THANOS magazine

July 3, 2024

Prospects for the funeral industry interviewed Mr. Mark Cichewicz, President of FIAT-IFTA, about new trends in the funeral industry, differences between the markets of member countries, and the role of FIAT-IFTA in the European representation of the funeral industry.

You can read full interview in Hungarian under this link:
and in English below.

The Hungarian funeral news site ( made an interview with Mr. Marek Cichewicz, the President of FIAT-IFTA where among other topics the new trends in the funeral industry, the differences between the markets of the member nations and the role of the FIAT-IFTA were covered.

What do you think are the biggest challenges for the European funeral industry in 2024, are there similar problems in all the countries or the differences are huge?
What is the biggest change in Poland and in Europe, it's a consolidation of the market. Big players, not only from the funeral industry, but also financial companies are entering to the funeral industry. They buy smaller players like a local funeral home, crematories. And you can see easily for the last 20, almost 30 years, the Spanish market has been changing like this, the same is happening in UK and in other countries too. And of course, you had in each country independent funeral homes, but now the chains between these providers are getting stronger. Another phenomenon is the internationalization process: for example, two big groups from France (OGF and Funecap) are now buying crematories in Italy, in Germany, in Holland. This process is understandable, still can be dangerous: the faster you grow the more potential problems may occur in your business. Steady, step by step business building has its advantages, but nowadays there are players who enters a market, buy, and consolidate other companies rapidly. From one perspective it is inevitable, but in this industry the patience, the prudent and thoughtful construction is also important.

What do you think about the transformation of burial forms (coffin vs. cremation) which is a great issue for the industry players in Hungary, is it a European trend?
In the countries like UK, France, the number of cremations is quite high, but in Poland for the last 10, 15 years, the number of cremations change from 15% up to 40% nationwide. In the big cities when you have much easier access to the services the cremation rate is around 55 to 60%. Obviously, it has a financial reason as well, especially in big cities the burial sites are much more expensive. There is also the ecological point of view. The people are thinking more seriously about ecology. Eco-friendly solutions such as the use of degradable materials are also becoming more widespread, as are new, more economical, and environmentally friendly methods of cremation, which are expected to become more widespread in the future. New ideas are born in United States and also in Germany. It's called human composting. And now more and more we have cemeteries which are more ecological and sustainable.

Is there a good, let’s say best practice in the ecofriendly funerals from Europe you could cite?
One of the examples is the cemetery in Spain, which is called Roques Blanques. And this cemetery is built by the group of Altima. On the 50 hectares of the land, they have the special areas where you can bury the ashes next to the tree and it's like a memorial tree, so It's like a park. You can find the same cemeteries in Germany and cemeteries at the forest. In my opinion, this idea should be strongly supported by funeral companies and the funeral industry.

At TANEXPO we could see different digital solutions for the industry. In which areas could digital solutions be significant for the funeral industry in the EU?
In the USA digitalization started 15 years ago, in the EU countries 10 years ago, and now our region has started to use these solutions too. I mean the obituary systems, memorial pages
where you will find the information about the deceased but also all the details about ceremony like navigation via Google Maps, ordering the flowers online, sending condolences and comforting words. Digital solutions help the families to be informed in the proper way and in very fast way. And this is extremely important that we start using that as a funeral industry. In 2018 in Poland my company was the first which delivered the online obituary system to the market. Now 25% of ceremonies in Poland are covered by the electronic notifications. And it's growing very fast because the awareness about the product is growing and less and less people are not afraid to use it. We also have now AI technology we can use, but it has serious ethical burdens, so we must be cautious in this field. Also the management system for the companies can profit from the digital revolution: it's extremely important today to speed up the process of sales, speed up the process of the communication between the employees.

What do you think about the question of financial support from the state (for the families of the deceased)?
Currently in Poland, government funeral allowances are around €900. But at the beginning of the year, the Polish government announced that it was going to increase them, probably to around €1,600. In Poland, we have had this kind of subsidy from the government for the ceremony since the early 90s. But in every European country the situation is completely different, so in some countries there is no support at all, like in Hungary, and in some countries insurance policies have been very developed, like in Spain, like in the UK. An interesting aspect of support for Families is funeral planning during their lifetime: you can plan the funeral ceremony and pay for it in advance, or set up a fund with a bank or insurance company. These solutions - an allowance from the state and independent financial care - should be used together as a whole system.

During your presidency what were your biggest professional achievements?
This is a very difficult question because it is difficult to talk about it myself. But first of all, one of the main projects that we did together with my colleagues on the board and during my presidency was to clarify and, let's say, structure the organisation in the right way, so that we can now say that we are a global organisation and everyone on the board has the same voting rights: even if you are from a small country like, say, Monaco, or if you are from the United States or China, your voice is at the same level. From my point of view, it was very important to ensure that everyone had an equal voice and equal rights. After three years, I can say that we have achieved this together with my colleagues from the United States, Brazil, Poland, Bulgaria, Belgium and Japan. So we can say that it is more democratic. We can say that we are the only global organisation that has members from all over the world. Many associations have, let's say, global access and have members from all over the world, but have a board from only one country. In our organisation, we can say that we are the only global organisation that has global leadership and a global perspective. We are now increasing the number of educational programmes, we are more active on social media, and the quality and content of our magazine 'Thanos' is better and created with all members of the organisation.

At the European Union's level, do you think that there are any kind of intervention or regulation or laws that should be implemented and should be regulated on a European level which would be important?
One of the most important organizations on the European level is European Federation of Funeral Services. EFFS is the organization which is a member of FIAT-IFTA. They are working on the standardization and they created an European Norm 15017, which is a solid foundation for providing funeral services with professionalism, dignity and respect. I think this norm should be followed by the Brussels, by the European organizations. And I hope, I keep my fingers crossed that it will work, but it's not easy. From what I see at the moment, there are much bigger problems in Europe for politicians and for collecting votes in elections and being more popular issues than the funeral industry. And it's very sad that people don't focus on the end, the people in the European Parliament or the people in the organisations that are responsible for European law don't help us, but death is for everybody. Yes. Death will affect everyone. Statistics say that death affects us twice an hour. People from the European Parliament should understand that they too will be customers of our funeral homes. The law they make is not just for us. It is for everyone. There are many areas in our industry that should be standardised at European and even global level. Meanwhile, at the moment, the standards and regulations to be followed are completely different in every country.

FIAT-IFTA will organize a huge conference in Krakow, in September, could you just say a few words about this event?
This will be in fact the three-day FIAT-IFTA Convention. During this meeting we will elect a new (third) vice-president. The third vice-president is elected from the national members, currently we have more than 50 national members. The third vice-president will be elected for two years. Then, for another two years he will be the second, the first and finally, when he has learned everything about the organisation, he will become president. This is the path I also went through when I started my work on the FIAT-IFTA board in 2014. We expect around 300 people from all over the world to attend the FIAT-IFTA 2024 Convention. In one place you will be able to meet people from South Africa, India, Indonesia, the United States, Latin America and, of course, Europe. And during the conference you will be able to talk about cemeteries, about new technologies and even about sales techniques in our industry. Participants will also discover the history and monuments of Krakow, experience distinct flavours of Polish cuisine and immerse themselves in the vibrant culture of the Lesser Poland region (MaƂopolska). The FIAT-IFTA 2024 Convention in Krakow will begin on 18 September and end on 21 September.

Do you have any messages for the Hungarian readers from the industry?
The 2022 FIAT-IFTA meeting was held in Budapest. It was an amazing conference, held in a beautiful hotel in a beautiful city, where I met great colleagues from the Hungarian funeral industry.

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