Cherie Howie

Cherie Howie is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Grave fears for business

Funeral homes know they'll get you in the end - but are waiting longer than normal.

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

The surest thing in life has become a little less sure for the country's biggest funeral operator.

Not enough people are dying and the tardy checkout rate is hitting multinational funeral firm InvoCare's bottom line.

Stocks in the company, which works in New Zealand, Australia and Singapore, fell 5 per cent on Monday and chief executive Andrew Smith admitted to The Australian a falling mortality rate of just over half a per cent in the first half of the year on this side of the Tasman was partly to blame. Fewer Aussies are dying too - deaths there dipped 0.7 per cent in the six months to June.

That contributed to a 0.6 per cent drop in sales to $18.1 million, Smith said.

New Zealand chief operating officer Graeme Rhind was out of the office on Friday and did not have access to figures, but he too had noticed the drop in clients.

He refused to get morbid about it - for one thing, the ageing baby boom generation would eventually boost business.

"We keep busy enough," he said of the company.

InvoCare holds a 17.5 per cent share of New Zealand's death market (around 30,000 a year).

Rhind couldn't explain why fewer people were dying, a trend he first noticed late last year.

"You can try and analyse it, but sometimes it just happens."

Or, in the case of our mortality rate, doesn't happen.

Rhind said he certainly didn't want people to make the ultimate sacrifice on Invocare's behalf.

"I hope we don't get any sympathy for that. It's nice to think people are living longer. The death rate is what it is, you've just got to accept it.

"You can't worry too much about the things you can't control - otherwise you end up one of our customers."

- Herald on Sunday

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