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by Vault Education Editors | July 13, 2011


Death-care, a multi-billion dollar industry, has suffered a lot of changes in recent times. Big changes are needed and coming.  The more macabre among MBA hopefuls might consider getting a funeral services MBA (FuSeMBA).

For funeral companies competition is heating up. In Europe, for example, new rules will allow more private companies to vie with public providers in selling funeral services and products. Meanwhile, rising demand for cremations, “green” funerals and more personalised send-offs means rolling out the traditional funeral cortege is no longer sufficient for today’s funeral directors.

For funeral professionals, such developments demand an ability to adapt and innovate. “They’re realising that the days when they had a protected market and a sure stream of clients are over,” says Jaume Massons, director of the Master of Business Administration for Funeral Services (FuSeMBA), a programme designed for the industry and sponsored by the University of Barcelona and the European Federation of Funeral Services.

Offered by a group of European education institutions and funeral industry associations, the two-year FuSeMBA programme is accredited by the University of Barcelona. Like many MBAs, the FuSeMBA combines face-to-face sessions and online learning.

The need to “adapt and innovate” arises, in the US particularly, in large part as a reaction to the rise of cremation, a much cheaper alternative to casket burial. In land-starved Japan, nearly everyone is cremated; in the UK, more than 70 percent. But in the US, we have been content with coffins. In 1985, the cremation rate was around 15 percent, and has risen to nearly 37 percent last year. The National Funeral Directors Association predicts that by 2015 the cremation rate will reach 46 percent and continue to rise.

Saving money isn’t the only reason why cremation is becoming more popular. Catholic acceptance of the ritual has contributed. So has the increased mobility of Americans who don’t feel compelled to be buried in one unmoveable spot their whole death. And, in states where land use is a concern, it just seems like a waste of a good tract of land.

Funeral companies must also deal with the fact that people seem to be living longer (medical and technical advances, preventative measures and whatnot). People are demanding newer, weirder, greener products and services. They also face new competition from the likes of Walmart and Costco, who have started selling coffins on the cheap.  

Funeral companies will have to embrace organizational change or risk greater losses. The FuSeMBA was created for that reason. Sadly, this message hasn’t resonated. The program won't be running this year “due to lack of support.” There is some good news for the death-care industry: Baby Boomers are just about nearing their time, which means that the death rate will rise again.

[Financial Times, Slate]


Filed Under: Education|Grad School