THANOS magazine

Germany | October 13, 2023

Rethinking Tomorrow
Is Digitalization Reshaping the German Funeral Industry?

By Stephan Neuser, General Secretary of the German Federal Association of Funeral Directors (BDB) and Dr. Simon J. Walter, Cultural Representative of the German Burial Culture Foundation

In July 2022, the German Burial Culture Foundation invited funeral professionals from all over Germany to Berlin. TODTAL DIGITAL was a one-of-a-kind conference that brought together funeral directors, service contractors and researchers from various areas. Attendees were greeted with one simple slogan: Digital is Everywhere.

One year later, we take stock of the situation. What happened in the aftermath of the conference? Which questions remain? How are funeral professionals in Germany gearing up for the (digital) future?

Two Days in Berlin

TODTAL DIGITAL offered a mix of theoretical input and exchange of experiences. First and foremost, it was a welcome and necessary opportunity to meet and connect; to share ideas on an already wide and still growing array of topics: How has the process and the perception of grief changed in the digital age, especially through social media? What are the basic principles of marketing – and do they differ for the funeral industry? What are customers demanding today and tomorrow? To what extent can we anticipate these demands – and thus take an active role in developing digital solutions?

Three Worthy Winners

It was a core idea of the conference to put a spotlight on young entrepreneurs. Various companies, including many start-ups, participated in a preliminary competition to present their ideas and approaches. The winners were invited to Berlin. First place went to TrostHelden, an online platform that connects people in grief who share similar fates and characteristics; runner-up was Grievy, an app that offers immediate and long-term individual support for people in grief; third place went to IDA (Institut für Innovation und Digitalisierung), who developed a chatbot specifically geared to the needs of funeral directors.

All three projects caught the attention of the professional public; and all three have since established themselves as recognized names among funeral professionals in Germany.

Facilitating Dialogue

One of the key takeaways from the conference was the need for interconnection and dialogue on digital issues. To facilitate this, the German Burial Culture Foundation consolidated TODTAL DIGITAL by launching a podcast with the same name. Since the first episode in October, we have hosted guests on such topics as grief and remembrance in Virtual Reality; digital mapping of cemeteries; marketing and visibility; and digital legacies.

These efforts go along with the BDB’s digital vision. Over the last five years, the association has established itself as the frontrunner in digital endeavours concerning the funeral industry in Germany. Vital to this commitment is, the leading German-language website for all questions revolving around a funeral, with 150.000 to 400.000 visitors monthly (May 2023: 200.000). As umbrella association, the BDB enables all members to share in the success of by highlighting their qualities and skills to local and regional target audiences.

Digital vs. Personal?

While professional dialogue is essential to advance our understanding of digital challenges and to cooperate effectively within the industry, the heart of our trade remains the personal relationship between funeral directors and their customers. Many voices caution, that this relationship cannot be digitised. Therefore, enthusiasm around digital tools and ideas is sometimes met with scepticism.

Digital Skills and Digital Mindset

While this assessment is close to our understanding of the unique nature of the funeral trade, the rapid development and expansion of digital possibilities, means and demands makes it impossible to predict how our trade might change in the long run. This uncertainty is yet another reason for us to advocate clear and binding guidelines for education and training within the funeral industry. In the coming years, curricula must expand to include expertise on digital matters. Not just for people joining the industry, but also in advanced education for professionals.

Young people who start an apprenticeship today come equipped with digital skills and a digital mindset that generations before them simply did not have. This simple fact will translate into their everyday work. And yet, these young people must also be sensitised to the reality, that customers in 20, 30 or 50 years’ time might hail from a digital background that we cannot imagine today – but that will be natural to them.

This article can be also read in the autumn issue of THANOS magazine


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