"Men in black plundering estates" was how newspapers depicted the Swedish funeral industry in 1944. So outrageous was the price of burying your dead that the debate reached as far as the Swedish parliament.
Moving into action the Church of Sweden approached the Swedish Cooperative Union, the KF, hoping the popular movement could help. And help it did, establishing Stockholm's Funeral Association in 1945 to promote ethical practices in the funeral industry. The association was open to organizations without individual membership.
A year later Stockholm's Funeral Association had opened its first office, followed closely by agencies in Malmö, Göteborg, Eskilstuna and Västerås. The idea of a cooperative funeral agency was spread and soon associations were established over the country. Little more than a decade later in 1958 the Funeral Agencies confederation was founded. Both the association and its confederation were supported financially and organizationally by the KF.
In 1970 the association was re-named Fonus, from funus, the latin word for funeral. The association began to float on its own, without as much assistance from the KF. Larger, regional associations were formed and operations were centralized.
As well as beginning to take control of its own operation, Fonus also began to look strategically at growth. In order to give the associations more control over pricing and delivery of coffins, the subsidiary Fonus Träindustri was established. Shortly after, the industry started to manufacture coffins and still does as a part of Fonus economic association.
By 1994 Fonus had set up in Norway, where there are today 20 T.S.Jacobsen- and Fonus offices. It did at times have offices in Finland and Denmark but returned eventually to its core activities in Sweden and Norway.
"Since the end of the forties we have also been recognizing the delicate nature of family law, meeting our customers' needs throughout their life," says Mats Liste, Fonus CEO. "Today our legal agency – Sweden's largest within family law – has 34 establishments around the country. In October 2011 Familjens jurist became a wholly owned subsidiary while remaining the most important business partner to Fonus.
Co-op name: FONUS
Year of formation: 1944
Number of employees: 700
Number of members: 2500
Description of the co-operative:
Fonus economic association was founded in order to promote an ethical practice within funeral services and deliverance at moderate prices. With subsidiaries in Sweden and Norway, Fonus, besides certified funeral services, operates in family law and we are accordingly able to attend to our customers throughout their lives. The unique cooperative ownership gives members insight into the funeral industry, which has been the aim ever since the foundation. Several services are unique for Fonus, such as Vita Arkivet (the white archive) with free storage of last wills and the online funeral planner.
By Kate Askew