Funeral plan provider poised for expansion

Golden Charter chief executive Ronnie Wayte. Picture: Christian Cooksey
Golden Charter chief executive Ronnie Wayte. Picture: Christian Cooksey
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GLASGOW-BASED Golden Charter, the UK’s largest independent funeral plan provider, is gearing up for an ambitious expansion drive following a 25 per cent jump in turnover during its latest financial year.

The company saw a 15 per cent rise in revenues from selling funeral plans during the 12 months to the end of March, giving it nearly 40 per cent of the UK market for pre-paid fun­eral packages.

Chief executive Ronnie Wayte said double-digit growth will likely continue for a few more years, but will slow dramatically as Golden Charter approaches 50 per cent market share.

To offset this, the firm plans to put even more effort behind the legal services division which was set up four years ago.

Its growth could potentially double that of funeral plans in the current financial year, with a focus on “end of life products” such as wills, power of attorney and property protection trusts.

Like its funeral plans, all of Golden Charter’s legal services are currently sold on a pre-paid basis. Wayte now believes there is scope to move into “delivery at the point of death” – in other words, providing probate and similar services to those who have not planned ahead.

“We see huge potential in leg­al services,” he said. “There has already been a rapid step-change just in the last 12 months.”

Golden Charter will access customers through its UK network of roughly 3,300 independent funeral directors. The company is owned by an association of about 700 of these directors, who work exclusively with Golden Charter.

Total turnover during the year to March was £37.8 million, up from £30.2m previously. Operating profits edged higher to £1.08m, while pre-tax profits were flat at £800,000.

Golden Charter traditionally returns the lion’s share of surpluses to its shareholders, which keeps profits steady and relatively low. However, the company will likely “stick a few million onto the balance sheet this year” as it gears up for acquisitions.

This will involve taking over operations such as crematoria or coffin manufacturing, which Wayte said will then be available to Golden Charter’s network of funeral directors at a reduced cost.

The company will begin eyeing up potential targets next year, with deals likely to follow in 2017.

Currently celebrating its 25th anniversary, the business has grown substantially since Wayte joined from ScottishPower in 2008.

Employee numbers during that period have jumped from 60 to nearly 400, including 260 people at Golden Charter’s headquarters in Bearsden.

“Historically we have built up the business without debt – everything has been done organically,” Wayte said.

“We have kept a relatively low profile for quite a while, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but in terms of the Scottish scene we are starting to raise our heads over the parapet a bit.”