The controversial company behind an advert featuring serial killer Harold Shipman has entered administration.

DeadHappy, based in Leicester, featured on our InsurTech 50 ranking in 2021 with its disruptive fully digital pay-as-you-go life insurance, priced annually based on a customer’s current age and risk level rather than a prediction about their risk of dying across the next 20 years.

Its headline-grabbing ‘Deathwishes’ also allowed customers to specify how payouts should be spent – for example on funeral costs, someone’s education or mortgage payments.

Serial entrepreneur Phil Zeidler told us in an interview at the time how, as a healthy 38-year-old, he had unexpectedly entered a coma due to septic shock – and the experience ultimately led to him founding the business with Andy Knott in 2013.

After thousands of people invested millions of pounds through crowdfunding platform Seedrs later in 2021, it would raise more than £11m in its last equity funding round in early 2022, with backers including Octopus, Headline, Volution, Verso Capital and Channel 4 Ventures.

Further explosive growth followed for the company with a skull for a logo and which courted controversy with its no-nonsense life insurance campaigns.

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After Zeidler stepped down from his roles with the firm for personal reasons, a monumental misstep followed in 2023. In a social media advert featuring the image of Harold Shipman – the North West doctor who is thought to have killed up to 250 people and who took his own life in prison – the caption read: “Life insurance – because you never know who your doctor might be.”

Hundreds of complaints followed and DeadHappy was reprimanded by both the Financial Conduct Authority and the Advertising Standards Authority.

It responded: “Being provocative is different to being offensive and it is of course never our intention to offend or upset people. It is our intention to make people stop and think. If however you have been personally distressed by this advert we do sincerely apologise.”

Then in March this year, months after the firm’s social media activity had halted, DeadHappy’s website informed visitors that it was unable to accept any new customers.

“Our insurance partners have told us we can’t accept new life insurance customers at the moment. We wish it was different; we believe it should be different, but unfortunately not everyone agrees,” it said.

“To all our existing customers, please don’t worry – your policies are protected.

“Although life insurance might look incredibly easy on the surface, there’s a lot of moving parts going on underneath. Sometimes a part can break, and in this instance we’re doing our very best to fix it.”

Adam Stephens and Kevin Ley of Evelyn Partners LLP have been appointed as administrators.

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