Epi 22: Grow Your Business with AI-Powered Support – Matt Reiner, CEO of Benjamin

JC: Welcome everybody. To another episode of The Future of BizTech. I am your host, JC Granger. I have with me here, the Founder and CEO of Benjamin. Mr. Matt Reiner. Matt, thank you so much for coming on the show. Why don’t you tell the audience a little bit about yourself, your background, and then maybe segue into what Benjamin is, and what it does?

Matt: Yeah, well, thanks so much for having me. I’m excited to be on the podcast. Love what you’re doing. And my background is really in wealth management. So I started in the business of being traditional, as everybody would imagine what a financial advisor is. That’s what I started in. I helped to serve families and help them build wealth and help them accomplish their financial goals that they had and their dreams and ambitions. I sat across the table from hundreds of families and help them get through some really tough times. And I started in the business and then I started another RIA business or a registered investment advisory business from my experiences that was more focused on the massive fluent. So those are the everyday individuals and families like us out there and helping to serve them and give them a human financial advisor. To help them really grow their wealth and solve some of the major financial challenges that they’re faced with. And from there, I continued just to have an ambition to do more for the industry. And about six years ago, we founded what is known as Benjamin today. And Benjamin really started from those two registered investment advisory firms.

What is happening in this industry is all about scalability, right? We are faced with challenges of how do we deliver more services, more value, and even greater servicing to more families. The one thing about this business that is never going away in my opinion, is the human financial advisor, despite technology evolution, which I’m a huge believer in and the robos and Robinhoods out there.

The human financial advisor, given that money and wealth is so emotional and driven by emotions. Technology doesn’t have the EEQ capability to help walk someone off the ledge. And so humans are so impactful in the concept of wealth management and helping people realize their financial goals. Uh, because it’s a lot more than just investment management. And so what we realized is we said in our firm, how do we allow ourselves to get more time with our clients? Because we found ourselves spending 40% of our day-to-day doing menial mundane tasks. I was going in between different technologies following through on different processes. And it was time-consuming and kept us from what our unique value proposition was, which is. Building that relationship. And so that’s what we set out to accomplish. And, you know, thankfully I had an understanding of the business and I was fortunate to have some success in helping families. And I was able to bring that over to the technology business. And we set out to solve these two challenges within our two businesses on the registered investment advisory side first.

And when we set out the software, we realized, wow, we have something here. And we had some of those aha moments that everybody has where we started to see extreme value, both for the client and for our team, which is so needed. And all that we did was, and I say all, because it, it may sound simple, but it was really complex and still needed in this industry, is we integrated all of the technologies that we currently use within our business, with our processes to streamline and automate a lot of those menial mundane tasks. And that the beauty of it is is that we created this without people having to have yet another technology solution or a URL and a username and password that they had to log into because we were doing it all via advanced API – APIs built on the foundation of artificial intelligence and natural language processing, which allowed for us to bring in all of the data from all these different technologies. Structure the data, cleanse the data and make it actionable. So we’ve created what we call as a business support system for financial advisors. And we’ve now turned it into an enterprise solution for other advisors across the country. And we can learn more and more about firms and their struggles and what our goal is.

Our core value at Benjamin is to be human-centric. We are trying to create technology to allow firms and advisors and team members to have more time. With more humans and we are firm believers of that. We’re not trying to replace anybody. We’re trying to give more of the human interaction because that’s, what’s key in this business.

JC: So it sounds like, and again, forgive me for being a layman when it comes to this particular industry here. So it sounds like your software helps other advisors like yourself and whatnot. To streamline their process and to be able to scale a little bit faster, because so much of their manual time is involved typically in their day-to-day operations. Is that, is that kinda what you’re saying?

Matt: Yeah. So that’s a really good analogy or a way of putting it in simple terms. And I think that, you know, the, the best thing to think about right is we have, we are constrained in a service-based business by time. Right, we can’t add more hours onto the day, as much as we’d like to. We can’t. And so what we have to do is if we’re finding that, you know, we have eight hours in the day and five of those hours are spent doing process-oriented stuff, then that’s keeping us from being able to grow. And so as advisors, we have a capacity of how many clients that we can serve, or maybe that’s a hundred or 125.

And so what we’re trying to do with Benjamin is say, okay, This is a whiteglove service. It’s very relationship-based. And so you need time. So how can we go and allow for some of those things that can be automated to allow for advisors to have, instead of, if their max is a hundred, how can we let them have 125 so that they can delay a higher, right?

So then now you can scale because one of the major challenges in our business is margin compression, right? We’re charging the same fee. We’re providing more services now than ever before. Tax planning, charitable planning, lifestyle planning, all of that. Which is more people, more time, more investment in other aspects of the business, which is compressing margins.

When you have skin margins, it hurts the client too, because you can’t reinvest in innovation that will help better them and their experience. And so that’s what we’re trying to do is how do you keep margins the same, provide same level of great service. That’s so important in this industry to more people.

And we can do that by integrating technology and streamline it. And doing many of the menial tasks that are involved.

JC: So what kind of data do you have behind this? How much time on average do you find that Benjamin frees up? So out of a hundred percent of someone’s time, let’s say they’re maxed out, right? Let’s say there’s an advisor and they’re like, they cannot take on one more client. They are a hundred percent maxed out. That’s it? They go, they get Benjamin. How much of their free time from the work aspect on average, do you find that they’re able to now cut back and save so that they can go and get and go max out again, like you said, to delay a hire and I really liked that point you made there because a lot of people think that hiring is a sign of growth and yes it is obviously, but it can also, you know, delaying hiring so that you can maximize how much output you could do per person is a huge benefit. So my question is if I was maxed out at a hundred percent and I go get Benjamin, how much more of my time now, do I have freed up so I can go get more clients before I have to hire someone else?

Matt: Yeah, it’s a really good question. And I smile because we actually just released a white paper on the real nominal ROI. For a business support system and for Benjamin and, what you can find is that the annual ROI is, uh, near 70, $75,000 a year. That is saved by Benjamin, but more importantly, to your point, the scale, and it’s the leverage, right? How much leverage do I get out of Benjamin and depending on the size of your firm, because it kind of goes up higher, it can be anywhere from, you know, leverage of 2.3 of an employee. So think about that in terms of hours, one full employee works 40 hours a week, and we’re able to kind of create, you know, almost 15 to 20 hours a week of time. And that standpoint to, up to leveraging to 10 people, right? Depending on the size of the firm and the number of clients that you have, because it’s all about the number of households that you have, and that you’re managing, and that’s where you skein your leverage and your, your scale. Let’s take the example of scheduling meetings, right? Scheduling meetings, annual review meetings is the core of what we do in our business. And sometimes advisors do that annually.

Sometimes they do it quarterly, but let’s just say you have a hundred clients, and let’s say you meet with them twice a year, once in a phone, and once in person or a video as we’re doing here. That now means that you have to schedule 200, you have to contact them 200 times to get the meeting scheduled.

Now there’s scheduling apps out there, which are great, and we’re not trying to replace it. That’s the beauty of what we’re trying to do. We’re not replacing any software that you’re using. We’re making the software better and getting more out of it. You get in leveraging getting more leverage out of your people and getting leverage out of it software that you’re already using.

And so if you’re using Calendly, for instance, someone still has to go send the Calendly link out. And send the email and then follow up with them and then play email tag or phone tag with them to get the meeting scheduled right now, how the process works is that in your CRM, you have a recurring event that comes due.

Then you have an assistant or a virtual assistant, or you have yourself that then takes that task and goes, follows up with the client and then has to stay on top of that. Now, what you’re able to do is you’re actually able to hand that task fully over to Benjamin. A task that can take anywhere on an aggregate 15 to 30 minutes of all the back and forth that’s needed to get it scheduled and to do the conference and do some of the, you know, everything of that nature.

You can hand that all over to Benjamin and he will follow through until the meeting is scheduled and now has created capacity. So that’s 30 minutes, times 200, and you start to see the real capacity that’s there, which is 6,000 minutes which is creating hours in the day. That’s going back to you and that’s on one specific task there’s tasks from prospecting, the meetings to onboarding and opening new accounts to proactively staying in touch with clients, all of that is necessary and needed, and that’s how he creates scale.

So the ROI white paper is really great and it shows the leverage capacity that it provides anywhere from 0.2 for a small firm, maybe with, you know, under a hundred clients up to 10 people that it can actually leverage.

JC: That’s awesome. Uh, you know, I have a question, you know, so I’m a marketing guy, right? That’s my background here. And then I’m just that geek from the Bay area, you know, living in Denver now. So, I always have to ask, what are you guys doing other than obviously podcasts, right? You’re a guest on my podcasts. That’s one way of marketing, but what else are you guys doing to get the word out there?

To these advisors about Benjamin, you know, what kind of verticals are you using? And are there any tips or tricks you’d give anyone in the audience that you can, uh, you know, that’s listening and, and what not, as far as how to help promote their software a little bit better. What have you been doing what’s been working or not working?

Matt: Yeah, so, you know, I think we benefit from having been in the industry. Right. I think that that is a big benefit, as opposed to just being like a technology company that’s coming in and trying to disrupt the industry we’ve been in the industry. So we know the players in the space and we’ve created relationships with them from the wealth management side of our business. And so using those relationships has been really powerful. Right? We’ve done the traditional PR we’ve done traditional marketing because there is an education gap, right? So we’re focused right now from the marketing side on educating on what is a business support system, how does it add value?

And we do that through many case studies and white papers that we’ve been providing because a business support system. It’s a new category of technology that has been created on these wealth tech landscape maps. And so we have to educate what it is, why it’s needed, because we’re right now in the stage of, you know, yeah, it’s a new technology. So many people don’t know that they need it, so we have to help them see why they need it. And so there’s a ton of education and we’ve created a lot of partners through the space because we’re not competing directly with CRMs or portfolio management systems or custodians for that space instance.

We’ve created partners within there that are advocates for us, and they are talking to their clients and we’re creating relationships in that way. And so it’s been a, it’s been a lot of word of mouth. Uh, it’s been a lot of marketing PR that’s generated that and it’s been through our channel strategy with our partners that’s helped us gain some exposure from there. And so that’s how we’ve been growing now. And yes, we’ll get into the digital space. We’ll get into digital marketing. We do social media marketing, and it’s all about providing value, right? Thinking about your business in a different and unique way.

And I think that that good marketing talks less about their product and more about their persona, who they’re going after or their prospect and providing them something that’s actionable because if you provide them something that’s actionable for free, they’re going to remember you forever and they’re going to come back to you.

And I think that I’m a big proponent of, you know, content marketing, video marketing. Podcasting and written remarketing and bringing it all together in an omni-channel approach is really important. And so we have our own video production staff and they help us create videos and we believe that they, we hope they’re valuable.

So I think that that’s what we’ve learned and it’s something that we do. And I think something that we’ve learned is, you know, we did build a technology company that was direct to consumers in the past, and it’s not all around anymore, but. It’s you know, doing the digital social spend, it’s fun, but it’s just, you got to have some capital to do it right.

And it can be priceless. It can be pricey, but the best in, so it is valuable as a part of, as a part of a, of a marketing strategy. But some people tend to go in and think that that is their marketing strategy and it sometimes can let them down and we’ve realized that. And so we’ve invested a ton into creating great content and valuable content.

JC: That’s good. Now back to the software itself, but quick question here. So how do you prioritize the new features that you come out with and what ones do you have coming out soon that people can look forward to?

Matt: So we prioritize it, I went to the question directly, then I’ll give some history on this, but we prioritize based on clients and our community of clients. And we also have a vision of where we want to go. And so it’s a balance between what our clients needs that we’re learning from our community. And how does that align with our vision? And what’s going to make the most impact to get us to the point where we want to be in three and five and ten years.

And so we listen and we are very consultative with our clients. They have a client experience rep on our team that spends a ton of time with them helping them understand the platform. Understanding use cases, bringing best practices to them on how to better their business and grow their business because we’re learning from the community of advisors.

And, you know, that’s something that we were burned on when we were in the wealth manager space for instance, like you get sold a CRM and they’re very consultative in the selling process, but then once this software is signed, They leave you in the dust and it’s up to you. And I felt burned from that.
And our industry is, and we wanted to change that when we started this business. And so we spend time even after the contract is signed and a lot of time with our clients there. And so that’s where we get our roadmap from and we actually spent the time during the pandemic rebuilding and rearchitecting our software.

It was a great experience for our team in terms of the re-architecture. And that allowed for us to create and learn from our initial launch. When we launched it as an enterprise solution, we ran into a lot of lessons. And so we rebuilt from that. And right now I would say that our software and our vision for the next six to 12 months is about deepening integrations, creating more integrations with more softwares that financial advisors use getting more data from those integrations. So think about financial planning, software, custodial platforms. We’re really excited about deepening our integrations with some portfolio management systems.

Those are the top squares that advisors use to get all the performance data, deepening relationships with custodians. So think about, you know, if you work with a Charles Schwab or fidelity or Pershing or whatever it may be, you know, how can we use those APIs. They’ve created open APIs that we can have help you, you know, better the process for alerts and statuses and learn from that. That’s all. Really tactical stuff in our business that doesn’t seem sexy, but it’s so time-saving right.

We don’t do the sexy stuff. Right. We’re not creating, you know, a gift emojis and filters on your Snapchats, but we are creating valuable ROI. And so we’re excited about some of those integrations and advancements and integrations that we’re going to be launching in Q2. But as I prepare for people, I think that the clients that we have gain value in the product and believe in the vision that we have, that we are executing on every single day and our vision. Right now, we have a two-stage vision. I call it the training phase and the approval phase. And we’re right now in the training phase. And that’s what our roadmap is built on. Both from client needs and also just our vision of the product for the next eight to 12 months, let’s call it.

And the training phase is all about three things. It’s about integrations. That’s captured 90% of the tools that an advisor uses and get them integrated so they can act on that data. The second step is simplistic, RPA simplistic, robotic process automation (If this then that) makes it easy for the advisor to act on data from two different disparate technologies. The DOE go and take action on an, if this, then that’s how we work in the day-to-day. And the third is natural language processing and continue to enhance our natural language processing engine because in order to complete tasks and actually take them off the plate, you have to be able to communicate and understand how people are talking with Benjamin because he communicates via text message and email. So you have to continue to enhance that. So then once you have all that data, then you can start getting into the fun part. Right. That’s where someone has to train it. You have to train it on, do this, then that, right. But then you get the learnings. Which then shifts the equation.

We’ve created a ton of time by doing that. We then move into phase two, which is the approval phase, which then means that at Benjamin, we start to create the next best action based on all of the data of our community. And based on the knowledge and the information that Benjamin has gained over the years, we are able to say, this is the next best action to do for this particular client based on how he or she looks relative to other clients in your firm and other clients inside the community.

And then you get into proactive. We call them mission tasks that Benjamin does. And we can start getting into proactive missions. Here’s some ideas based on how you use your CRM and you use your portfolio management system, here’s some ideas on missions that we can take off your plate that you’re doing to provide you more time. Because right now they have to come and say, this is what I do. This is what I want to do it in. So now we can provide that and then the last is all about creating an AI neural network. That’s what we’re really excited about on all of this data.

So how can Benjamin now go based on all this data? Not only just provide the recommendations, but actually act on. The specific data and create a mission and go execute on it without the advisor, having to have any step in that, right. To where he can say, this is what needs to be done. And so now we’re turning what we call as the Benjamin boss. The person that right now is training Benjamin inside the firm turns into an approver.

Benjamin says, do you want me to do that? Here’s 15 clients I’ve identified that need this. Do you want me to do it? Yes or no. And now they just say yes or no. And you’re able to go on. And so you think about this in the scheme of a business, right? Is let’s talk about a real-life scenario. It’s hard to monitor every single person’s account every single day and understand the action that needs to be done.

And so with Benjamin in the training phase, what you’re going to have is the ability for Benjamin to say, uh, Matt’ account, Matt’s portfolios on an aggregate have dropped 5% over the past three months, whereas all the other accounts have gone up 2% and the market’s up 3%. And you haven’t talked to Matt in six months.

And he tends to be nervous when the markets get down eight to 9% based on email correspondences and information and notes in the system, I’m suggesting I’m going to just go reach out to Matt and schedule a 15-minute call. And once it’s scheduled, then I’m going to let Matt the advisor know why I made that call.

Here’s the data. And here’s some suggested questions and here’s how their behaviors should be based on that.

JC: Incredible. What I like about that is that especially when the AI comes in, that’s really cool where it’s going to start being smart and learning and not automatically doing some of these tasks within certain guidelines. And on that note, you know, being the title of the show, The Future of BizTech here, where a two-part question one is, where do you use other than, you know, if AI is the answer to this, that’s fine because, I think that’s a huge step forward, but where do you see your company in a few years? And then also, where do you just see the industry of financial automation or AI in general in like five to 10 years.

Matt: Yeah, so great question. So, for our business, that’s an easier answer of where I see us in five to 10 years. I mean, we are going to be the gold standard of business support systems where we’re going to be a must-have, if you want to be a, if you want to be an efficient and profitable business, you’re going to need to have Benjamin.

We are going to create a moat based on our integrations, our depth of integrations and the depth of knowledge of our AI engine that we are going to be able to deliver so much value. And we’re going to actually be able to start connecting advisors with other services that are needed within the financial planning aspect. Think about estate planning and accounting, insurance planning, all that. We are going to be able to help create that connective tissue between all those systems, along with the connected tissue of their own technologies internally to be an even more valuable, centralized intelligent advisor to your clients now where the industry goes, you know, the industry is going to become more bionic.

There’s no doubt in my mind, right. We have to become more bionic. And I believe that right now in this world, you know, we, it’s all about disparate tech stacks. Everybody is using disparate technologies that don’t talk to each other. And it’s because everybody’s hesitant about opening up their APIs fully because they don’t want someone else to take them.

Everybody’s all about, I want my clients to be in my software all the time. Right. If it’s a portfolio manager system, I want to integrate with the financial planning system, a custodian to bring that data into my software so that everybody comes and lives in my software all the time. Right? And that’s going to have to change.

I think that the industry is gonna start using the technologies a lot differently to where it’s going to be more in. I’m biased because we’re building a software that helps with that, but I don’t think that advisors want that. And I think it’s more about figuring out how we actually execute on tasks for advisors.

And I’ve said, you know, in 10 years, The financial advisory firm is going to look really different and we’re going to have a lot more understanding of behaviors of our clients. We’re going to be able to predict a lot better on when our clients are going to want to trade and when they’re going to want to leave us so that we can act on it better, the experiences to the client when they show up is going to be totally different in my mind.

I still think that we’re going to have in-person meetings. I think we’re going to have some, a lot more video meetings as well. But we’re going to be able to now understand based on, all these different technologists coming up, we’re going to know when the client shows up in the office, we’re going to be able to get them to update their information.

We’re going to ask them questions that every, the preparation of the meeting is all going to be ready. They’re going to walk into a room and it’s going to be very interactive. I’m a huge believer in VR as well. And I think that virtual reality is going to play a huge part in our industry. In 10 years, we’re going to look back and it’s going to be re it’s going to be mind blowing that we didn’t talk more about it. And I’m going to keep needing to talk about it until it happens, because I think it is going to happen in VR. In my mind is going to solve two main challenges that we face right now as an industry. And the first one is related to employees. And with employees, would I say, see, in VR the challenge with this industry is it takes so much time to gain experience and understanding of how to handle clients in different situations.

You know, the situation of the market crash in 30%, how do you handle clients and their emotions, you know, losing their spouse – how do you handle that? That is just an emotional aspect to all the questions that clients ask. VR gives us the opportunity and it takes time, years, 10 years, 15 years to get all that experience.

VR allows us to accelerate that because we can take new employees that come into the office and we can say to them, Hey, sit inside this. I’m going to show you thousands of different experiences and you’re going to talk to the client back and forth and have the experience. And we’re gonna have thousands of different questions and scenarios posed to you, and we’re going to then be able to analyze how you react to that. And we’ll be able to coach you on that for your next set.

And so you’re going to be able to get experienced that usually takes 10 years. But then 30, 60, 90 days because of VR and you’re gonna be able to see the person. And then the second aspect is, is on the client-side, right?

With the clients you’re going to be able to know they have all the information coming in. We can predict what their scenarios and their issues are. They’re going to be able to use VR, the challenge that clients have. The saving is that they can’t see the future. Nobody can, it’s hard to understand how decisions today are going to impact me tomorrow because I just can’t do it.

That’s why 30-year-olds can’t save for retirement. It’s not that they don’t want to, it’s that you’re telling them to save for something that’s literally a lifetime away. It’s 30 years away. They only know one 30 year span and that’s forever in their mind. Right. That is forever. So telling them to do something that is forever away. It’s like, how do I even wrap my head around that? No wonder we’re not saving in America, right? It’s so difficult to wrap your head around. VR helps that because I can then show them through an experience, an interactive experience. What decisions mean? Yes, If you want to go below $50,000 doing this, then let’s go see how you able to buy for your house. And I want you to go make the decisions via virtual reality on Zillow. “You want that house? Well, this is how much it’s going to cost”. Sit across from a mortgage broker to do that. Or if you’re a new retiree. What does giving your wealth to your heirs mean today for you in the future? What happens if you go through a life experience where you have a health concern, they can now visually live through this and see what those decisions mean that they’re making today mean in the future, which now allows them to have a scene action to that, which is so powerful.

JC: That’s going to be interesting. Ten-year plan. I’d never, I wouldn’t have considered VR being part of. You know where the future of that industry is going, but the way you explain it makes total sense. This has been awesome. I mean, this is a lot to process. I love it. So how can people get a hold of you or the software if they want to reach out, either do a demo or if they want to reach out to you specifically, how would the audience to go about that?

Matt: Yeah so our website for Benjamin is getbenjamin.com, and then you can follow me. I’m on Twitter at Matt Reiner. You can go to my website. I provide a ton of content there, mattreiner.com, and then a YouTube channel where I put together a ton of videos on technology and the future of our industry. And I’ve got a book coming out here in the next couple of months as well. So keep an eye out for that. What’s this going to be? What’s the title’s going to be working title, so I’ll hold off work right now.

JC: Okay, can you tell me later, we’ll try to get it into the show notes there so when this goes live, maybe the book will be out by then.

Matt: Sounds great. Sounds great. Thank you so much for having me on.

JC: Absolutely, thanks so much for being on the show, Matt and anyone listening. Of course, again, reach out to Matt to go, to getbenjamin.com. Go find them on Twitter, LinkedIn, all those places. Matt, thank you so much for being a guest today

Matt: Thanks so much.

JC: All right, bye.

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