A short three and a half years ago, the funeral industry reeled from the collapse of National Prearranged Services and the emerging story of the Illinois Master Trust. The NFDA was slow to respond to the crisis, and when it did, this blog joined the criticism. Fast forward to September 2012, and the NFDA responds to the Wisconsin Master Trust controversy with the same guidelines.
Granted: associations are cumbersome organizations that are dependent on volunteer members.
Granted: changing the mindset of a membership that has been historically opposed to preneed will be difficult.
Granted: it is a matter of time before another state association master trust fails.
We need to augment the advice offered the NFDA in 2009: eliminate from your trust evaluation guidelines any suggestions that a guaranteed rate of return is permissible. The days of set rates of return or book/tax cost of account for distributions are over.
The fixed rate of return approach allowed the Wisconsin and Illinois programs to avoid investment transparency and individual account allocations of income and market value. But, providing investment transparency in terms of the investments held by the trust, and the rate of return, can be more complex that the NFDA guidelines suggest. It is not uncommon for three or more investment pools to be offered by a master trust program. Administrators may have different ways to provide transparency at the trust level, in terms of in investments held by the trust and their rates of returns.
Whatever procedure is followed, the end result should be a ‘mark to market’ that will allow an auditor to reconcile each individual preneed contract’s value to the individual funeral home account(s), and in the case of master trusts, each individual funeral home’s account(s) to the aggregate master trust market value.