​Digerati50: Coming alive to the idea of death planning

  • Users can store important documents and leave messages for loved ones
  • B2B approach by partnering insurance companies to reach larger scale

​Digerati50: Coming alive to the idea of death planning

Digital News Asia (DNA) continues its series that profiles 50 influencers who are helping shape Malaysia’s Digital Economy, from Digerati50 2020-2021 (Vol 4), a special biennial print publication released in July 2020. The digital copy can be downloaded from the sidebar link.

The following article is an expanded version of the print edition.

Our legacy is the outcome of life’s multifaceted journey of gaining an assortment of attachments and assets along the way. While we still can, it makes perfect sense that we put our affairs in order for our loved ones to ease matters in moments of grief. When there is a will, there is a way. And more aptly today, when there is need for convenience, there is technology to help solve it.

For the founder and chief executive officer of Bereev Sdn Bhd, Izumi Inoue, the contrasting circumstances from the passing of her beloved grandparents a year apart from one another fuelled her fire to create a death management tool. In short, the platform includes funeral planning, digital vaults to pass on vital information, and a feature to leave behind last messages to loved ones.

Bereev’s story tracks back to 2016 when Izumi unexpectedly lost her grandmother to pneumonia. And a year later, her grandfather passed away from parotid cancer. The funeral arrangements for her grandmother proved incredibly challenging for the family, with varying opinions of what is best. While handling of matters for her grandmother left Izumi feeling disappointed, arrangements for her grandfather’s passing a year after was starkly peaceful and smooth.

Both her grandparents were equally loved, she reflected, so why were responses at their passing so different from one another? The answer, she realised, was in death planning. Being a practical man, her grandfather headed home after his diagnosis to clean his room, arrange his documents and communicate his wishes to his next of kin.

Izumi’s family did not quite know how to react at the time - it was amusingly strange yet tragic. “But when he died, that’s when we realised the importance of death planning,” she says, describing is as a complete 180 degree contrast to her grandmother’s time.

Death planning makes a huge difference to the people you leave behind, she asserts. “Families argue about many things like religious and finance issues. The reason why friction arises is because the deceased did not get a chance to transparently inform the right people what he or she wants.”

Intent on solving this pain point, Izumi left behind her career in marketing and set off to become the founder of Bereev in 2017. Does Bereev replace the need for a will? She clarifies: “No, we are not replacing any legal document. What we do is bring it together in a way that makes sense.”

 

Bereev’s four main features

To illustrate how Bereev plays its part, Izumi explained its four main features. The first is funeral planning which is usually not covered in legal documents. “We offer this with a bunch of professionals offering various services. We have a journey for people to come onto the platform and answer simple questions at their own pace,” she said.

The option of skipping certain questions and revisiting them at a later date came about as a result of feedback at the prototype stage. “Almost everyone agreed this was needed but some thought about their own mortality and became sad.”

The second feature of Bereev is its digital vaults that is broken up into multiple categories like finance, insurance, properties, vehicles and medical records to name a few. For instance, the finance vault is used to store banking credentials and details on assets and liabilities. “A lot of people think about assets but they don’t think about liabilities. If you have loans, your family inherits that as well.”

The digital asset vault in particular stands out. It allows users to leave their login credentials and instructions for loved ones for Netflix, Spotify or other digital subscriptions. “The last thing your family wants to see a month after you’re gone is your credit cards still being billed.”

The third feature is one that is highly personal and can aid grieving family members. Users can write digital letters or leave audio/video messages for intended recipients. The messages will be sent via email upon death of the user.

Izumi shared how one user, a mother of two young daughters, used the feature to write letters to impart her motherly guidance in the event something unfortunate were to happen to her. “This is a section of our app that we are very proud of. The things you want to say are so important and a lot of us are robbed of that opportunity.”

“There are so many human aspects to death planning and we want to focus on that,” she emphasises.

The fourth feature of Bereev ties everything together by enabling collaboration with multiple people but ultimately leaving control in the hands of the user. “Users can customise access to their plan by allowing one person to view 100% of the plan, while others are assigned only certain categories.”

 

Cybersecurity and growth strategy

Since Bereev is entrusted with such private and sensitive information, having ironclad cybersecurity defense is of utmost importance. “We realised early on that our main priority is not building nice shiny features but actually about protecting our customer’s information and privacy.”

To maintain its arsenal of defence, Bereev has a seasoned cybersecurity expert on board and employs bank-level encryption with AES-256. “We encrypt the entire product. All information keyed in and files attached are only accessible to the user or the people they have enabled to view. Even us at Bereev, we don’t have access because it is one-way encryption.”

While having product-market fit is the first challenge to tackle as an entrepreneur, the next make-or-break moment lies in ensuring business sustainability. One of the initial challenges Izumi faced in 2017 was finding team members that are both familiar with technology and also strongly grasp the importance of death planning. “It’s a combination of technological know-how and real understanding that this is a problem that need to be solved. So I started reaching out to friends who have had similar experience and could play a role within the company.”

The minimum viable product (MVP) was built within three weeks. “We pushed it out to friends, family and strangers who wouldn’t give us biased answers. It was met with mixed reaction but almost everyone agreed that this is needed.”

With market validation out of the way, the Bereev team worked on incorporating user feedback and built a product roadmap. The company’s first funds was US$12,000 (RM50,000) from being a finalist in the Khazanah Nasional Entrepreneurship Outreach (KNEO) programme in 2018 followed by US$72,350 (RM300,000) from Cradle’s Investment Programme 300 (CIP 300) IN 2019.

[Ed: Para edited for accuracy.]

For now, Bereev functions via its web portal but is looking to launch its mobile application. “It is a progressive web app. Users can visit our website and download the app. It functions the same way as a mobile app. For us, it was easier to build and faster to scale.”

[Ed: Since the article was published in June 2020, Bereev did lauch its app. Izumi updates DNA that she just launched Version 2.0 in Feb. Built from scratch, new features include Muslim/Non-Muslim modes (different features/experience), introduction of guided planning (pick a goal and follow step by step flow) and is also available in Chinese.] 

With market validation out of the way, Bereev settled on a business to business (B2B) approach to scale. “Our goal is to make sure every adult Malaysian is prepared. In order to reach out to this big population, we needed to have a way to drive that.”

One of its earliest clients was insurance company Zurich Malaysia. After a successful pilot with the company in 2019, Bereev is now in the midst of rolling out its next phase to reach more customers. Bereev also established a three-party campaign with Etiqa Takaful and Policystreet in 2019. “Whoever buys Etiqa insurance on Policystreet gets a Bereev account,” she explains.

The agreements with the insurance company prevents Izumi from sharing the number of users but she confirms that it is growing steadily. As for expansion plans, Bereev is focused on scaling within the Malaysian market for the time being but has its sights set on expanding into Thailand by 2021. “It is not official yet but we are securing some partners there.”


Digerati50 2020/2021 is proudly sponsored by Maxis - Powering Malaysia's 5G era.

 

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