Editor’s Note: Just for kicks and giggles we examined SCI’s Investor Presentation reporting on SCI’s takeover of Stewart Enterprises (2013), the second largest corporate funeral service provider group in the US. We counted selected words in this short document of less than 3 typewritten pages. Here are the results: 0 occurrences of the words empathy (0), compassion (0), care (0), family (0), bereaved (0), bereavement (0), grief (0), mourning (0), healing (0); multiple occurrences of the words profit, earnings, cost savings, cash, revenues, power, return on investment, cost of capital, capital, cash flow, investment. That’s some indication of where their focus is. (SCI Investor Presentation. Regarding SCI’s Acquisition of Stewart Enterprises, Inc., May 29, 2013.)
Most customers don’t even know they’re dealing with SCI
Synergy or synergies (corporate synergy is defined as the financial benefit that a corporation expects to realize when it merges with or acquires another corporation; Synergy is the concept that the value and performance of two companies combined will be greater than the sum of the separate individual parts.) occurs a whopping 15 times in the SIC document! “Improved” appears only in conjunction with SCI’s “improved purchasing power”, and the term “service” appears only in Service Corporation International, the company’s name. So it’s obvious, conspicuous that SCI is interested only in reaping financial benefits for themselves, not in improving deathcare to its misguided customers! Besides, most customers don’t even know they’re dealing with SCI because all they see is a local funeral home associated with Dignity Memorial, the dead givaway that SCI owns that funeral home!
A great deal has changed in how we meet our obligations with respect to our dead.
In the meantime, in part thanks to Mitford’s tales from the crypt and the Federal Trade Commission’s rulemaking, a great deal has changed in how we meet our obligations with respect to our dead. But some of those changes should be reason for a good deal of guilt and shame on the part of survivors because of their treatment of the dead. Americans and their imitators have become as shallow as the face reflected in their SmartPhone screens. The consumerism-driven FTC’s decisions regarding mergers of huge corporations, whether it is the cable television industry, the airlines, or the funeral service corporations has been really ambivalent and insensitive to the effects on the consumer. In other words, these mergers approved by the FTC may be legal but they’re not in the interest of the consuming public.
Not everyone will book a flight and not everyone will cave to the cable television giants but almost everyone today will, at some time in their lives, have to make funeral arrangements for someone close to them. It’s just one of those facts of life. So, let’s talk about a classic FTC-approved merger of the leading funeral service corporation in the U.S., SCI, when it merged with Stewart Enterprises, the second-largest funeral services corporation in the U.S. Here are some opinions we’ve found regarding the SCI-Stewart merger in particular:
In their letters to FTC chairperson Ramirez urging caution in allowing the $1.4 billion merger between Service Corporation International (SCI) and Stewart Enterprises, the two largest providers of funeral services in the country nationally elected officials, congressmen and senators used statements like:
My constituents have raised concerns that the merger between SCI and Stewart Enterprises would reduce the diversity of ownership of local funeral homes, particularly the ones which provide specialized death~care services to the Jewish community. This lack of diversity could, in turn, reduce the number of death-care service providers with which JFPCGW could negotiate affordable funeral service contracts. I join my constituents in requesting that you work to ensure that such a merger protects the rights of all religious faiths to have competitive and fairly priced funeral options. (Rep. B.L. Cardin)
I have heard concerns from many constituents in my Congressional district that this merger would result in a reduction in diversity of ownership of local funeral homes that provide services to the Jewish community. This limitation could restrict the entities with which JFPCGW would be able to negotiate funeral service contracts, and I share the concerns of my constituents about the need to ensure that members of all religious faiths have diverse and competitive options with respect to funeral homes. (Rep. Chris van Hollen)
My constituents have raised concerns that the merger between Service Corporation International and Stewart Enterprises would result in a reduction in the diversity of ownership of local funeral homes that offer death-care services in accordance with Jewish tradition. This lack of diversity could reduce the number of providers with which JFPCGW could work to negotiate affordable funeral service contracts. (Rep. J.K. Delaney)
In that capacity, JFPCGW, along with many of my constituents, have raised concerns that the proposed SCI/Stewart merger would reduce access to the services that the Jewish faith dictates by decreasing diversity of ownership in death care facilities, and thus competition within the market. I strongly support access to affordable funeral services for all faiths and hope that you will carefully review the proposed merger to ensure that it does not compromise competition in a way that jeopardizes these services for my constituents. (Rep. J.P. Sarbanes)
The Governor and Lieutenant Governor of the state of Maryland made a joint appeal reading:
Many Maryland families, especially families in our Jewish community, fear that the merger could limit choice, and drive up prices, for bereaved families in Maryland. As the federal authority on the enforcement of antitrust laws, we encourage you to carefully review the proposed merger to ensure that consumer rights are protected, and that the market for funeral services remains competitive.
Other public officials had similar concerns:
The proposed SCI-Stewart merger affects an industry in which consumers must make financial decisions during times of profound emotional distress. Anticompetitive effects will take the greatest toll on low-income populations, and on smaller ethnic and religious groups whose choice is already limited. I ask that the FTC carefully consider the detrimental effects that … families in the Washington, D.C., area currently anticipate. (Maryland State Rep. Brian E. Frosh, Chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee)
However, the proposed merger would cease any furtherance of the contract, and would result in … funeral cost increases of more than 40 percent, due to decreased competition. In short, the proposed merger is anti-competitive. (MD State Senator, Roger Manno)
I am writing to express my strong opposition to Service Corporation International’s (SCI) proposed $1.4 billion purchase of Stewart Enterprises. I believe it is apparent that if the nation’s largest funeral home chain acquires the nation’s second largest funeral home chain a monopoly would be created, one clearly not in the best interest of the consumer. (G. Levanthal, Mongomery County Councilmember)
Preserving a competitive market tor funeral services is essential to preventing dramatic increases in costs, diminished services, and other abuses. particularly for families with unique religious and cultural customs and at a time when they are grieving and most vulnerable. I urge you and the FTC to protect our citizens against any damaging and/or serious consequences that may result from the merger of the country’s two largest providers of funeral services. (S.C. Lee, Maryland House of Delegates)
The proposed acquisition of Stewart threatens to impair competition and harm consumers for … funeral services in this market, in violation of the Clayton Act and the FTC Act. (C.W. Frick, Councilman at Large, Montgomery County)