by Marius Van Niekerk
The sudden death of my best friend thrust me into the middle of a terrible mess of missing information, conflicting demands, and spiraling confusion. It didn’t have to be that way.
Just over three years ago my best friend of 28 years passed away. He was 43, successful, wealthy, charismatic, well-loved and semi-retired. He was on top of the world. What seemed to be a routine operation turned out to be his end. He died forever young.
It was 8am on Saturday, the 24th of October 2015 and I was driving alone through the Lowveld in South Africa when my phone rang. It was my best friend Theo’s number, but it was a voice I’d never heard on the other end of the line.
“Is this Marius? Theo’s friend?” a woman asked. It was a new friend. Theo was gone and she had no idea what to do or who to turn to.
As the only Trustee of his family trust, I was immediately at the center of a whirlwind of activity. As is often the case with such an event, the conversation very quickly moved from “Theo’s dead” to “where is the will?”, “what now?”, “where is the house or safe key?”, “what about the kids?”, “what about us?”, “what about ME?”
It was the start of an incredible life experience for me, about love, lost opportunity, failed processes, mismanaged affairs, incomplete information eventually leading to chaos and disaster. Theo’s legacy to me was to experience, in real life, what people go through to wrap up a deceased estate, to set up the people that stay behind, to also stave off the barbarians at the gate.
There is nothing more surreal than to walk into a loved one’s house to resolve administrative matters, when you know he will not return, with his wallet on the kitchen table, his laptop still open and ready to do the next deal, with his bed unmade. All the material and earthly stuff abound which he could not take with him to his final destination.
Earlier that year I co-founded a FinTech start-up after an extensive career with the mining giant, BHP. I had been consumed by an idea to look after my loved ones for over 10 years where it really worried me who my family would turn to if I passed on, and now decided to turn entrepreneur and help other people.
Our purpose was clear: to move people’s affairs from chaos to order. This would ensure that they leave their loved ones with dignity and clarity, and reduced cost and confusion, in death.
Theo visited my office most Mondays, sometimes seemingly feeling the effects of “heavy” weekends. I remember he was always begging me to get the platform to market. He was determined to be client number one. Unfortunately, that never happened.
Theo’s legacy was a myriad of complex transactions, two marriages, a son from his first marriage, civil cases, new businesses, properties and assets scattered everywhere, vehicles, toys, outstanding loans owing to him and so much more. Eventually, after three attempts we found the last Will. This was not the only piece of information that was either missing, incomplete, or non-existent. It was just the beginning.
There was nothing guiding us to “start here”. We had to create everything from scratch.
With the help of an extremely competent deceased estate practitioner, we managed to close out Theo’s fairly complex estate within eight months, which most South Africans will tell you is well ahead of the curve. Some estates remain open for many years leaving distressed beneficiaries in its wake.
His financial legacy to his son has been preserved. I appointed another of Theo’s close friends and my Auditor as Trustees. Together with Wealth Managers and a number of other professionals we have set up the trust to run like a well-oiled machine to execute the last wishes of my friend. As Trustees we have agreed that our purpose is to provide support to the beneficiary and his mother, to give him the best education money can buy, and to support him to become a grounded individual. One day, when he receives his inheritance, he will be ready to live a full life while knowing his dad’s legacy will give him a head start.
Spurred on to complete our vision, and to help other families avoid the pain we all endured in bringing order to the chaos of Theo’s affairs, we launched our platform in 2016. In 2017 Investec Private Bank South Africa rolled out elements of our solution to their clients, calling it “Manage my life”.
We spent most of 2018 rebuilding our platform from the ground up to further enhance security, privacy, and user experience and moving the platform to the Microsoft Azure Cloud to achieve the global gold-standard for every aspect of cybersecurity.
I’m now based in Kitchener-Waterloo, Canada, which is about 80 kilometers south-west of Toronto and building RattleHub in this hotbed of advanced technology talent. We’re in the early stages of expanding into the huge North American market where we can make a positive impact on the lives of millions of families like Theo’s.
As our lives have become more digital, they have also become more fragmented. We all have a wide array of information, accounts, assets, liabilities, contracts, policies, documents and more, and no central place to structure and manage them. We pay a high price for our fragmented lives. We waste time finding and organizing information. We waste money when we fail to optimize returns, reduce redundant expenses, or forego opportunities because we didn’t have a secure dashboard to put the necessary information in front of us at the right time.
We wouldn’t run our businesses this way, yet that’s the way we run our lives, and steepest price of all is paid by our loved ones. We have to get better at data management.
At RattleHub we are on a mission.
We believe in a world where people own and control their data, and connect with trusted partners, so they can make better decisions and protect themselves and their loved ones from unnecessary cost and risk.
We believe that all your information should reside in one secure, private, efficient platform.
We believe this platform should seamlessly integrate with all your trusted advisors and service providers- on your terms – so you can save time, save money, and maximize opportunities in every facet of your life.
We believe data should flow to you, and everything should be automatically sorted and actioned.
We believe that no family should be left in the dark when a loved one dies. Every aspect of rolling up their affairs should be as easy as possible to minimize the costs, delays, and other burdens of this trying time.
We believe every person, and every family, should have absolute peace of mind.
First, through the core personal data enrichment platform named permyssion (my permission). Users of permyssion pull all life’s essential data – identity, family, financial, professional, health, even their social media accounts – into one secure, private platform. One structured store of value. One central dashboard.
This information is encrypted and kept secure within the Microsoft Azure cloud and kept current through a growing number of data integrations such as Envestnet Yodlee, our financial data aggregator. Other capabilities include sharing and collaboration with trusted partners, information management automation through advanced technologies like AI, machine learning and other cognitive solutions.
The second stage through which we move toward the fulfillment of our mission is by building an ecosystem of service providers seeking better ways to serve existing clients and to acquire new ones. Forward-thinking banks, wealth managers, insurance companies, accountants, law firms and others will see the power of the Advisor Console and of building integrated products to maximize the value they deliver to clients, while minimizing the friction that currently impedes cross-sell, upsell, and new client acquisition.
Single view of client, one-click applications and approvals, seamless secure data transfer and more will make it possible to serve clients like never before.
The third stage of our mission is delivered through the Estate Console. Currently only available in South Africa while we assess the North American legal and administrative environment, the Estate Console supports our patent for estate planning and administration.
It’s a deceased estate practice management tool enabling the executor to immediately access current and complete information through permyssion, automatically populate all the necessary forms and documents, and drive much of the time, frustration, and cost out of the estate process. There is tremendous peace of mind in knowing that your loved ones will be spared a great deal of time, confusion, and expense at such a difficult time.
As we head into the release of our new platform to the market in South Africa and internationally in a staggered way, I am humbled by everyone that has contributed to this journey, which at times has felt like eating broken glass. I am extremely proud to have built a passionate team driven by a single-minded purpose, “to improve people’s lives and their legacies”.
Rest in peace Theo. Your legacy to me is invaluable and our memories together are precious. My commitment to you is to help execute your wishes.
Marius Van Niekerk is a Chartered Accountant and the CEO and Co-Founder of RattleHub.
The venture is headquartered at the Communitech Hub in Kitchener-Waterloo, Canada and is part of their Strategic Growth Program. RattleHub operates a subsidiary in Centurion, South Africa where it initially started out in 2015.
In December 2017, RattleHub became a MaRS Discovery District backed venture in the Fintech & Enterprise growth streams. Based in Toronto, MaRS is one of the world’s largest urban innovation hubs.