The savvier you are with money, the harder it will be for your family to make sense of your savings, investments, insurance and more if you get sick or die suddenly.
Having accounts at various banks, investment firms and insurance companies may give you great value, but each is a puzzle unto itself for your family or survivors. They must first locate the account, then establish how much is in it.
With an aging population, this is a growing problem. A reader recently asked: “As a recent retiree I’ve been trying to amalgamate and simplify my financial life, but now realize that my family would likely need to spend significant time figuring out my assets and debts if/when anything were to happen to me. Any suggestions on a secure way to make information accessible to them?”
Here’s a thought. A new online service called Onist (pronounced “honest”) offers a way to consolidate all your financial information in one secure place and share it to whatever degree you want. The cost is $100 a year, with a 30-day free trial.
Onist probably isn’t for you if you’re one of those organized and responsible people who has already produced a curated list of your financial holdings and stored it in a three-ring binder, safe deposit box, Dropbox account or password-protected spreadsheet. This is more of an app for the currently unprepared who are willing to pay a reasonable fee to fix that problem.
Onist was developed by Brad Kotansky, a Montreal native who has spent time on Wall Street and as a real estate developer in Arizona. Several years back, he offered to look after the finances of his dad, who was recovering from a serious health issue. His dad had a fairly elaborate financial picture and his mother didn’t have a clear picture of it all.
“I started looking for software that could help me with this, and there was nothing,” Mr. Kotansky said. “So I said, basically, I’m going to go out and build it. It started out as a solution to connect households to their financial data and documents.”
You start using Onist by connecting your online accounts. Yes, you have to supply your login and password. Technically, this may breach agreements with your bank that protect you against your account being hacked and money being taken. If money was stolen from your account because you disclosed your password, you’d be on the hook. Some people will shy away on this basis, but the account aggregation offered by Onist is becoming a very common thing in personal-finance apps and security has not been a problem.
Mr. Kotansky said personal information (such as your address and birth date) and financial information about your accounts are stored separately, which makes things difficult for hackers. Onist doesn’t have access to passwords for your personal accounts – they’re managed by third-party data aggregators. You’ll have to securely hold your passwords elsewhere if you want to share them with a spouse or family members.
In addition to your account balances, you can use Onist to store documents such as the deed to your home, your will and your insurance policies. The documents are encrypted when you upload them, so they’re not viewable if your computer is hacked.
Once your account is fully set up, you can share as little or as much information as you want with family members or your account and investment adviser. In fact, part of Onist’s business plan is to attract advisers who would offer the product to their clients.
There are at least four situations where it would be useful for spouses or members of a family to have access to your financial data.
- Getting married: Spouses can get a consolidated view of their finances, which makes it easier to plan for the future.
- Married couples where one spouse looks after the money: There could be situations where the other spouse needs to jump in and make financial decisions.
- Adult children helping parents with their finances: In our aging population, more seniors will be getting help from family with their finances.
- Parents who travel and want caregivers for their children or their adult kids to have access to important finance details as required: quick access to your will and other pertinent documents.
Mr. Kotansky sees Onist as almost like social media for money. “We’re connected in a million different ways, socially,” he said. “But when it comes to household finances, we still operate with rigid silos all around us.”