Episode 8: Bob Fells of ICCFA on the Value of the Traditional Funeral

by Tanya D. Marsh | Death, et seq.

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One of my major goals with this podcast is to introduce listeners to a variety of perspectives on the funeral industry and changing death practices.  In Episode 3, I talked to Dan Isard, who is a management and financial consultant to funeral homes.  In Episode 4, I talked to Caitlin Doughty, who is a non-traditional funeral director in Los Angeles with a critique to the status quo.  In the next few weeks you’ll hear from Lee Webster, who has been very active in the home funeral and green burial movements, and from Amy Cunningham, who takes a very thoughtful and non-traditional approach to her second career as a funeral director.

Several questions have emerged from my conversations with these folks, and some fundamental tensions have been revealed in their answers to these questions.  Are funerals for the living or the dead?  What is a “good” funeral?  Are people less interested in rituals than they were before and, if so, why?  What are the pressures facing the funeral industry and how should the industry react?  Today’s podcast touches on many of these questions, from the perspective of a long-time leader of a funeral and cemetery industry trade association.

There are three major trade associations that represent participants in the funeral and cemetery industries in the United States — the National Funeral Director’s Association, known as NFDA, the Cremation Association of North America, known as CANA, and the International Cemetery, Cremation, and Funeral Association, known as ICCFA.  ICCFA was founded in 1887 as the Association of American Cemetery Superintendents.  Today it has more than 9,000 member businesses representing all segments of the cemetery, funeral services, cremation, and memorialization profession.

Today’s podcast features my conversation with Bob Fells, who is the General Counsel of ICCFA.  Bob was formerly the Executive Director and General Counsel of ICCFA, retiring from his role as Executive Director in 2017.  Bob joined the staff of ICCFA in 1983 and has been working on behalf of the funeral service profession on legal and legislative issues since 1975.


Selected quotations from Bob Fells:

⇒   [on the FTC Funeral Rule] “There was something to be said about some sort of upfront price disclosure … there was something there most fair-minded people admitted.”

⇒   “[At this point] I think the profession is so geared [towards the Funeral Rule that] you will find more people defending the price list requirements.”

⇒   “I love the way people so quickly turned [The Funeral Rule] into a sales tool.”

⇒   ICCFA is in favor of any funeral provider which posts its general price list online to be immune from the “secret shopper” auditing by the FTC for compliance with The Funeral Rule.

⇒   A “good funeral” is a “catharsis for the living.” 

⇒   “From a consumer standpoint, prearrangement is great.”

⇒   Profession made a mistake in encouraging people to prearrange, because when they planned their own funerals, they didn’t opt for a traditional funeral, they chose “direct disposition.”

⇒   “Since when did the decedent get to call the shots on the funeral?”

⇒   “Funerals are for the living … it’s not for the dead guy.”

⇒   “The question is, how [does the funeral industry communicate] the value of funerals [to the public]?”

⇒   “If you don’t see value in something, paying ten cents is too much.”

⇒   “How much should funerals cost?”

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