MERJE Meets - a series of articles and interviews based on expert insights from a range of senior business leaders - is back.
To kick off proceedings, we were delighted to sit down with the talented Lou Tipping, Head of Regulatory Risk & Compliance for Co-op Funeralcare, the UK’s leading funeral provider
Lou is responsible for building the Risk & Compliance team, ensuring that Co-op Funeralcare can effectively monitor, identify and resolve any risks to the business.
Most recently, she played a fundamental part in navigating the Co-op through complex new FCA industry authorisation.
As a result, Lou brings great skills and huge expertise to this position, having previously held senior roles within numerous highly respected Financial Services institutions, including M&S Bank and HSBC.
So, without further ado, it’s over to Lou and her enlightening views on all matters regulatory risk, compliance and more…
What is Co-op Funeralcare? Can you summarise the business, its ethos and culture and what makes it unique to your competitors?
As the UK’s leading funeral provider, we operate over 800 funeral homes across the UK. Our dedicated and committed colleagues provide over 93,000 families a year with a professional, caring and personal service when they face the most difficult time following the death of someone they love.
We are an entirely unique part of one of the world’s largest Co-operatives, the Co-op, which also has interests in Food, Legal Services and Insurance. Co-op Funeralcare is owned by individual members and other co-ops, not big investors. This means that our members get a chance to have a say in how we're run. Profits mean members receive money, rewards and offers, and that our Co-op can support its local community.
Our funeral planning business, Co-op Funeral Plans Ltd, is regulated by the FCA and offers a range of market leading funeral plans, helping people to plan ahead financially and share their funeral wishes with those they love. Our plans are rated amongst the best in the market and we have been recognised independently by Moneynet as the best funeral plan provider for six years running.
As part of our commitment to Co-operating for a Fairer World, we make no charge for children’s funeral services under the age of 18 and have led the way in financial provision for families who experienced the devastating loss of a child. We also introduced and continued the rollout of electric hearses in our funeral business, and we were one of the first UK funeral directors to trial the fully electric Tesla hearse. Our partnership with bereavement charity Cruse is making ground-breaking progress in connecting communities by making grief visible and recognising that talking about it is a key factor in managing it.
Can you provide a brief overview of your career to date and the journey which has resulted in the role you hold today?
I started my career in business analysis and project management and moved into compliance oversight in 2011 when working for M&S Bank. I had been the project manager for the launch of a new investment product and the deputy CEO at the time, felt I had the right skillset to support the Exec to understand regulation better. I soon found myself with an uphill learning curve being promoted to Deputy Head of Compliance, launching the bank, its new current account and branches and over time transitioned to oversee compliance for most high street banking products for HSBC UK.
My last role with HSBC UK was supporting the transition of SMCR from APER for the firm’s 15 legal entities. More recently I was Chief Compliance Officer at specialist mortgage lender Together and prior to joining Co-op, I had a stint supporting a start up bank with its regulatory application and start up op model and processes. Moving to a role in Funeralcare has given me the opportunity to combine my financial services experience, at a time the planning market has become regulated, with the opportunity to work in a caring business that supports families through a most difficult time.
Having taken the Co-op through FCA authorisation, what were the challenges around implementing the required measures to ensure FCA authorisation? For example, did you have to build a new team or embed everything from scratch? If so, what did that entail and how did you achieve this?
Co-op had been proactive in calling for FCA regulation of the funeral planning market for some time prior to this being announced, so there was huge support for taking the business through FCA authorisation from the outset. The process itself was quite a whirlwind with such ambitious timescales to do so much. Initially we had to produce a regulatory business plan and all its supporting documentation in three months to meet submission dates and then we spent the next seven months, until the end of July 2022, undertaking a programme of work to assess and practically change all aspects of Co-op Funeralcare’s planning business and systems, to prepare it for regulation.
There were 24 different projects under the programme needed to achieve this. Growing the Risk and Compliance team, especially the Advisory side of the team, was key to be able to provide the business with the right level of support and advice to achieve these goals and it was wonderful when we had a full Advisory team by early February and a full Risk and Compliance team later in the year.
Having successfully achieved FCA authorisation for the business, what have you found most rewarding?
What impressed me the most, was the drive and energy that my colleagues at Co-op Funeralcare had to get behind delivering this in the short time we had. Everyone worked hard and dynamically to understand the regulation, introduce new systems, policy, processes and procedures to sell and service our products, set up new governance and product, financial promotion and risk frameworks, set up new roles and responsibilities, embrace SMCR and so much more. It felt as though the whole business was behind this and truly believed that the introduction of regulation would be better for the customer and therefore better for Co-op.
Post regulation, the assurance that customers are now protected through regulation, that their sales and servicing experiences will be fairly consistent across the sector, and that the money they invest is protected, is most rewarding.
Other than the recent FCA regulations, what are the primary factors currently affecting the funeral care sector and what does the future look like for this sector?
The increase in the cost-of-living is impacting clients. Customer interest in direct cremation, where the funeral is unattended, shows further signs of growth and this has continued since Covid. In 2022, our lower priced direct cremation and direct burial options accounted for 12% of all our funerals, compared with 8% in the year prior.
There has also been an increase in demand for funeral plans that include funeral wishes and for the plan to be inclusive of the additional elements of a funeral.
What steps does Co-op Funeralcare take to be sustainable as a business?
Co-op Funeralcare and the wider Co-op focus on sustainability in several ways. All Co-op manufactured coffins are constructed with FSC approved materials and all marketing materials are printed on FSC paper. We also introduced and continue to roll out electric hearses in our funeral business and we were one of the first UK funeral directors to trial the fully electric Tesla hearse.
How important is it to mentor new and emerging talent? What advice would you give to them?
It is extremely important to mentor new and emerging talent to ensure that we have a diverse and inclusive workforce that reflects our customers and wider society. I would tell them to ask the ‘stupid questions’, speak up and to recognise the importance of your role in providing diverse and fresh thinking. Conformity and affinity biases don’t lend themselves to growth and innovation.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give to your younger self?
I’d tell myself to make time for me. To explore what’s important and of interest to me. It’s so easy to get caught up in other people’s needs and priorities and forget to consider your own, especially when you’re a mother of young children and have a busy job. Let others take some of the burden so that you can enjoy some ‘me’ time.
If you could instantaneously gain a new skill, what would it be?
I’d like to learn the art of woodturning. There really isn’t an end product as such to the work I do and I’d like to have the opportunity to produce something beautiful with wood. At some point I’d like to have a go at this… while keeping all of my fingers!
And now for our getting to know you quick fire round:
Best podcast or book you have enjoyed in the past 12 months?
I recently read ‘Lessons in Chemistry’ by Bonnie Garmus in four days as I was hooked and love a novel with a strong female character. A great podcast for a bit of a giggle and some great new food suggestions is ‘Off Menu’ by comedians Ed Gamble and James Acaster, who invite guests into their magical restaurant to choose their favourite meal courses. Sue Perkins’s episode had me in stitches.
Favourite holiday destination?
It has got to be Anglesey. This is a recent find for us as we already live in Wales. One good thing that came out of lockdown was that if you lived in Wales, you could only holiday there. All of Anglesey is beautiful and if I had to choose, Newborough Forest leading to Llanddwyn Beach and Island would be on the list every time.
Dream dinner date?
It has got to be the late US Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsberg. What an amazing lady with such grit and determination. I would have loved to have sat down with her and would have been inspired by what she had to say.
Find out more about Lou and what makes her tick right here.
Many thanks to Lou for taking the time to chat with us for this fantastic article! If you'd like to collaborate with MERJE on a Q&A or other article, get in touch with our marketing team - firstname.lastname@example.org