Memento Mori: How Software Tech Companies Can Approach Products from a Perspective of Death.

https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/danse-macabre-david-pumpkins-art-history
Danse Macabre

It is December 2020 and if you are not one of the lucky few who live under a rock, you already know that this year has been plagued with death upon death. Some have been lost while protesting in favor of their rights like we saw in Nigeria on 20th October, 2020 at the Lekki Toll Gate. Many others have been lost to racial and tribal tensions, police brutality and most popularly, the COVID-19 pandemic that stole the most part of the year. Personally, I lost a few people this year as well — two uncles to complications from Coronavirus amongst others. Many others have lost loved ones, friends and acquaintances in 2020, many of whom were below the life expectancies in their respective countries.

These deaths, my health, coupled with the fact that my mother has recently begun disclosing details of her assets to me in case of her premature death, have caused me to think deeply about death. These events have made me think about death less from a place of fear but more from a place of acknowledgement and acceptance of the inevitability of it all. Some of you might be thinking along the lines of, “Wow, that’s so morbidly grim/depressing/dark” in reaction to thinking introspectively about death and that’s fair, however, I believe that a lot of good can come from this exercise. According to Nietzsche and Stoic philosophy, it is more important to have death in mind when dealing with decisions in our day-to-day existence and I actually really agree.

For months, I have wondered why many software products seem to be based on the assumption that one will live forever or live until they are old, frail and begging the grim reaper to come knocking, but realistically, if you live in some parts of the world your life expectancy is lower and this does not take into account frequent freak accidents that occur as a result of poor infrastructure or lack thereof like we see in Lagos, Nigeria every other week where shipping containers being transported perpetually tip over due to pot holes the size of wells (I kid you not). So, how come about 99% of the software products we use on a recurrent basis do not consider the untimely deaths of their users?

For instance, investment apps such as Robinhood (US), Chaka, Cowrywise and Piggyvest (Nigeria) do not seem to make provision for this in their products which are used by tens of millions of users on a monthly basis. I asked the question in a tweet some months ago during the first lockdown in Nigeria, and Cowrywise responded saying that they had received complaints to this effect in their AMAs at some point and were working on it. It’s been months and yet, to the best of my knowledge, none of these companies have implemented any feature that remotely deals with this issue.

On this note, as the sweet angel that I am, I have decided to brainstorm ways in which this can be addressed quickly and fairly effectively. I managed to only come up with two ideas on the different ways that tech companies can broach this subject and include it within their products without adding too much time or costing them too much. Obviously, extensive user research is required in order to confirm whether this is a need-to-have or a nice-to-have. Either way, the conversation needs to get going don’t you think?

I have created two scenarios in which this feature might be beneficial; firstly on investment apps as previously mentioned and secondly on a product which is currently not in existence — an asset consolidation platform. I’d use Chaka/Robinhood as Case study (CS) 1 and aptly-named imaginary app called ‘Kin’ as Case study 2.

CS-1: Robinhood/Chaka — Investment Apps

As confirmed by the images above, neither of these products has any place for a Next-of-Kin (henceforth referred to as NOK) but luckily for us that can easily be rectified by tweaking the core investing user’s KYC a little. This can be done by adding a tab within the Account page (Robinhood)or the Settings page (Chaka). This tab would contain a form which the user would fill out in order to appoint their NOK which could be a family member or friend — an important detail which would have to be disclosed in the ‘relationship’ input box. They would also be required to upload any relevant documents that will remain secure unless triggered by Admin user on verifying the death documents provided by the NOK when the core investing user dies such as a Death Certificate, Sworn Affidavit and so on.

Anyway, concluding the NOK appointment form and clicking on ‘Confirm’ would then trigger the information to be saved as well as an email to be sent to the appointed party which would contain instructions prompting the NOK user to complete a more detailed KYC of their own and accept Terms & Conditions of their responsibility as NOK and the transfer of the core user’s shares in death. This does two things:

  1. Creates network effects for the product by expanding the potential reach of the app in question because one or more additional users have been added to the network. This could encourage the NOKs to make the decision to sign up as core users themselves. Can I hear Win-Win!
  2. This ensures that the core investing user is confident in their decision to invest, save or whatever the case may be, thus, promoting brand loyalty and sustainability of the brand.

After the NOK completes their KYC, they can view the help page on how to trigger the transfer process when the core user dies — this begins with them logging in to the NOK account since they would not have access to the core user’s portal directly. Subsequently, the core investing user is alerted that the NOK has accepted to be their Next-of-kin.

Voila!

CS-2: Kin — Asset Consolidation App.

Essentially, this alternative solution is a software product that allows its users add the details of all their assets from pensions to securities (shares), land and property… everything, to an ultra-secure vault that allows them appoint NOK for each of their assets. For instance, if I had three children and I have a piece of land, shares with Amazon and pensions, I could decide to appoint each of my children as NOK to collect or transfer the assets to in the event of my death. The process from sign up of the core user to NOK appointment and KYC remains the same as the process in case study 1 (Robinhood/Chaka) except that this includes multiple assets that aren’t limited to any one platform and these external platforms can be linked to the core user’s account. Like I said, it’s very straightforward.

These are just a few ways that this subject can be broached but I reckon that everyone would have varying ideas on how to tackle this issue and that is perfectly alright as long as we all stop hiding from it and actually think and discuss it more. Who knows, it could lead to disrupting innovation.

We have to remember that we all die. Our users die and sometimes we do so unexpectedly, it’s part of life and thus, needs to be embraced.

Stay Safe and I hope I see you in 2021.

Product Manager at Alta Labs. Budding UI/UX Designer. Aspiring Afrominimalist. I feel as I exist. I write as it transpires. I learn as I experience.

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