A San Francisco start-up wants to use technology to transform one of the last industries to still rely on pen and paper: funerals.
Passare is one of a new generation of companies and organisations trying to modernise the end of life experience, as ageing baby boomers seek different ways of celebrating a person’s life.
Death is big business. In the US, the National Funeral Directors’ Association estimates the market will be worth more than $16bn this year. In Japan, it is estimated to be worth more than $18bn.
But the way today’s ageing population wants to meet the end has changed. In place of tradition, some seek more personal occasions. Others want environmentally friendly burial. More than 1,000 not for profit death cafés have sprung up in 23 countries to help people talk about dying – a sign perhaps that the subject is less taboo than it once was.
Charles Picasso, chief executive of Passare, says US customers are unhappy with the long meetings at funeral parlours after a relative dies, and the restrictive packages that force everyone to commemorate in the same way.
“Funerals are a very fragmented industry which has been very, very slow to adopt any technology,” he says. “It is really antediluvian; it is like the stone age.”
His website, used by 220 funeral homes across the US, aims to enable families to collaborate and plan online, while keeping the funeral provider up to date with their wishes.
“Most American families are very dispersed, living in different states and when death occurs it is sometimes very difficult to communicate,” he says, adding it can also be used for people to plan their own funerals.
Passare is free for consumers, but charges funeral providers for the service, which allows them to keep track of the arrangements from flowers to the obituary. It also takes a fee from the travel companies it links with users as they plan their trips to attend funerals.
“A funeral is not like a wedding, a wedding is complex – but with the wedding you have a year to do it. When there’s a death, there’s only a week,” he said.
In the UK, Final Fling is also trying to help people plan for the end of their life, from wills to funerals. Barbara Chalmers, Final Fling’s founder, said she wanted to help people make informed decisions, not “distress purchases”.
“It started with going to bad funerals. My family tends to not be people of faith and if you don’t have a faith base, what do you do for your important rituals?” she said. “There were these quite poor, not particularly meaningful events when it should have been a final fling for people who had led a rich and interesting life.”
Her website includes a marketplace where people in the industry can promote their services, but she plans to enter the funeral business herself.
“Some 5m people in the UK are going to hit pension age in the next five years,” she says. “A lot of people were maybe at Woodstock, so they might want to do things a little bit differently.”
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