Demand for death planning services on the rise

PETALING JAYA: Since the Covid-19 breakout, customer enquiries and business volumes for death planning have increased for bereavement care provider Nirvana Asia Sdn Bhd, said chief operations officer Datin Lee Jye Chyi.

“The resulting lockdown has taken people away from the distractions of daily life and given them more time to contemplate about life in general and consider their own needs in terms of life planning for services such as insurance, will writing, and funeral planning,” Lee told SunBiz.

Nirvana provides funeral services and products such as columbarium niches (urn compartments) and burial plots. About 90% of its sales are generated from funeral planning services, also known as “pre-need” service in the company, which means the service is not intended for immediate use.

Lee said there is a growing awareness about the importance of end-of-life planning and its benefits as people are now open to discuss a topic which was once regarded as taboo.

Nirvana posted a net profit of RM410,449 and revenue of RM411,492 in the financial year ended Dec 31, 2019, being the latest financial information filed with Companies Commission of Malaysia. In FY2018, it saw a net loss of RM1.03 million.

Nirvana has centres and memorial parks in Kuala Lumpur, Selangor (Semenyih, Shah Alam and Klang), Malacca, Johor, Penang and Perak (Ipoh).

“With strict SOPs in place, it is undeniable that the movement control order has affected the way we conduct business. It has definitely made the landscape more challenging, which is why digital transformation is important as consumers are taking their business online,” Lee said.

She noted that the pandemic has accelerated this process as all industries are forced to evolve in order to adapt to the “new normal” such as conducting meetings online and using digital platforms to reach out to customers.

“Nirvana was moving towards this direction even before the pandemic struck as part of our digital transformation plan. The pandemic in some ways was an effective acid test for our readiness to embrace digitalisation and new platforms will open doors to new opportunities. It will allow us to potentially reach new markets,” she added.

Recently, Nirvana and local death planning startup Bereev joined forces to combine both the “hardware” and “software” of death preparation into a single experience to change the way people think about and deal with their mortality.

“As part of the first phase of our collaboration, we are including the basic version of Bereev to our new customers. In the near future, we are looking to expand the service to our existing customers,” Lee said.

Nirvana, through the partnership, is targeting 500 new sign-ups a month and 6,000 a year.

Lee emphasised that Nirvana and Bereev are different when it comes to the nature of business.

“We provide the ‘hardware’ in terms of funeral arrangements and planning while Bereev provides the ‘software’ in which to ensure whatever the customer has planned is heard and honoured. What we do share are similar philosophies and goals which are to encourage and promote pre-planning among the populace. Bereev, in fact, complements us in this aspect.

“As a business, we need to evolve with changing trends and technology and the funeral industry is no exception. Nirvana has always embraced change, innovation and technology which we believe is part of our success; so when Bereev approached us with a proposal to collaborate, we saw it as an opportunity to provide our customers with a valuable value-added service,” Lee said, adding that they have no plans to acquire Bereev, only collaboration.

Bereev Sdn Bhd founder and CEO Izumi Inoue said it made sense to work with bereavement players like Nirvana because their offerings complement each other.

“Our goal is to empower our customers with the right tools to take charge of death the same way they do with life. We also want to play a bigger role in easing the lives of the people they leave behind. With this partnership, Nirvana can now handle the wake or funeral of the deceased according to their wishes with as little disruption as possible on the family’s grieving journey,” Inoue said.

Inoue said Bereev set out to fill the gaps of death planning services due to death preparation services in general being fragmented.

“It is crucial to note that prior to Bereev, the legal, finance, funeral, and personal parts of death planning did not communicate with each other. In the past, people would have most likely compiled a thick folder with a bunch of documents that did not paint a very clear picture for the people they leave behind. Death preparation apps like ours bring all of these different components together in a way that makes perfect sense to the deceased’s loved ones.”

Inoue added that Bereev’s website traffic increased significantly two months into lockdown and the sign-up rate for death planning has risen.

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