Most of us know families whose wealth has been decimated by debt, a dread disease or the untimely death of a breadwinner who didn’t have enough – or any – life cover.

The team that developed the free financial wellness tool, zaqfin.com, have been affected by the misfortunes of people close to them – all of them financially literate people.

“A friend was in involved in a car accident and was unconscious for days after the accident. She’s a single mother, and had no medical aid and no disability cover. Another friend, who was a lawyer, died without a will,” Jaco Prinsloo, one of the founders of zaqfin.com, says.

“The reality is that too few people have a real handle on their finances,” co-founder Jaco Wasserfall, says.

Niel Fourie, the third co-founder in the trio, says only 10 percent of households have access to proper financial advice – a figure derived from information in the Momentum Household Financial Wellness Index. One-third of households earn more than R10 000 a month, which is the some regard as the threshold for financial advice. In other words, households with this income or more need advice.

“But no one wants to service [the lower] end of the market because it takes an adviser up to five hours to set up and meet with the consumer, gather his information and then get quotes. And it’s a process that can take two to six weeks and can cost the adviser anything between R8 000 and R25 000,” says Prinsloo.

And consumers in this segment of the market are not seeking advice. “Financial products are complex and the jargon used by the industry makes it even harder for consumers to access the products. Also, people don’t know how much life cover they need and they don’t know who they can trust to help them. As a result, they stick their heads in the sand,” Fourie says.

So consumers are ignoring their finances and advisers are not pursuing those who are more expensive to service than they are “worth” in terms of commission or fees.

ZAQ’s solution is a financial wellness intervention that starts with a five-minute assessment to help you understand your financial position. The assessment generates a score out of five and a four-page report highlighting how well you are managing your debt, savings, insurance, and financial stewardship.

I put the tool through its paces and it was a cinch to use. Admittedly, I did the assessment with all my financial data at my fingertips, set out in my financial plan – so it took me five minutes, if that.

I was pleasantly surprised by my overall score of four out of five. A score of four means there’s room for improvement. The tool detected what my financial plan had already revealed: my retirement savings need urgent attention and I’m dangerously under-insured in terms of life cover.

Instead of merely pointing out your deficits, the tool suggests the level of cover you need as a rand amount and gives the level of existing cover as a percentage of what it ought to be. I found this both frightening and insightful, which is precisely the desired response; the team at ZAQ want the assessment to give us the insights that we may be lacking, and to then jolt us into taking action.

The action they’re suggesting is a meeting with a financial planner. “We have on board a team of highly qualified, Certified Financial Planner (CFP)-registered and independent financial planners. If you want to, you’ll be matched with a local expert to advise you on the next steps of your financial wellness journey,” says their website.

When you do the assessment (which is free and “strictly no strings attached”), you can opt to receive the report only – which is for information purposes and does not constitute financial advice – or the report plus a call from an adviser. I have a financial planner who is a CFP, so I didn’t test-drive that part of the offering.

Fourie says that, in time, ZAQ users will be able to rate advisers in the same way that Uber users rate drivers. And the model will also match consumers and advisers based on expertise in a particular field and shared interests, to get the chemistry right.

But the team says most consumers need generic advice and products and have neither. In the hope of reaching as many people in need as possible, ZAQ is targeting employers.

“A recent employee wellness survey found that 60 percent of work-based stress was related to personal finances, which explains why people move jobs for an extra R500 and resign to get hold of their pension savings.

“The employer should care; it’s affecting the bottom line. They’re dealing with the consequences: high absenteeism and disengaged employees.”

ZAQ’s employee financial wellness offering includes one day of training and individual assessments for employees, followed by consultations with licensed financial advisers.