Today, we’d like to a moment and share a recent interview with AtNeedCredit.com managing partner, Jeff Harbeson.
Jeff has been in the funeral industry for many years, has founded or co-founded numerous funeral-related businesses and websites and shares valuable insights from his experience.
He regularly contributes his expertise to publications, both offline and online, is co-host of Funeral Nation TV (an online show for the funeral industry) and writes regularly on his blog, The Funeral Commander. We welcome Jeff Harbeson to the CareCap blog.
Ed: Thanks for joining us today, Jeff, on the CareCap blog. So, can you tell us a little about yourself and your background? What’s your story?
Jeff: My story has many chapters and the story is ongoing. The most important chapters are my marriage to my wife Jacque for 32 years. Bless her heart, she deserves a special place in heaven! We have two fantastic sons Hunter (off my payroll) and Jackson (finishing high school).
Often folks ask what I do, and my response is:
“I am raising my daughter-in-law’s husband and my grandchildren’s father. My work is merely a support for their well-being and my habits (cigars, rum, golf and travel).”
Ed: (LOL) Well, that’s a pretty great answer, I can tell you have a healthy sense of humor. similar to my father- he served in the Navy for 20+ years, but I know you were an Army man, so I’m sure you’d still all get along! How long were you in service to your country?
Jeff: I was honored to serve our country for 20 years in the Army including deployment to the Middle East for service in Operation Desert Storm. I was trained to be a leader and had the opportunity to be a TAC Officer (drill instructor) at Officers Candidate School where I trained over 400 enlisted and non-commissioned officers to become combat leaders, some still serving today.
My official retirement papers came September 11, 2001 and I retired as a Captain. I have a personal mantra of “A vision is only a dream without execution” and a gift of working alongside some very smart people.
Oh yeah, I also don’t want to leave out that I’m not going to tell you to go to hell, but I’ll tell you the truth, which may feel like hell! J And I expect the same from those around me that I place my trust and emotional equity.
Ed: Well, that’s a no-nonsense approach to life and in doing business, one that I can appreciate. So, after your time serving in the military, how did you get started in the funeral industry and what drew you to it?
Jeff: My original start in the funeral industry was as a manufacturer providing custom made cremation cabinets in Ireland. I learned quite a bit about the landscape and was later recruited by Batesville Casket Company in sales.
As I worked with funeral home owners, I was astounded at the lack of business acumen and leadership that was pervasive in the industry.
Many times I was told by funeral home owners and directors alike “we have always done in this way” and “you can’t change that.”
So after dealing with those challenges in the funeral industry, I decided that I would create an entirely different funeral home operating platform using six-sigma methodology which is today trademarked as TouchPoints.
Later on, some partners and I started our own funeral service provider brand in Virginia from the ground up, Family Choice Funerals & Cremations.
As a partner/owner I was provided a fantastic education and training of how to develop a successful business. The funeral home operation also provided me a platform for trying new theories of service, marketing, technology and management.
I have a penchant to provide information so that families can make an educated funeral decision and our team is dedicated to continuous improvement.
Ed: After recognizing these challenges in the funeral industry and what you’re seeing on the market today, what are some of the top things funeral homes are seeing as advancements or trends?
Certainly, technology and communication has changed the funeral home operating landscape and the expectations of the funeral consumer. As a whole, funeral homes are reluctant and slow to embrace anything new. To their detriment, this legacy characteristic offers entrepreneurs like me to take competitive advantage.
Our funeral homes use computers and tablets for all operations,which eliminates waste in human resources expense, such as administrative staff. Combining technology with social media is a tremendous advancement for our industry; however, the vast majority of funeral homes have not embraced the opportunities.
Another example of keeping up with consumer expectations is an online cremation service called Select Cremation that our team developed, which allows a funeral consumer to make complete arrangements for their loved one online and the cremated remains delivered to their house without ever leaving their comfortable surroundings.
The way we communicate even within our industry is changing, for example I co-host an online show Funeral Nation TV which is viewed by over 20,000 people monthly in over 75 countries. Frankly, it’s the best FN thing going in the industry .
Ed: It sounds like you’ve got a great handle in developing a strong online presence and embracing technology to share your challenges, success stories, etc. within your industry, great work!
With so many changes in technology and communication coming at us so fast in the business world, what would you say is the #1 business challenge funeral directors are facing today?
Jeff: The lack of leadership of doing “the business of the business.”
Funeral professionals are compassionate caregivers providing a necessary service at what is considered one of the most difficult events in life; the loss of a loved one.
However, the typical funeral home is poorly managed from the business and financial standpoint. Failure of owners to take accountability and leadership of their business places many firms in shaky financial postures.
Ed: I’m sure, as you say, funeral directors face many obstacles to running a funeral business as best as they can, while remaining compassionate to people dealing with a difficult time in their lives. Speaking of finances, when dealing with consumers and their challenges at covering funeral expenses, how can funeral homes help?
Jeff: When a deceased person does not have a funded pre-need trust/insurance or little to no life insurance, survivors are placed in a difficult spot. Many families have limited credit card balances and little to no savings set aside to pay for unexpected funeral expenses.
Most people do not realize that funeral homes as well as cemeteries require full payment prior to services rendered.
At Need Credit offers Funeral Directors two payment options for consumers, for funeral homes to recover their costs for goods and services.
FuneralPayPlan (info available at AtNeedCredit.com) is an online loan company providing funeral consumers loans for funeral expenses. Simple Funeral Payment Plan, powered by CareCaps (also found at AtNeedCredit.com) is a versatile payment plan for funeral directors to bill payments over time as well as recover accounts receivable due.
Of course, funeral home owners must be proactive in training their funeral directors on how to assist families that have financial challenges.
At Need Credit offers such training that eliminates discounting and extraneous accounts receivable work. Yet again, it takes leadership to make changes.
Ed: Do you see any drawbacks to any of the payment options currently available to the funeral industry, such as At Need Credit?
Jeff: There is no downside to funeral homes offering payment plans through a program such as At Need Credit.
However, if funeral homes offer credit or payment plans that charges interest, they are most likely out of federal lending compliance. When a loan is offered (payment plan, credit or accounts receivable recovery) consumers must be provided with a Truth-In-Lending Act statement as well as calculated Annual Percentage Rates, at the time of application.
I have yet to see a funeral home in compliance of these regulations, thus a third party company like At Need Credit is their best option.
Ed: It’s clear that every business, including the funeral industry, needs to be compliant when offering financing and that by contracting with a third party to handle payment options, they can avoid the finance compliance issues. In terms of searching for a third party funeral financing or payment plan solution, what type of advice would you offer to a Funeral Director when he/she is evaluating a payment solution for their business?
Funeral directors should research what others are saying about the payment platform, the tool should offer the ability to create and modify customized payment plans, ensure that deposits can be paid out quickly and that they doesn’t aren’t charged unusually high or unnecessary start up fees.
I’d recommend they also go through a full demo of the payment system, to test out the system before implementing in the funeral home business.
Lastly, select a company that has established and updated training for funeral directors, in order to understand how to offer payment plan options during the funeral arrangement session.
Ed: You’ve owned, operated and managed many funeral industry-related businesses. What advice would you recommend for a family planning a funeral in today’s environment?
I would recommend to everyone they discuss their own end-of-life wishes with family members. Although this may sound odd, it can be enlightening and provide impetus to collect necessary documents (life insurance policies, wills, advance medical directives, DD-214, etc.) and at least know the location of these important documents, in case of an unexpected death.
Humor makes the conversation so much easier. Discussing outfits, after parties and other events often leads to more important matters.
I have personally planned my event in Aruba at the Bugaloe Beach Bar headed by my Italian Catholic, Southern Baptist and Jewish funeral director friends leading the bereaved with cigars and lots of rum. Sounds like a hell of a sendoff, huh?
Unfortunately, we cannot predict death, especially when we lose those that are younger than us. Just recently I had such an experience and shared the story on my blog: https://thefuneralcommander.com/2015/11/24/its-personal-grief-grace-gratitude/.
Ed: Your event you have planned in Aruba, definitely sounds like a hell of a way to celebrate your life!
And I definitely agree with what you recommend, that people take the time to discuss and notate what their end of life wishes should be. Too many times, friends or family members pass away and we as the survivors, face challenges and awkward moments planning and carrying out what we think are the best wishes on their behalf. Your advice of taking care of creating and managing the necessary documents is something that might be a challenge at first, but important to do so for the sake of our loved ones.
Thanks so much for your time and sharing your story and advice from your years in the funeral business and serving our country in the military; do you have any last words you’d like to share with our readers as we sign off?
I would encourage everyone to take each day as a gift and love deeply those closest because tomorrow may not come. Plan, talk, laugh and love.