Ep. 139: The Connective Tissue Between Processes and Technology, with Matt Reiner, benjamin

Come on in, sit back and relax, you’re listening to episode 139 of the WealthTech Today podcast. I’m your host, Craig Iskowitz, founder of Ezra Group Consulting, and this podcast features interviews, news, and analysis on the trends and best practices all around wealth management technology. Our theme for this month is startups, we went through the Kitces AdvisorTech Map and selected a few category newcomers we thought would be the most interesting to speak to. Today’s guest is Matt Reiner, CEO and Co-Founder of benjamin.
The way data is delivered and consumed in the wealth management industry has changed dramatically over the years. These changes have made it more difficult for enterprise wealth management firms to maintain their data infrastructures. Over time, they have deteriorated and have been duplicated and made obsolete through multiple acquisitions, until no one in the organization is quite sure how all the data pieces fit together.
That’s why Ezra Group launched our Data Assessment Service to conduct in an depth review of data sources, downstream consumers, data utilization analysis for enterprise wealth management firms and deliver a comprehensive strategy and roadmap to get your data architecture under control. For more information on Ezra Group’s Data Assessment Service go to ezragroupllc.com
Be sure to check out our sponsor, the Invest in Others charitable foundation at InvestinOthers.org.

Companies Mentioned

Topics Covered

  • A Turnkey Version of Zapier
  • Missions Versus Playbooks
  • Automating Account Funding
  • A Blend of Services
  • Adding Analytics

Episode Transcript

Craig: I’d like to introduce our next guest on the podcast today’s podcast is Matt Reiner, CEO and Co-Founder of Benjamin.

Matt: I’m doing great. Thanks, Craig, how are you?

Craig: I can’t complain. Not at all. Where are you calling from?

Matt: So I’m calling from Atlanta, Georgia. And the South is starting to show spring again here soon, which is great.

Craig: Well, it’s about time we’re still getting snow here.

Matt: Yeah, if we got snow here or even the threat of snow in Atlanta, they they shut the whole city down for about a week so it’s nice that we’re getting past the snow and the sun and the pollen is coming out a lot right now as things are blooming.

Craig: I live in New Jersey. I used to get some snow days and we got a decent six or eight inches and sometimes they shut the schools down. One of my daughters goes to Ithaca, in Ithaca, NY they got a ton of snow. So it’s winter now, it’s a blizzard, are you gotta go to class. They’re not canceling classes for you. Gotta go. So that’s a whole different world.

Matt: Yeah, we get about a half an inch and they shut down schools down here. So it’s just different. We don’t have the infrastructure to keep the roads clear, I guess. And the city has a sprawling issue where we sprawled out, 45 miles from the center of the city. So it’s a different challenge down here. I think.

Craig: We’ll often do another podcast on city planning, fix those issues.

Matt: That and public public transportation would be nice.

Craig: We’ll do that next time, I’ll start a new podcast. So Matt, please give us the 30-second elevator pitch for benjamin.

Matt: So benjamin is a workflow automation engine that looks to connect wealth managers technologies together to eliminate and execute on the menial, mundane tasks. Our passion is to enable more access to financial advisors and in order for that to be done in our view is to create more time for advisors and their teams.

Matt: Advisors and their teams spend anywhere between 30-40% of their time doing tasks that are repeated every day and automatable if we connect the technology and the processes. benjamin sits in the background as a workflow automation engine, to eliminate and execute on those menial mundane tasks and it was built by wealth managers that sat in the seat. It was a problem we saw and we solved it and now deliver it out to other wealth managers across the country.

A Turnkey Version of Zapier

Craig: That’s a great story. Is it kind of like a number of some software available called “if this then that”, so you’re kind of like that software, or what would you compare yourself to?financial advisor workflows software

Matt: It’s very similar to an If This Then That type software, right? That’s all robotic process automation, and it’s a big kind of web and diagram on the background. There’s another company out there called Zapier that’s very similar. Where our focus is, is we want to continue to integrate into more and more of the specific technologies that are just wealth management specific, beyond just the CRM and the calendar. We want to focus on deepening our integrations with portfolio management systems and custodians and financial planning softwares and really focusing in helping advisors.

Matt: Beyond just being the technology, we are also helping them think through strategically on a consultative side, how to better their workflows and their processes and where are the automation and we augment teams. So yes, our technology is very similar to that, but I think our service and our experience is very unique given that we’ve solved these problems for two different RIA firms here in Atlanta, that we built this technology for, and we bring that to our clients.

Matt: One of the challenges I always see as advisors challenge struggle with where do I start with automation? How do I keep and maintain it? How do I build the most efficient workflows, and there’s great consultants out there that can help with that and we believe that we can help with that as well as part of our solution in our offering holistically.

Craig: So your differentiator versus Zapier, which everybody can get ahold of, is that you’re focused on wealth management. You’ve already pre built integrations to the major CRMs, financial planning, portfolio management systems that make it easier for advisors to automate.

Matt: Yeah, it’s much more turnkey to just the technologies that the advisors using and we already have pre built workflows and pre built what we call missions, which are tasks that benjamin executes on and then we call workflows playbooks. So we have different playbooks that advisors can integrate off the shelf into their firm to create efficiencies and time back in their day right away. And then those playbooks can be edited, right, because every firm is unique. They want a unique client experience. They want to handle things a little bit differently. And they have that optionality and flexibility with benjamin. So again, it’s just more tailored specifically for financial advisors and wealth managers. And with both the technology and the focus on the processes that we automate.

Missions Versus Playbooks

Craig: So tell me the difference between a mission and a playbook.

Matt: So a mission is part of a playbook, a playbook is the entire process. The mission is the actual task so for instance, the task of sending an email for a meeting preparation, when a meeting is coming up tomorrow is a mission, right? That’s the actual event that causes an action. A playbook would say, Well, I want to make my home meeting process more efficient. And so a playbook would have everything from submissions around getting the meeting scheduled with the client to doing the meeting preparation to acting on follow ups after the meeting, and getting notes from the advisor. That would be an aggregation of missions inside of a playbook that gives them a strategy that they can go and kind of implement into a major area of service that we provide as financial advisors.financial advisor workflows software

Craig: That sounds really cool. So let’s move into some specific use cases. An example of a use case where an RIA can take benjamin software and provide value efficiency improvements.

Matt: I think that you know, where we’ve started to see a lot of our clients, we focus on helping advisors become more efficient within really three main buckets. Meetings, onboarding, and ongoing servicing. If you think about the whole lifecycle of a client, that’s the majority of everything that we do as an advisor, we meet with clients, we open new accounts and onboard them and then we service them via trading and financial planning and follow ups etc.

Matt: Our focus is on helping to eliminate some of those repeatable tasks inside of those buckets and where we’ve seen a lot of opportunity or we call it the low hanging fruit, as we’ve talked to many different RIAs over the past several months, is with regards to meetings. It seems to come up time and time again, that advisors struggle not with the using a scheduling link like a Calendly or a schedule once or something of that nature, but more so with getting that in the hands of the client, ensuring that the client actually schedules and then completing that task to continue on a workflow within the CRM and and then when the meeting happens, ensuring that based on meeting frequency, and when the last meeting was at the next meeting gets scheduled on time, etc, that whole process.

Matt: And to some advisor that seems simple, but many advisors and teams that are growing, just don’t have the capacity to really invest in to build and all that out and we have a really great client up in the Midwest that does basically block scheduling. So they take three times a year they have these blocks where they just are doing surge scheduling where they just won’t have as many meetings with all their clients in those six week periods. And the whole scheduling process of that took him weeks to get done in monitoring and in tracking within Excel spreadsheets, etc. to make sure that clients are scheduled monitoring the CRM monitoring the calendar, and he was still using a scheduling link. And so what we were able to do is that we integrate into a CRM, which was Redtail, we were able to integrate into his calendar, which was Outlook. We utilize Calendly, which is an amazing scheduling tool. We’re not trying to replace any technology. That’s something that’s really important about benjamin is that we’re trying to live in between them as the connective tissue. And so we want to use the best in breed and Calendly does a great job with scheduling. Redtail is a great CRM.

Matt: And so we integrate it into their CRM and based on the last meeting date, and the meeting surge that that client has benjamin is the one that reaches out to the client, and then he’s monitoring the calendar and when he sees that the meeting has been scheduled, he completes the task inside of the CRM and if he sees that it hasn’t been scheduled, he follows up with them again, every seven days. And then after four or five touch points he reaches out to the advisor and lets them know please call this person, delivers the phone number the email address for that client.

Matt: What this did is that this delayed a hire for that advisor at that firm because he was about to hire another firm because he was growing and just didn’t have the resources to keep going this way. And we were able to delay a hire and that right there was the immediate ROI and then we added in other missions with regards to accounts being opened, accounts being funded, triggering the trader in the firm to trade the account, etc. But that was the foot in the door that had immediate ROI of something that a human is doing today that we were able to free that capital up are free that human up to do more higher sophistication or build deeper relationships with more clients types of tasks.

Automating Account Funding

Craig: So speaking of your missions account open, funding and trade and how are you actually doing this? How does benjamin interact with other systems to avoid any manual steps? It is normally done when you open an account and then the account’s been funded, you manually check that. How do you automate that process?financial advisor workflows software

Matt: Because we have integrations with the major custodians Schwab, Fidelity, Pershing, TD which will eventually be Schwab, and we also have bi directional integrations with the CRMs, we basically are the center connective tissue, we bring all the data into one central hub. We’re basically creating a mini data warehouse for each of our firms. And so we unify the data so we know which accounts at the custodian are related to which people inside of the CRM. And then when we see a new account is open, we know who the advisor is, so we can then notify the advisor.

Matt: But we also have the ability to both create tasks in the CRM, we have the ability to complete tasks in the CRM based off of the data that we get back from the custodian. So on the account opening and when a new account is funded, we’re able to then go and complete the tasks that the account has been funded, and then go and create the task for the particular trader or the advisor, whoever trades the account. And then because we have an integration directly with DocuSign, we can also see if the account envelope for the new accounts have been opened or not. And if they haven’t, then benjamin is the one via text message or email that’s following up with the client to nudge them to get their account application or their DocuSign completed because sometimes DocuSign goes into spam and clients don’t see it or it just gets lost in all their other email. So that’s something that a human is doing today that benjamin is able to complete.

Matt: And we continue to expand our offerings with regards to that with a recent launch of our integration with the Schwab open view gateway with their alerts functionality, so we can see if there’s something going on with the transfer that’s coming over and then we can either alert the client and or the advisor. We can see if there’s an issue with the account being opened and we can do the same thing.

Matt: And the beauty of this is that within our ecosystem, or our platform, the advisor or what we call the benjamin boss, the one person in the firm that trains benjamin, they can set specific rules for each type of alert type or each type when an account is open and it’s a Roth or an account is open and it’s an IRA, you can ensure that the 404-A is checked, etc. So, the way that we’re able to do that is by creating that mini data warehouse, doing OAuth integrations with all of the major technologies, and then also doing integrations with the custodial data feeds and bringing it all together and unifying it down to the contact level.

Craig: Did you just say OAuth?

Matt: Yeah. OAuth integration. So what that allows for is that the integration, it’s a tokenized integration that enables each user to integrate their calendar, let’s say or their CRM into benjamin by just using the username and password for that particular system. So when they get the link to integrate for benjamin, they click on the link, they put in their username and password, that’s what’s deemed as OAuth integration, and then that creates a token so that we don’t have to store the username and password on our side.

Craig: It’s like single sign on.

Matt: Similar, yep. This is just on the back end for the account side. Yes, exactly.

A Blend of Services

Craig: Gotcha. All right. So let’s move on to the next use case. So talk about another use case that goes really beyond tech, a blend of services.

Matt: I think that one of our major value ads as a company is the ability that we have just put ourselves in the seat and the shoes of our clients. Given that my background is in wealth management, starting multiple RIA firms, helping them grow. We understand what they’re going through. We’re not just another technology company coming into it. We’ve been there, done that and we built this technology to solve for some of the challenges that we had.

Matt: There’s a client of ours down in Florida that we worked with that basically reinventing their firm. And they’re reinventing the way that they do business mainly because they saw a need or a gap that they were focusing in one area of the market mainly on investments and they saw the need to get more holistic in nature of their firm. And they just didn’t have the processes or the organization or the tech stack to empower them to do that. So they invested in getting a more robust tech stack with their CRM, with Wealthbox, with a new portfolio management system, like Summit Wealth, and they really wanted to focus on building more efficient processes to empower their teams to create deeper relationships that extend beyond just investment management.

Matt: And so we actually started our relationship with them on a consultative side, where we went in and looked at it talked with their team and understood what are y’all doing today for your clients? Where are the struggles? Just like many consultants do already, but it was part of our offering with our technology and we helped build them out flowcharts and processes that they introduced into their standard operating procedures. But then what that allowed for is that they adopted those processes and as we were going through the consulting side of things, we were able to start showing ways of automating steps of those processes.

Matt: So as soon as they got those implemented, which we helped with, then we introduced the technology side, and we were then able to start automating many steps of those processes from scheduling meetings, meeting preparation, which is all about generating medium prep reports, either from portfolio management systems and or pulling data into a tear sheet that shows performance data, notes, tasks, transactions, data from all of your major systems. We were able to help with that.

Matt: We implemented some of those tasks, or missions that we were referring to earlier with regards to account open account funded, and then servicing. They had a big desire to stay in touch with their clients on a quarterly basis and get updates or different pieces of information from their clients, information on their financial planning, what is your mortgage balance at? How much of your mortgage to be paid down? All of those types of touch points are opportunities for us to interact with our clients, and they wanted to do more of that. With benjamin, with their CRM, with those data points inside of their CRM, benjamin is able to text and email these clients get updates on that information, and keep all of the data updated.

Matt: And then you throw on top of it because we are a mini data warehouse and we have a lot of the data points from all the systems., this particular firm started to use our reporting engine to be notified of accounts that may not have had a meeting in a while and had cash balances higher than $10,000, etc. But again, it was this proactive nature of sending it to the advisor and helping them not have to think about what’s next. But just telling them what to do next and then automating all the steps in between before we needed a human aspect of it. They’re a $500 million firm growing rapidly, and again, it’s all a matter of we’ve created more time to where their CSRs are now able to do a little bit more relationship building and help their revenue generating advisors grow their books business as well via referrals and wallet share, bringing more wallet share over.

Adding Analytics

Craig: That’s a little bit more than what you were saying before, a system that guides everything scheduling the prep onboarding. Now you’re getting into more analytics and further leveraging the reporting mentioned, notified about accounts that hadn’t had a meeting in a while with cash balances over a certain amount. That’s a whole different value.

Matt: Yeah, that’s just kind of a natural progression of where our software is. We’ve been building the software on the guidance of our clients of learning what they’re doing. You know, we come from one RIA but we do things one way and other RIAs do things slightly different and we’ve continued to evolve the platform. And it’s just a natural progression,. We’ve get the  foundation of being able to execute on tasks and everything that we execute on, which we can dive into is all based on how a human works. We made it very intuitive.

Matt: And so once we got that working and we were able to execute on those simple things like a task is due in the CRM, go to x, inside of somewhere else or a meeting is coming up in the calendar, go do x and y in the CRM and via text message. That’s the foundation of the connective tissue or what the category is called a business support system. That’s the foundation. The next layer up is saying, Okay, well, now we have all this data, so can we do some analysis on this data to then go and take action on that information?

Matt: So step two is let’s start doing reporting and delivering it to the advisor based on these different data points, and the different reporting and then the next step is taking action on that data. So all the contacts that come in that have more than $15,000 in cash, and haven’t been met with in six months, maybe one advisor wants benjamin to go start the scheduled meeting workflow for them, and he’ll go and start and schedule the meeting proactively. Maybe he wants to get approval on meetings from them or create a task inside the CRM to schedule and the advisor can go in and determine whether he really or she really wants those meetings scheduled. Or it can go and create a task for the trader for all of those contacts for all those accounts to get some money put to work in those accounts.

Matt: So that is now starting to create this really augmented arm that yes, you can do that today but it takes time. I always read I always relate where we are in automation in this industry to the concept of bill pay in the past, so if you think about online bill pay, if you think about before online bill pay how we wrote checks and paid bills was we would get the bill in the mail we would open our checkbook, write the check, address an envelope, stamp it and walk into our mailbox. The big innovation in bill pay before online bill pay was they put the pre addressed envelope in the bill for you. So they eliminated one step. You’d write the check, you’d put it in the pre addressed envelope, you stamp it you take it to your mailbox. That didn’t take that much time, that was one or two minutes of time.

Matt: But then online bill pay came and went online bill pay came, there’s a lot of questions, how are they going to know how much to send, how do they know who to send it to, etc? How’s the service provider going to know it’s from me? And there’s three groups of people, the one group that was all in, the early adopters as we call it in the technology world. Then you had the other group that was fearful, not fearful because I would never use it just fearful because this is so new. And then you had this other group that was pushing back and saying that task only takes me one or two minutes I can already do it. Why would I ever want to use online bill pay?

Matt: And as we now know, the majority of Americans use online bill pay to some extent. And those one to two minutes that it was taking them is filled with something else more productive, more enjoyable, whatever it may be. But when I use that example, I use that because I think that automation in our industry is at the early stages of online bill pay where instead of people worrisome about how are you doing that? Or I can do that already in my system, why do I need someone else to do it? Well, the reason is because our value add as individuals or humans in a wealth management firm is to build and deepen relationships and talking to people. And if we’re not doing that, and we’re doing other things that are keeping us from that we only have a limited amount of time. We need more time to do what we’re great at. And what we are great at in this industry is building relationships. And that’s something that I don’t believe technology will ever be able to do. So what we’re trying to do is basically build bill pay but instead of connecting service providers and banks is we’re connecting processes and technologies and instead of paying bills, we’re executing on tasks. And that’s what we’re focused on right now.

Craig: The technology is trying to take over relationships, all the algorithms of social media trying to tell us who to talk to, we’re slowly getting there.

Matt: I I think that technology will continue to push the envelope there. And it’s telling us who to talk to it but I don’t know and maybe in 10 years, 15 years, I’m a big proponent of technology. I’m a big proponent of virtual reality and how I think it can influence our industry in a very positive and meaningful way. And so I’m not one of those old school people I am very cutting edge on that side. But the one thing that I still haven’t seen and we could come back 10-15 years and say I was wrong and that’s fine, I just don’t believe that technology can get the EQ level that is needed to walk someone off the edge when they’re about to sell their entire portfolio because of everything that’s going on in the Middle East or geopolitically. Or that the pandemic hits and they don’t they think everything’s gonna blow up.

Matt: There is a personal relationship bond that is created that is just the human brain having that human to human relationship that can’t be taken over by technology. Technology will allow us to do that better in my mind, be able to tell us who we need to talk to, who of our clients are sending emails with negative sentiment that we should probably call instead of email back. Some people that we should look to go in and finding as our prospects because they meet the criteria of all of our other clients. I think that a lot of that technology makes sense. But having that conversation with a client and helping them understand why they shouldn’t buy the house today and maybe wait a year and building that bond. I think that that’s just going to be better, more well received even to millennials, by a human.

Craig: Let’s talk about industry trends. What are some of the trends you’re seeing around the challenges that firms are running into, how are they struggling and older companies?

Matt: I think that there’s a trend happening in the space right now with this generational shift of wealth but just generation generational shift of ownership and leadership in wealth management firms. RIAs have been around for a while, one of our RIAs has been around for 25 years. But a few years ago, we went from gen one to gen two, and how gen one built the firm is very different than how gen two does. And gen one came in as an entrepreneur sales individual to help grow the firm because they were going from zero nothing to try to make something and they made something and along the way, they wore a ton of different hats.

Matt: They were basically the advisor, the operations, compliance, the front desk person, everybody and that’s just the way it was. Nothing was documented. Nothing was kind of put into place. And that is different. And they were kind of the rainmaker, but now they brought up this whole gen two that was basically just servicing everything that they were bringing in. And that’s a challenge because now what’s happening is you’re going from gen one who is the rainmaker, who had the entrepreneurial mindset of growing the firm that way to gen two, which was the servicer. But now the servicer has to become a rainmaker and you have to figure out how to continue to instill the same client experience in the same processes and these firms are struggling with documenting them.

Matt: I always think back to the book, The E-Myth Revisited, the franchise model, the ability to plug and play people in that do it the same way every time so that client experience is consistent. And we are about to see a huge shift in generational wealth, which yes, everybody talks about, well, now you’re going to have to serve millennials, but the thing that they’re not talking about is that there’s going to be more people with wealth than there are today. You think about a family that you’re serving today as a wealth manager that has $3 million, but they have two kids. Now that goes from a relationship that’s one for $3 million to two that two families at two different needs and demands that each have a million and a half and your revenue hasn’t changed but now you need to serve more people. And that becomes a challenge.

Matt: So in order for us to be able to serve more families, we have to become more operationally efficient. And to get more operationally efficient, we have to have documented processes and standardizations. And we’re also going to have to have automation and so this trend is causing firms to really break. And I think that that’s why there’s that trend in M&A because they can’t necessarily grow. They don’t have the infrastructure, the foundation, and they need scale to be able to offer more services to more clients and they need more infrastructure. Which some of these M&A firms these aggregators and some of the PE firms already have built that allow them to plug and play.

Matt: I think that that trend is going to continue to happen for firms that aren’t able to make that leap from gen one to gen two and operationalize their business. I think that that trend, I talked to a lot of private equity people as well, and I think it’s still very early because people are going to start to see the strain that it puts on their people and somewhat of the stagnation in their growth because they’re struggling to keep the consistent client experience without that infrastructure and the loss of that entrepreneur who is the rainmaker.

Craig: We just have time for one more question. So there’s one more trend I want to squeeze in, about displaying data versus executing data?

Matt: I think that the trend, in 2010, 2015, it was all about creating a portal for our clients to go to and it was also from an internal back office it was an idea of, to what we mentioned earlier, single sign on. Let me see everything in one spot, let me be able to log into my Schwab Advisor Center from my CRM, let me be able to log into Orion from my CRM or let me see the Orion data in my CRM. That is displaying data all in one spot and that was a major trend, and it’s extremely helpful. I don’t have to go bounce around. I don’t remember a ton of usernames and passwords. I tried to get a holistic view of it.

Matt: The challenge now gets to is that I still have to put data into Orion. I still have to go into Schwab and view or take action on an alert or to start the process of opening an account. I still if I’m in Orion, I see something I still have to go create. If I see that there’s more cash than I want in an investors or clients account, I have to go into the CRM and put the task in it.

Matt: So displaying the data is step one, bringing it together. The next step is to be able to execute on that. How do we take all this data that we now have in one spot and how can we use all of those different data points to take actionable steps or execute on actions based on that specific data, based on the rules that we set up? And that’s really where the whole idea of a business support system comes from. I think that in so some people say well, to solve that trend well is just to go into an all in one solution and I don’t see that that is the trend that the industry is necessarily going because everybody wants best of breed technology to be able to plug and play to create their own unique client experience for each of their for each of their firms.

Matt: And so the challenge the next trend or the next step in the evolution for advisors, is opening up API’s. Allowing them to be bi directional, not just one directional just to see data, but to be able to be bi directional to be able to act on that data to update that data. To consume and use that data somewhere else in another system. And I think that’s where advisors are gonna go to next because showing data on one spot stillmeans that a human has to take an executable step towards delivering that or delivering on the results from that data to the client or to the advisor to the CSR. And the next step is going to be I don’t want to do that I want automation and technology to do that for me. And all these systems so that I can actually live in one system and never have to go into the other system to ever update data there or to have that data come in to be able to execute on sending a text message or an email or creating a task inside of my CRM. So that I think is a huge trend that is still in the infancy stages within our industry, but it’s becoming more pronounced as people are looking for more time because they’re having trouble hiring and they’re having capacity challenges as they’re growing and and that’s a something that needs to be solved for.

Craig: Matt, you said it all and then we’ve run out of time, please tell the audience with more information about benjamin.

Matt: Yeah, so you can find us at get benjamin.com, feel free to see what we’re about there and some of the case studies and how we’ve helped other RIA firms across the country. You can follow us on LinkedIn, you can also follow me on LinkedIn. If you want to reach out to me directly, you can also go to my website, MattReiner.com. So either of those websites gets in touch with our team, and we’ll be happy to talk with you.

Craig: It’s been a pleasure talking to you. Thanks so much for being on the program.

Matt: Thank you Craig.

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The Wealth Tech Today blog is published by Craig Iskowitz, founder and CEO of Ezra Group, a boutique consulting firm that caters to banks, broker-dealers, RIA’s, asset managers and the leading vendors in the surrounding #fintech space. He can be reached at craig@ezragroupllc.com