and guaranteed contract when it turns at-need. We have also given information on how to analyze the data in an existing program to help evaluate your business growth and invest the preneed funds for future growth. Even with these topics, we have only scratched the surface on the different facets of your business that you may want to consider when setting up and running your preneed program. It is essential that you keep an active approach to your preneed program if you want to continue to see your funeral business thrive for years to come.
[i] Time frame based on contract data available in ClearPoint proprietary record keeping system.