InvestmentsJan 27 2023

FCA cracks down on DeadHappy as Octopus defends £6mn backing

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FCA cracks down on DeadHappy as Octopus defends £6mn backing
The FCA has cracked down on DeadHappy following complaints over an insensitive advert. Photo: Arturo Anez via Pexels

The Financial Conduct Authority has cracked down on future promotions from life insurer DeadHappy amid the furore over its ill-thought-out social media advert featuring serial killer Harold Shipman.

On its website today, the FCA has slapped five conditional restrictions on DeadHappy's promotions. 

The FCA has first ordered DeadHappy to "cease to communicate any further financial promotions that have not received prior approval from the product manufacturer (or co-manufacturer) or another authorised person, under section 21 of FSMA."

It has also ordered the Firm to conduct a review of its systems and controls in relation to its financial promotions.

The company’s advertising campaign has taken that mission too far.Malcolm Ferguson, Octopus

It has asked for "all officers, shareholders, employees, contractors and salaried staff of the firm who draft and or sign off financial promotions, [to] attend a certified training course to make sure they understand the regulatory requirements, specifically focussing on the rules around financial promotions".

The FCA statement continued: "Attendance of the course should be within two months of the date of this VREQ being signed and they are required to provide the FCA with proof of completion of the course."

This marks the end of a turbulent week for DeadHappy, which saw its life carrier Shepherds Friendly make a public statement calling for the removal of the advert and forcing a public apology from DeadHappy (see image below).

Meanwhile, the manager of the Octopus Titan Venture Capital Trust said the team was not intending to divest from its £6mn holding in the company.

Octopus first invested in DeadHappy in 2018, where it led their seed round.

Octopus has continued to invest further in the company as part of subsequent funding rounds and now has a total of approximately £6mn into the company since 2018, and has a minority stake.

Fund manager Malcolm Ferguson told FTAdviser: "We aren’t considering making any changes to our shareholding.

This advert is distasteful, disrespectful and offensive.BMA spokesperson

"We have spoken with the DeadHappy team and they have admitted that in their attempt to be provocative, they have made a mistake, which they have apologised for. The company will be reviewing current and future marketing campaigns to ensure they learn from this mistake."

Moreover, he added: "DeadHappy is a privately-owned company, which means it’s not as simple to exit holdings in portfolio companies as it is in the public markets where investors can more easily sell shareholdings.

"The investors in our VCTs, including Octopus Titan VCT which holds DeadHappy, are all aware of the illiquid nature of private company investing."

But Ferguson also said Octopus had had conversations with the life insurer over the advert, which first appeared on social media on Monday January 23 and prompted a furious backlash, not least after the victims' families started responding to the advert. 

The Advertising Standards Agency told FTAdviser it has received more than 50 complaints about the "offensive" nature of the advert already.

Ferguson said: "At Octopus, we back pioneering companies that are looking to change their industries for the better. Dead Happy was founded with the clear purpose of starting conversations on, and changing attitudes towards, death. That is a mission we wholeheartedly support.