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benjamin: AI Matters Because One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Matt Reiner | benjamin

As the financial cloud AI assistant, benjamin helps advisors regain control of their time by streamlining processes and automating a myriad of time-consuming, yet imperative tasks so they can focus on what’s truly important: their clients. benjamin is a digital assistant platform for RIAs. The platform makes you more efficient and allows you to do what you do best – give advice and talk to clients. benjamin changes the way you work.

Matt Reiner is the co-founder and CEO and Co-Founder of benjamin. Matt has also written a book, Ready to Be Rich: Smart Financial Advice for People on The Way Up, which looks to change the conversation around money management and budgeting. Ready to Be Rich talks about how individuals can leverage technology, behavioral economic theories and simple down to earth philosophies to position themselves to enjoy today, while saving for their future. Along with running Wela, Matt is also a partner at Capital Investment Advisors, a fee-only wealth management firm focused on delivering income-oriented investing solutions to individuals and families. Matt’s goal is simple: change the way financial advice is delivered by enabling more companies to impact more families and provide more opportunities for personalized (and human) financial advice.

What’s more important, a quality product or excellent customer service? Giving the lockdown and current situation, are your priorities shifted to any of these? 

Looking at the current landscape of technology for financial advisors, you can see that it’s an incredibly crowded field. Because there is so much competition, you can’t afford to underperform in service or on the product front. That’s great for advisors, and the clients they serve, because it forces technology providers to really step up their game in a number of areas. Competition drives price down, elevates service offerings, and creates more innovation.  With that in mind, we know we have to offer a killer product while providing white-glove service if we’re going to be a viable option for advisors.

What’s the hardest part about building a business support system driven by AI? 

Every advisory firm is unique in some form or fashion! Take onboarding as an example, there may be two firms that are identical on paper but they onboard clients in completely different ways. That’s why we gave benjamin the ability to complete standard workflows through automation as well as become customizable for each advisory firm. One size doesn’t fit all in this industry and that is why a major focus on our development was to provide extreme flexibility within our product so each experience can be unique to the specific firms. Our job is not to tell firms you should be doing business this way or that way, our job is to take their current workflows and make them better.  AI becomes the differentiator for us to do that and why benjamin is such a unique and powerful technology.

Originally created by a multi-billion dollar investment advisory firm, benjamin is now independent. Why did you make this decision to make benjamin standalone? 

We knew we needed to keep the businesses separate for a few reasons. For starters, we didn’t want there to be any confusion regarding identity and mission for either organization. Capital Investment Advisors provides wealth management services and benjamin is a technology company. The two companies have very different cultures and If we tried to run a technology company with the same mentality as an advisory firm, it probably wouldn’t have the right feel or outcome. However, while separate, the businesses are closely aligned so that our software is developed in the technology company and then refined in our RIA “lab” so that the result is a purpose-built solution that works for advisors’ unique requirements right out of the gate.

41% of advisors’ time is still spent on tasks that can and should be automated. What are they? Why do you choose to automate this or that task in benjamin? 

We have over 100 out of the box workflows that firms can start off with, which can be grouped into 5 buckets: prospecting, client meetings, onboarding, proactive service, and know your client. Think about onboarding, benjamin can provide transparency to a client during every step of the new account process. That includes things like collecting data necessary for application paperwork, to automatically sending a status text or email to the client once the account has been open and funded. These things may seem small, but for bigger firms, they may be opening up hundreds or thousands of accounts a year. That’s several thousand emails that occupy a lot of time. And for smaller firms this allows for an enhanced and amazing client experience! It’s time that could be better spent following up on a lead, or spending it with family, or taking extra time with clients because you’re not worrying about doing administrative work. Now take that example and multiply it by 100 and you have an “a-ha” moment.

Is there anything you would like to improve on your platform? What expectations from technologies proved to be right/wrong when you started working with real accounts/data? Why? 

Of course, our goal is to never be satisfied with benjamin’s capabilities. It’s part of our identity as an organization. One of the challenges we face, and everyone runs into this, is integrating with more providers. The more pieces of technology benjamin can connect with, the more powerful it becomes. With 200+ providers out there, it takes time to go through the process with everyone but we’re getting there over time. The good news is that we already have integrations with the major custodians, CRMs, portfolio management providers, and other pieces of ancillary technology an advisor uses. This allows benjamin to get up and running quickly, providing immediate value for a firm.

Can AI replace humans in wealth management? Do you believe that it can enhance humans? What concerns about AI usage in wealth management do exist today? How does your platform diminish them? 

Absolutely not. One of our principals is to be “human-centric,” meaning we want to bring a magnifying glass to all of the things a “human” advisor does for their investors. When you can do this successfully, it elevates the client experience and ultimately makes your clients raving fans of your business. I think there is a lot of anxiety around AI taking jobs away from the industry but in reality, AI is going to let us do more meaningful work, serve more clients, and give us more time back in our day.

What technology stack is optimal for building an AI solution today in the wealthtech industry? Which tech is most likely to move to the fore in the future?

The evolution of technologies over the past several years gives companies the tools to be innovative and scalable in a much quicker way than ever before. We leverage many of the tools provided by Amazon Web Services (AWS) to help create the foundation for our tech architecture. These tools have enabled us to build out our Robotic Process Automation (RPA) systems and infrastructure. For us, it is necessary to have a sound foundation with regards to natural language processing (NLP). And through some partners and the foundation of Microsoft LUIS, we are able to leverage the expansive data models of Microsoft to give us instant scale. Of course, our desire is to continue to refine our own models as we continue to get more specific data to interactions with benjamin. And finally, we have enabled ourselves to leverage the AWS services to help us as we continue to expand predictive algorithms to enable benjamin to provide insights on how firms can be more efficient and can better enhance client experiences based on their interactions within benjamin and their other systems.  

Once again about the new reality: what tools and/or SaaS solutions do you and your company prefer using for team communication, collaboration, task & time tracking, testing, and so on? Why? 

For communication, we’re power users of Slack. It makes sharing files and other content really easy which is nice. BIT.AI for documentation storage and organization which is clean and intuitive. One of the coolest pieces of software we use is NINETY.io, it’s a GREAT tool for a growing team. Basically, it helps run all of our meetings, keeps us on track toward achieving our short and long term goals, and provides a lot of accountability to each member of the team.

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Do you observe any prominent but underestimated service gaps in the market right now? Is there something that is able to surprise the community in the following few years? 

Definitely. Advisors need to start thinking about engaging the potential heirs of their current clients. Nearly 90% of heirs won’t use their parent’s/grandparent’s financial advisor. Part of the reason is that there isn’t a strong relationship in place between the heirs and the advisor. Benjamin can help develop that relationship by providing a high level of service for small accounts by automating a ton of the servicing requirements. Every advisor needs to have a strategy for the pending generational wealth transfer or they won’t survive in the future.

And the other opportunity or gap is that advisors continue to be extremely far behind in regards to the experience that their clients are expecting. More and more clients that fit the ideal client profile for advisors are interacting with advanced and innovative technologies that deliver them the information they want, when they want and in the form that they want it. The “ideal client profile” for financial advisors have increased their usage of platforms like Facebook by over 400% in just 8 years. Advisors have an ability and have access to more data on their client’s desires, fears, hopes and current situation that they should be able to drive and deliver an even more proactive and engaging and relevant experience. Some advisors are making this move and others aren’t. Those that don’t find a way to deliver a more unique and engaging experience to their clients will be left behind over the coming 10 years. 

How do you engage advisors into shaping your tech product roadmap? Is that right to entrust the roadmap only to the end clients? 

We have an awesome client advisory board that we meet with regularly. We are lightyears ahead of where we would be without them. They are an incredibly thoughtful group that has really made benjamin what it is today. What’s really nice is that they “get” technology, meaning that they are very realistic on what tech can do and what’s out of reach. Additionally, we frequently document our conversations with existing and prospective clients. It’s honestly one of the best parts of the job. Some of our most prolific ideas come from those conversations which is really fascinating. Clients should definitely have a strong voice in the direction of a solution. That being said, we hire people who will also bring fresh ideas to the table. Like most things in life, it’s all about finding a healthy balance.

Do you consider any new integrations to enforce benjamin even more? What criteria are characteristic for you when deciding to integrate a platform or not? 

Of course, we’re very open-minded when it comes to adding more integrations. Our priority for future integrations starts with our existing clients, making sure that we’re connecting with the pieces of technology that they rely on to serve their clients. Then we think about it from a sales perspective as we want to be able to cast a wide net in order to appeal to large pockets of RIAs. Finally, we look at companies that are disrupters or have really slick technology. We’re willing to take a chance on working with someone small if there’s a possibility that something really cool can come from the partnership.

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