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How “abysmal” experience after grandmother’s death inspired North East bereavement tech start-up Settld

Vicky and grandmother June - Settld

The co-founder of North East tech start-up Settld is on a mission to tackle the “horror stories” grieving families experience when notifying companies about the death of loved ones, with a vision to take the company global.

Prior to the death of her grandmother in 2019, Vicky Wilson, the co-founder and CEO behind Settld, had been working at Amazon for almost eight years in various senior roles.

“My lovely grandma, she and I were very close,” she told Prolific North.

“It just hit like a bag of bricks when she died, the family had asked me to take care of her affairs. 

“It was really, really difficult. There were so many things that went wrong.”

Following “hours on call queues”, she was forced to navigate a myriad of utility, bank and pension providers to notify them of her grandmother June’s death.

Around 600,000 people die every year in the UK, but she explained it takes the average family approximately 6-10 hours just to notify companies to close accounts with an additional 8-10 weeks spent on all the follow-up.

“I just ended up thinking this is absolutely abysmal,” she said.

Initially taking a sabbatical from her job at Amazon, she joined an accelerator programme where she found her experience dealing with the death of her grandmother was a shared one. 

Propelled by hearing “horror” stories from fellow grieving families and her own frustrations traversing the end-of-life world of admin, it was then that she decided to launch Settld.

Through the SaaS company, she has since set out to simplify the process for grieving families who need to notify companies of the death of a loved one, as well as challenging companies to improve their policies when dealing with deaths.

With the help of fellow co-founder and her mother, Julie Wilson, the pair launched the company’s bereavement notification service last year, which is now headquartered in Sunderland with 10 staff.

How the Settld platform works 

From banks, utility companies, subscription services, card and insurance companies, the service is designed to help bereaved families and individuals through the process of notifying multiple companies of a death.

Credit: Dylan Gillis/Unsplash.

The ‘deathtech’ company, a term which Vicky said sounds a little more “glamorous” than end-of-life, is on a mission to combat the “hugely upsetting” experiences families face at a time when they are “incredibly vulnerable”.

“Our vision for Settld is to use technology for good and in a really sensitive way. Technology can take away some of that really painful and unnecessary stress which is often caused by lack of process and lack of automation,” she said.

“Dealing with grief, your brain is split into different states of mind. They call it the dizziness of death.

“As a customer, let’s say you are trying to comprehend that this person who you loved has just left your life then you’ve got the bloody gas company chasing you for a debt that doesn’t exist.”

“My god the horror stories that you hear,” she explained, from banks asking grieving relatives to present a death certificate in person at a branch to even asking for the person who has died to come to the phone.

“The industry itself, there never has been a standard and that’s what we’ve been campaigning for,” she said.

After the death of a loved one, relatives fill out a short form via the Settld platform and submit information about the individual, accounts they want to close and a death certificate.

Following an anti-fraud check to ensure there is no identity fraud or malice, the team at Settld take on the responsibility of informing the necessary organisations that a death has occured.

On the complexities of relative disputes, she explained how Settld steers away from this as it does not deal with the financial aspects of closing accounts.

The family or user will have access to a dashboard, which populates over time as the Settld team collects the information and notifies each company, which is left up to the family to settle financial matters.

The team at Settld then work to contact and liaise with up to 800 service providers, spanning across household, digital and financial services.

Vicky Wilson
Co-founder Vicky Wilson.

“We are the intermediary,” she said, adding that while the platform is free for users, service providers are charged a nominal fee as it “saves them operational costs”.

“We take away the difficulty of their customer care agents being sat in a call queue with distressed customers,” she said, alongside ensuring end-of-life administrative processes are adhered to.

Failing to deal with bereaved customers correctly can wind up becoming very costly for brands.

“The brand risk for those companies is obviously a lot higher because the bigger the company, the more people expect from the company because they’ve got the resources,” she said.

Pointing to recent cases, she mentioned how Barclays bank was fined £26m in 2020 by the Financial Conduct Authority, for failing to support its customers including dealing with bereaved relatives, and Santander was fined £32.8m in 2018 for serious failings in its probate and bereavement processes.

With Settld, the company aims to unravel the hurdles families experience and “ease the burden of going through the admin hoops and loops”.

“It is mainly back to this fact that there has been no standards. We have built for the first time this cross-industry engine, we have data that nobody else has,” she said. 

Campaigning for better industry standards and targeting Series A investment 

On the back of a petition that racked up 93,000 signatures with the help of Cruse Bereavement Support group, the UK’s largest bereavement charity, the team at Settld are campaigning to improve how companies deal with deaths.

This led to the company becoming a founding member of the Bereavement Standard Working Group, which is striving to push for a change and a cross-industry standard.

From the digitalisation of death certificates to campaigning for dedicated bereavement teams at various service providers, it “drove a lot of the insights” Settld was built around.

Julie and Vicky with grandmother June.

After being named as one of the winners of Tech Nation’s Rising Stars competition in the North East in 2021, an early-stage tech scaleup competition, she said it will help the company to “open additional doors”.

“There’s just so much more for us to do,” she said.

Following an initial government grant of £300,000, to raising £500,000 in seed funding last year from early stage investor SFC Capital, the company is eyeing a Series A investment raise this year.

She plans to extend Settd’s services beyond account closure by delving into uncovering hidden accounts such as ISAs and digital subscriptions, as well as “connecting people to the right services at the right time”.

On the future of the company and how she plans to evolve the platform to support bereaved families further, she has ambitious global goals.

“My background is scaling things internationally. Unfortunately death is something that we all encounter, it’s not a UK specific problem and so the cash is also there to help us start looking into how we take this beyond the UK and move into different markets,” she said.

“Now we have got that network and have got those relationships established, it becomes a nice dovetail to have the extension,” she said. 

Her ultimate vision with Settld is for the company to become a “household name”.

“I’d like to think we are an international organisation and would like to think we’re opening offices in various different territories across the globe.

“I think we really are helping families, which is why we started it. It’s all thanks to my grandma,” she said.

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