In a Nutshell: In 2020, the most successful advisors have moved past worrying about “competing” with technology. Instead, they’re finding ways to automate the 30 – 40% of the mundane tasks that are necessary for relationships but don’t enhance them, so that they can focus on the human conversations that create real lasting value — and more business.
Guest: Matt Reiner, CFP® CFA®, the cofounder and CEO of Benjamin, “the world’s first A.I. assistant created for advisors by advisors.”
My Key Takeaway: Used properly, AI can do things human advisors don’t need to be doing so that we can focus on things AI can’t do, like:
- Build better relationships with our clients.
- Coach our clients on financial matters so that they make better decisions and feel more in control of their futures.
- Help clients clarify what their money is for and live their best life possible today, not just in retirement.
1. Why you need to start thinking about AI as your partner, not your enemy.
2. How an AI platform can help keep your margins and expenses under control during a burst of high growth.
3. What nuts and bolts integration and training looks like when you decide to add an AI component to your tech stack.
Complementary Episode: Pair this with my conversation with Todd Tresidder, in which we discuss the kinds of coaching services your team will have more time to focus on if you’re not manually updating your CRM every week. Listen/read here.
Resources Featured In This Episode
MattReiner.com Links to Matt Reiner’s blog, book, and Bridging the Gap podcast.
Benjamin Learn more about Matt Reiner’s company and AI assistant for advisors.
“Reboot: Leadership and the Art of Growing Up” by Jerry Colonna Matt Reiner recommends this book to “anybody that’s building their own firm to understand and think through what is your purpose in life and what you really want to be doing.”
Values Clarification Toolkit Click here to download this FREE tool and start living your values.
Steve Sanduski: Hey everybody. Welcome back to Between Now and Success. I’m your host, Steve Sanduski. I want you to imagine for a moment if you had a personal digital assistant that automatically took care of a wide variety of time-consuming tasks that are critical to running your business but really aren’t adding a lot of value to your clients’ lives. The objective would be that this tool could free up your time, and your team’s time so that you could spend more time on those high-value human-to-human activities that clients will pay dearly for.
Well, there is a company that has created a tool. It’s called Benjamin, and it is a cloud-based artificial intelligent assistant that was created by a multibillion-dollar RIA firm. It actually was spun out of that firm, and it tried to solve some of the problems that the RIA firm was having during a particularly fast growth phase. I wanted to have the cofounder of this company on the show today to talk about artificial intelligence in general, and then talk specifically about how that type of technology can, and is, being used by advisors today to really automate some of the more mundane tasks in the office.
So, we get fairly specific here on how you can use this type of technology, and I’m really excited here to have Matt Reiner on the show. Matt is the cofounder and CEO of Benjamin. He also is a CFA. He’s passed the CFP exam, and he’s a published author. He also has some strong opinions on the industry. I think you’re really going to enjoy my conversation with Matt Reiner. Matt, it’s great to have you on the show.
Matt Reiner: Thanks for having me.
Steve Sanduski: This is a very interesting topic. We’re going to talk about artificial intelligence and, in particular, a software tool that you guys have created that incorporates artificial intelligence. We hear so much about artificial intelligence these days, and I’m always trying to find applications that advisors are using that uses artificial intelligence. We hear so much about, “Well, it could do this or it could do that,” but I think you guys have actually created something that actually does do that. I think this is going to be a very fascinating conversation. So, why don’t we just start with, can you give me your definition of artificial intelligence.
Matt Reiner: I think that artificial intelligence is a really great buzzword in our industry today to use, but a lot of people don’t actually know what it really means, and there’s many forms of artificial intelligence. The root definition, in my mind, for artificial intelligence is really just looking at the two words that are there, artificial and intelligence. It’s the aspect of using technology to artificially create human intelligence, things, and aspects, and tasks, and jobs that humans had to do and doing them quicker and more efficiently, and learning and creating a more effective way to do what the human is doing.
Now, it’s not meant to … I think that there’s a stereotype, or a stigma, around artificial intelligence that it’s going to replace a human. I think that it’s going to replace many tasks that a human is going to do, but even though we built a product that has artificial intelligence built into it we are still human-centric and believe that the human is valuable. It’s the things that the human doesn’t need to be doing that artificial intelligence can take over, allowing the human to do things that computers can’t do, which is really on the EQ, or emotional intelligence, side of things.
So, artificial intelligence is artificially creating intelligence, intelligence being what the human has, to allow for things to be done, tasks, conversations, whatever it may be that a human used to have to do that now a computer can do.
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Steve Sanduski: I think one of the interesting things is going to be where is that line drawn in the sand, and I think it’s going to continue to shift over time. The way I’ve typically thought of it is if you think about all the things that a financial advisor can do with a client, on a scale of 0-100 with 100 being 100% of everything that a human being can do in working with a client that today, and I’m just picking a number, technology maybe can handle 20% or 30%. Any of us can just pick whatever that number is. Over time technology will be able to do a higher and higher percentage of those tasks. It’s never going to get to 100%, and so it will be interesting to see where it finally shakes out in terms of what are the things that are uniquely human, that technology in our lifetimes is never going to make obsolete. I don’t know if you have any thought on that.
Matt Reiner: You make a fair point. I think that the aspect of the human is the ability to create engaging relationships one-to-one. That’s something that I don’t think that technology, in my lifetime, is going to replicate. They’re going to try to. Don’t get me wrong. There’s going to be a lot of people that try to, and I think that even with AI in the financial services and, specifically, for financial advisors, there are going to be companies that are going to push that line and try to do even more things, and that pendulum is going to swing and try to get that 100%. It’s going to scare a lot of people, but just like with anything the economy, or any other trend, or new product, or new way of doing a certain task, that has come into our life that pendulum is going to swing to one side and then swing back to the other, and we’re going to try to find it’s equilibrium.
What I would encourage, at least us to think, is that, yes, let’s access the fact that AI is going to make some tasks that are menial and mundane today, they’re going to eliminate those forever, right? They’re going to make them obsolete because they’re just going to do that. I want to challenge people not to be fearful that we’re going to replace the jobs just because we’re replacing those tasks. Even if some people try to, realize and stand firm that our value as financial advisors is the human relationships, the ability to coach, behavioral coach our clients, and to have meaningful conversations that are impactful, and move our clients up Maslow’s hierarchy, or the investment hierarchy to give them a purpose and fulfillment in their life. If you stay focused on that then you’ll never feel threatened by AI. In my mind you’ll just see it as a partner as opposed to a foe.
Steve Sanduski: I think another distinction that we need to be thinking about, too, is using technology that is, I’ll call it, backstage, or back office, so these are things that the client doesn’t really see. These are all things that make the advisors’ internal operations more efficient versus client-facing, or front-stage technology, which is technology that would interact with the client.
I think your particular software, Benjamin, does interact with the client. Do you have any thoughts on as advisors should be thinking about technology. Is there any … Maybe this is hard to put a number on. Is it like 80% of the technology that advisors use would typically be used to make their back office more efficient and only 20% is going to be consumer-facing. Maybe it’s not even fair to try and put percentages like that. Do you have any thoughts on, are advisors mostly thinking about technology to improve efficiency in back office versus make a more engaging client experience with the consumer?
Matt Reiner: I think that the trend over the past 10 years or so has been to create technology solutions, and implement technology solutions, for the back office. They weren’t seen by the client but they were shown to provide more time to the client. That was kind of coming from out of 2008, 2009, ’07, ’08, ’09, where we said as advisors, we don’t want to let a downturn force us to have to let people go. We’ve got to be more efficient. We’ve got to have better processes and not let things fall through the cracks. It was all internal focused from that standpoint. Where you’re seeing a trend today is more client focused, client experience, because what’s happening is that more and more clients are expecting their service provider, or their financial advisor, to provide the same access to information, access to advisors, the same look and feel that they are getting from other services that they are interacting with on a daily basis.
So, I think today a lot of the technology is focused in an advisory firm on the back office and mid office, but where the trend is going is more client-facing. What we have to do as advisors, and we’ve been poor at it as an industry and we’ve got to get better, is how do we integrate those technologies that we spend so much time getting to create efficiencies in the back office. How do we integrate that with the client experience on the front end so that we create true full-length, full-view efficiencies or experiences that our client and our employees have inside our firm. I don’t know if there’s a percentage. I think it’s more where the trend is going and where it was. So, a lot more technology has been focused on back office, but a lot more technology in the future will be focused on the front or forward-facing with the client.
Steve Sanduski: So, let’s talk about the airline industry as an example here. So, 20 years ago when I wanted to make a plane reservation I basically had to call a travel agent and say, “Hey, I want to get from point A to point B, and I’m thinking about leaving on this date in the morning, and I want to return on this other date and leave in the afternoon,” whatever the particulars are. So, I’d either hang on the phone or the travel agent, I’d hang up and the agent would call me back, and they’d get on their system, Sabre, or whatever system they’re using. Well, of course today it’s totally different. We just do that all on the internet. So, if we’re just making a basic travel reservation instead of having the agent do it now each of us have to do it. You could argue that, “Oh, that’s client-facing technology,” but basically what it did is just makes consumers’ life less efficient, one could argue, because now we’re doing the work that the travel agent used to do.
Now, if I want to take a fancy trip to Europe or Africa, or do something that’s a little complicated for travel then I would still use a travel agent because they may know certain hotels in certain cities. They may know different connections to get from one place to another. I might be using multiple modes of transportation, that sort of thing. It’s complicated so then I’m still going to call a travel agent.
Do you see any analogy there with what’s happening in financial services where we have the robo-advisors, for example, where some of the less complicated things are now being moved to a do-it-yourself using technology, making it fairly easy, but then the still complicated situations are still going to be done by a human advisor? Does any of that make sense?
Matt Reiner: I like that analogy a lot. I do see some really kind of synonymous things that go between those. With regards to travel agency, the idea of booking a flight, for me to go from Atlanta to New York I used to have to go through an agent to do it. That is a commodified aspect. I can do that now very easily. I know what is in it, I know what needs to be done. I know my dates. I know where I need to go. That is what this travel industry has been able to bring to allow the consumer to do. But, then I can also go and access information now on the internet to know more about Italy, or Spain, where I want to go, but it’s a very complex and uncomfortable experience because I’ve never done it before, and it’s bigger than just me going on a flight from Atlanta to New York in the same country.
So, now I still have to bring in a travel agent. I could go book my flight on my own but I want the travel agent to tell me that’s been there, that’s seen it a thousand times, and that I still need to talk to. So, I do see that over on the financial advisor side where investment management, just doing investing in my mind is commoditized. You can go and do investment management in a passive way with EPS and robo-advisors at a very low cost.
Where it becomes challenging is when you get into an area where you feel uncomfortable, you’ve never been, you’ve never done it before and it’s a little bit more complex. Think about retirement. You come into some money, you inherit money, you have to do some estate planning. You have kids. You have to talk through all those types of scenarios that are personal and specific to you, that’s like going out of the country. You’ve never done it before. You need someone that’s seen it before time and time again. I think that that’s where the advisor plays a really big role.
Some of the initial tasks that the advisor has to do to help you better understand that and analyze the situation can be made more efficient with technology, but ultimately the advisor, just like the agent, you want to have that personal relationship with, because you’re about to make an investment, or you’re about to do something that’s bigger than anything you’ve done before, and it’s a little bit more complex.
Steve Sanduski: So, along those lines let me ask you more of a strategic question. So, with the rise of the robo-advisors and automated investment platforms there’s a lot of folks that would say that if you’re a financial advisor that you need to be able to offer a spectrum of models to work with the person who’s 25 years old. They’ve got their first job and they want to start saving some money, all the way up to a traditional bread-and-butter-type client of a financial advisor, someone that maybe has a million dollars or more in investible assets. The argument is that because of technology, because of Schwab’s programs or Fidelity’s programs, or Betterment, these different firms out there that have low-cost, or free, programs to get younger investors to start investing that if you don’t get those investors when they’re young, and you let Vanguard, or one of these other firms get them you’re never going to get them when they have a million or two million dollars, because they’re just going to stay with the firms that they started with and have been with for 10-15 years.
As I think about this travel agent analogy where the travel agent industry ultimately use technology to let consumers book their own basic travel reservations, but when things get serious and complicated you still call up the travel agent, do you think advisors should run the gamut in terms of having service offerings for people with not a lot of money and not a lot of complications all the way up to higher net worth people, because you think that’s a good strategy? Or, should you just say, “Look, let’s let the Vanguards, the Schwabs, the Fidelity’s, the Betterments, work with these less complicated low-cost or free people, and when they have series money and they’re concerned about getting human advice that’s when we’ll get them.” What are your thoughts on that?
Matt Reiner: I hate to give this answer to start it out, but I think it depends on what your strategy is as a firm. If you wanted to be a lifestyle firm and you’ve got 15 years, you’re not trying to grow it, it’s probably not right for you. Even if you are trying to grow it depends on how you want to grow. You have two sides of the coin here. On one side of the coin when you think about a travel agent, for instance, and I used and needed a travel agent for our honeymoon when my wife and I got married. I had no idea who to call. Who did I ask? I asked my parents. Who do they use? I asked my in-laws. Who do they use? I think it’s the same thing. You trust your family and you trust your friends.
When it comes to a big decision you’re going to ask them who they use. A lot of the news stories about millennials and they’re different than everybody else it’s just they’re in a different stage of their life. I think when it gets down to kind of the root of it humans are very similar in nature and they go to the people they trust and they love when they need to make big decisions.
We have built two RIA firms, one being a high net worth firm and another … Before we built Benjamin technology company we had an RIA for the traditional high net worth firm and then we built a mass affluent firm, but that was our core focus of our strategy where we wanted to be able to serve everybody and leverage our resources at our larger firm to serve the mass affluent in a different way. With that solution, yes, making a robo-advisor is a key option for us. But, that was something that we had as a strategic vision of our company of what we wanted to do and what we wanted our mission and vision to be. There’s going to be plenty of business, and I don’t think that the robo-advisors at the Betterments, the Vanguards, et cetera are going to necessarily keep 100%, or even 75%, of their millennial clients when the millennial clients come into money, which means that advisors have an opportunity to wait, and they don’t need a robo solution necessarily to get there.
I’m not on that, you have to have it. I’m a believer that if it makes business sense from a strategy standpoint to have it, because it gives you the full gauntlet of services, but it’s not going to mean that we’re not going to still get people from Betterment when they get a little bit older, and Vanguard when they get a little bit older, because sometimes people just love to sit across the table from you and see you, and Betterment and Vanguard they don’t have that yet. I think that that’s still the opportunity there. It doesn’t answer your question directly, I know. I think it’s more of a strategic decision that a firm has to make. If you don’t do it, it’s not like you’re going to be obsolete in the future. I think if you don’t adopt technology is when you’re going to obsolete in the future.
Steve Sanduski: So, I think I heard you say that you actually have two firms here, so one is your traditional higher net worth RIA firm, and then you created a second RIA that was for the mass affluent, is that what I heard you say?
Matt Reiner: Yeah, so what we did is that we had a unique business model where we were getting people from all different backgrounds, and investible asset sizes, et cetera, and so about 10 years ago we started a second RIA, a separate entity that was model portfolio based, similar to a robo-advisor, that leveraged the investment committee and the institutional research of our higher net worth firm to distill that down into model portfolios to provide a affordable option for the mass affluent that still allowed them to have a human advisor in the process.
The reason that we did it from a strategy standpoint was because we had all these people coming in, and we were referring them out to Schwab, and Vanguard, before they had SWIFT, and before Vanguard had and so we developed it ourselves. It’s worked, but that’s not going to be the solution to us in the future in terms of our growth in people.
Steve Sanduski: When you started that, and as you think about that mass affluent RIA today, do you view it more as an accommodation that this is more of a holding camp here for people that might ultimately move over to our affluent RIA firm, or is it a conscious strategic, “Hey, we really want to grow the heck out of this mass affluent RIA firm and make it a hugely profitable business in it’s own right?”
Matt Reiner: I would go with the latter. We wanted to create an RIA that’s not a firm that is something that we think is going to be a feeder for the larger firm. It was a company that we saw an opportunity that we could build given who was coming into our offices every day, but it is looked at as a stand-alone business as opposed to a feeder program. We want to grow that and have two really successful RIAs going forward.
Steve Sanduski: Can you share the size of those two firms today, roughly, in whatever metric you use to measure the size of each firm?
Matt Reiner: The traditional firm is a 2-1/2 billion dollar RIA, and the mass affluent is about 160 million dollar RIA right now.
Steve Sanduski: All right, let’s segue over to this AI assistant that you guys have created, Benjamin. Take me back to why this thing was created and what was the problem that you guys were trying to solve through technology?
Matt Reiner: Benjamin came from … Our firms were growing. We had started this mass affluent division, and we had this growing traditional RIA, and we were struggling with many of the same challenges that all RIAs struggle with. We were growing. We had some capacity challenges with our current team, scalability, efficiency, process management, our technologies were not integrated, and things were falling through the cracks. We were so consumed with bringing new people on that we at times sometimes let things fall through the cracks with all of our clients. We wanted to solve that, and we wanted to create standardization across all of our teams and our people. We set out to build our own technology. There wasn’t something out of the box that we could really set the style, so we spent about three years just kind of trying different things and really actually building some poor technologies, to be honest, at the beginning.
Then, two years ago it all culminated into Benjamin, which is and AI assistant for financial advisors. The root hypothesis that we came to, as we looked at our firm and we talked to others, was that 30-40% of our day-to-day in our week for of our teams, advisors on our teams, was spent doing menial, mundane things and tasks that are necessary for relationships but don’t enhance the relationship. What we were finding was that our time is better spent enhancing the relationship by having deep conversations with our clients, with our kids about what they want to do with their money, what they want to do with their lives, and we weren’t able to have as many of those as we wanted. We were hiring more people and we were eating into our margin.
Ultimately, if we wanted to be able to keep our fee at the same level as it is, and I think this true for any RIA, is that if you want to keep your fee at the same level you’re going to have to provide more services, more value, and more servicing for your clients. So, we said if we want to do that how do we manage our expense side to make sure that our margins stop going down and we can maintain them and actually grow that. That was via technology and adopting technology within all of our processes, and that’s where Benjamin came, and he integrates with our technology, he communicates internally and externally allowing us to provide more servicing and value and services to our clients, and we are able to help our team scale in terms of our CSAs and our advisors from that standpoint, ultimately more people came to us wanting to use the technology and that’s when we decided to build it into more of a company as opposed to just a solution for us.
Steve Sanduski: As you were thinking about trying to solve this problem of all these lower level basic tasks that you said didn’t really necessarily enhance the relationship but they were things that had to be done, did you sit down and say, “Okay, there’s a hundred different things that we do for our clients. Which of these do we think we can use technology to automate?” Was it something like that, or how did you even have the beginnings of thinking about what do we want to build into this technology based on where technology is today, using artificial intelligence, or whatever other technology. How did you think about, “Well, these are the things we think that we can automate and that our clients are going to be okay talking to an AI?”
Matt Reiner: Just as our industry evolved in the sense of working in the back office and then moving to the front office, the development of this technology and vision works in a very similar way. So for us it came to a point of we were hiring operations team members so quickly it was starting to become burdensome. We looked at what they were doing every day, and we looked at our current processes. For instance the first thing that we saw that we wanted to solve for was new accounts being opened. At this time our firm was adding a good number of new accounts every single day into our firm. We had stacks of folders on our operations team members’ desks, and these were stacked with paper folders.
Advisors were not understanding when accounts were being opened and funded. Things were falling through the cracks. Clients were looking at us, and so we said, “How do we eliminate those folders to make it more streamlined for this one individual to be able to open more accounts and alert both clients and advisors more quickly?” We saw that one task and we solved that. We saw that we created about 50% efficiency for that one person. That specific person went to our leadership team and said, “Are you all going to let me, because you now have taken away 50% of my tasks via this technology?” We said, “No, now we’re able to scale you and you can now add more value, deeper value, to our clients because we’ve taken away the menial stuff there.”
So, that was the first thing. Then, what we did is then we started plotting out, “What are the biggest time-consuming tasks that we’re doing? What takes up the most hours in our day, and how do we then chip away at those to start eliminating those so that we can give hours back to our advisors and to our operations team members,” so that they can then go be scaled and do higher-value tasks and communications with our clients?
Steve Sanduski: So, let’s granular here. So, you said the first task that you automated was new accounts being opened, and you got rid of some of these folders. Can you be specific and tell me, “This is a task that we used to do manually. Now we have this artificial intelligence assistant that does it digitally,” and how does it work digitally? I’m just imagining someone’s listening to this and they’re thinking, “Well, I still don’t get it. I don’t understand what went away and how does the technology interact with my client to make it go away from my back office people?”
Matt Reiner: Let’s take a common practice, or common process, within advisor firm. Now, this is just at the beginning of a relationship, or you have a current relationship. Don’t box them into just doing this, it’s just an example.
Steve Sanduski: Sure, sure.
Matt Reiner: Let’s look at annual meetings, or quarterly meetings. So, how it’s done today is in your CRM you have a workflow, or a recurring task, where you make a task every year based on the client coming in, to schedule a meeting, or a phone call, or a video conference, then you as the advisor, or one of your team members, gets that task on the day it’s due and reaches out via email, or calls the client to get a meeting scheduled. You go back and forth, 10-15 minutes per meeting, et cetera.
So, with Benjamin today he integrates into your CRM. He integrates into your data feed, your portfolio management system, and to your calender. He can see that that task is due to schedule a meeting with John Smith. He reaches out to John based on John’s preferred communication medium, which is determined by the advisors to be text message or email to then schedule the meeting and coordinate it. Benjamin continues to follow up with John based on a cadence that is desired by the advisory firm until John Smith gets the meeting scheduled with me as the advisor, or me and my team, whoever needs to be involved.
Then, Benjamin completes the task, continues the workflow, confirms the meeting, puts it on everybody’s calendar so everything you would expect the meeting scheduler to do. Now where it gets specific to the advisor is Benjamin integrates with the portfolio management system to provide the advisor meeting preparation materials the day of or the day prior to the meeting. So, think about performance analysis. So, how has the portfolio done in the past six months, 12 months? What was last transactions? All this coming from the portfolio management system, along with a report, or reports, that the advisor wants for that meeting.
Finally, after the meeting Benjamin reaches out to the advisor, asks them how the meeting was, what notes they have, and puts them all into the CRM. So, we’ve now taken a multi-step process that had different people involved and Benjamin has been the coordinator of all the interacting both externally with the client to schedule a meeting, and having a regular conversation like you would with a friend, and then internally creating operational efficiencies to eliminate time spent with meeting prep and data gathering. So, that’s just one simple example of how Benjamin is working.
Steve Sanduski: So, that’s really helpful. Now, let’s say you have some clients that just want to meet once a year. You’ve got other clients that want to meet once a quarter. So, do you initially go into Benjamin for each client and say, okay, this is the cadence of meetings for this person, it’s quarterly, so I’m going to set Benjamin to reach out quarterly to schedule these. For this other client it’s going to be annually, so we’re setting Benjamin to do it annually. Is that just like a simple example of how that would work?
Matt Reiner: So, remember that financial advisors built this technology. The last thing we as financial advisors want is yet another platform that we have to go into, yet another login, another platform. So, how we built the technology is that you have what we call is a Benjamin bot. So, you have one or two people in your firm that know how to use Benjamin and they train Benjamin, but everybody else lives in the CRM, or the portfolio management system, or whatever technology they’re already living in and can get the value of Benjamin.
So, we already have that information in our CRM. You don’t really have to change it. You usually have the frequency that you want to meet with them and how many meetings a year, what type of meetings you want. Benjamin just goes off of the information from your CRM. So, all you have to do is update it in your CRM and Benjamin then learns from that and updates that information on his side in terms of how he communicates and how frequently he communicates with the client.
Steve Sanduski: What does the setup of Benjamin look like? So, if I’m a new advisory firm and I’m using Orion, and I’m using Wealthbox, whatever systems you’re already integrated with, what does the setup of something like this look like? Is it workable right out of the box, or is there some learning that Benjamin needs to do for your particular firm in order to be effective? Is there any machine learning that needs to take place here, or is it already like preloaded with pull in the right stuff from the different fields to be able to be operational right away?
Matt Reiner: The goal of Benjamin is to get you up and running and completing tasks within four weeks. So, the integration is very simple. We created integration, like I said, with Orion, and Wealthbox, and Outlook, or Google calendar, et cetera. So, the processes that you set up in your for Benjamin bot creates those integrations. You work with an account executive who acts more of a consultant than anything. Prior to signing an agreement, or starting with Benjamin, we create a job description for Benjamin for your specific firm. What are those first two or three tasks that Benjamin’s going to knock out. Those are the ones that we train right out the gate with you and Benjamin. Each advisor’s processes are different so we had to create a flexible framework with our technology to allow Benjamin to know what data he needs, and it doesn’t matter where it comes from, that can be controlled by the advisor.
Once all of your integrations are set up Benjamin creates a unique unified household based on unique data from every system so that Benjamin only has one household, but he understands what data point comes from which system. Then, he goes through a process with your account executive to train Benjamin to accomplish the two or three tasks that are specific to you, and we train the team on how to assign a task to Benjamin from your CRM, and what are the action cadences that are needed.
So, you spend about four hour-long phone calls with your account executive. After the second one you already probably one or two tasks completed, and after the fourth one you should have three tasks completed, and then you have monthly calls with your account executive, or quarterly, it’s up to your desire, and the account executive is working to consult with you going forward on more tasks for Benjamin to build his for you.
Steve Sanduski: So, one example you gave was basically scheduling the meetings, and so you’ve got the client is actually interacting with Benjamin. So, what kind of feedback have you had from clients who are now interacting with a bot as opposed to Mary or Joe from the office that’s calling them to schedule their next meeting?
Matt Reiner: We’ve had people from the age of 25 up to 93 interact with Benjamin effectively and successfully. Age range isn’t the concern, it’s a matter of the acceptance of it. Also, how you roll Benjamin out. We work with our clients to have a strategy on how to roll Benjamin out to the client, how to introduce Benjamin. We also give each financial advisor reaffirm their own unique phone number that’s a local number for where they’re located. The reason that we did that was it’s create a personal connection between the client and Benjamin to where they can save that number in their phone and every communication that Benjamin ever sends from that firm will come from that same phone number. That’s been something that really helps people create this unique relationship with Benjamin going forward.
Our view is that you roll it out to a subset of clients. You’re segmenting out your clients already, you find that segment of clients that you feel would be really adoptive of it. You start with them. They start to love it. You then can tell stories about their experiences to your other clients, and then you gain more adoption, and you gradually roll it out to different tiers and sets of clients, and you continue to let your clients know, one, that they’re interacting with a digital bot as opposed to trying to make them believe that it’s real and, two, you let them know why you’re using it. What does this mean for them as the client of why they should be okay with it.
The last thing that I’ll say is that clients tend to be very comfortable with it because they see it in other aspects of their lives. I don’t ever like to align or associate advisors with doctors, or doctor’s offices, but all your doctor’s appointments now have confirmation of your appointment via text messaging and all that type of stuff. That’s not even very conversational, and we’ve accepted that. This is much more conversational, like you’re talking to a friend.
Steve Sanduski: Given that example of the doctor’s office, so earlier this week I had to see the eye doctor, and this was a new eye doctor that I was seeing and so they asked if I would, basically, preregister online and make the appointment. Sure, happy to do that, so I go online, I fill out the information, and it asks for me to upload a picture of my insurance card. Of course, I’m happy to do that so I upload a picture of the front of it, I upload a picture of the back of it, and I think everything’s fine. It says you’ll get a confirmation.
Well, of course, I never get a confirmation so then the day before the appointment I call them and say, “Hey, just want to confirm that you got my online registration, blah, blah, blah.” An hour later I get an online confirm. So, then I get to the office and they hand me a pad there with copy paper that has a bunch of lines. I have to answer all these questions manually and then she said, “And I’m going to need to take a picture of your insurance card.” I said, “I uploaded this on the computer.” “Oh, I’m sorry we don’t have a record of it.” I’m like, “Come on.” We try to do this technology and still people can’t get it right.
Matt Reiner: It’s an adoption thing, right. It takes time to change. Technology is never going to be perfect, and humans are never going to be perfect. If we look back to our interactions with humans in the past they made many mistakes that we were okay with. It’s just an evolution. The more that you get exposed to it the more that you talk about it, the more that you see it, the more that people are going to adopt it and just say that this is the way that it is, as opposed to experiencing perfection. Technology and perfection are not synonymous. Technology is efficient and scalable, but it doesn’t mean that it’s perfect. But, what it can do is it does it better than a human would do when you look at it on the scale that it can accomplish the task. I agree, I mean, I actually had that exact same experience with an eye doctor last week.
Steve Sanduski: They must be using the same software.
Matt Reiner: Maybe the eye doctor industry needs some help with how to integrate their technology because it’s not working right now. I do hear that frustration. I’ve lived it before.
Steve Sanduski: So, as you think about where Benjamin is today, it’s got a certain set of capabilities that it does well. How do you think about the product roadmap for this product? I would imagine you’ve got some kind of vision of how you can deepen what it can do, maybe expand what it can do. If you’re looking out a year, two years, three years what do you project this type of technology will be able to evolve to?
Matt Reiner: That’s limitless in my mind. I think that we have to stay focused. Right now we’re in the process of working on Benjamin 3.0, which will be launched next year. Really the focus of that is to deepen our integrations with the current technologies, so get really tight with a lot of the technologies that other advisors are using, because we want to be the central hub that connects, and think of and be kind of the air traffic control between all of your technologies to help eliminate some of those menial tasks that are being done.
So, version 3.0 is really focused on deepening those integrations, providing more flexibility, even more flexibility to the advisor and their team, putting more controls of Benjamin into the team’s hands, so think about what data points they want to utilize in every aspect, and opening up the universe of tasks and workflows that they can have Benjamin complete. So that’s an avenue that we are going, as well, to create a Benjamin Bot University to help train with them and so deepening the integrations, expanding the integrations and expanding the compensations of that, so making more complicated tasks available by Benjamin and training in there is where we’re going right now.
Now, if you look at the past six months, and past 12 months, where we want to go, it’s going to be Benjamin creating analysis and insights based off the data that he’s gathering. So that then becomes more and more of the AI, helping to create next-best actions for advisors, next-best tasks, suggested tasks that should be completed based on how the advisor, and how the client are interacting with different systems to help the advisor be more proactive with the client, and to create a more personalized and developed experience for the client with their advisor. That’s where, as we get more data, we get more data on what processes are working, what processes aren’t working, we’re able then to provide clients and advisors this set of the best practices for tasks to create a unique experience that is different for each of the individual clients.
Steve Sanduski: This is just kind of a philosophical thought. You may not necessarily have any response to it, but I was reading an article not long ago and it was saying that if you take a look at the output of the economy back in the 1930s, and you look at how many hours it took to create that amount of output, and then you compared that to where we are in today’s economy that to generate the same amount of output as we had back in the 1930s, we would only have to work about eight hours a week here in the United States. So, basically, it’s an example of what has happened to productivity and efficiency and technology. But the interesting thing, of course, is that we’re not working eight hours a week. We’re still working on average, I think, this article was saying about 38 hours per week, whereas back in the 1930s it might have been maybe 44ish, 45, something like that. Some people may say, “Oh no, we’re not working less hours,” but anyway, just overall in the economy.
As I think about technology, and we talk about how it’s designed to try and make our businesses more efficient so that we can scale, so that we can meet with more people, that sort of thing, it just seems like the more technology we add the more stuff we end up doing for our clients. So, I think it leads to we’re adding greater value. We’re providing greater service yet it seems like we’re still working as hard as we ever have. Just kind of a thought there. I don’t know if you have any reaction to that, or how that makes you think about technology or how advisors should be thinking about technology and its proper role within an office, whether it’s just simply it frees us up from the mundane things so that we can do the human things that people would really pay for. Maybe that’s just the simple way to look at it.
Matt Reiner: I mean, our passion and our purpose as a company is to help advisors allow them to help more clients live their best life. How do we allow their clients to live their best life? What is their best life? It’s a purposeful, fulfilled life. That goes beyond just doing investment management. If we can do that as a technology company then we are feeling that we have delivered value in this industry day in and day out.
I think as you look at the financial advisory industry as a whole today, look back what it was 35 years ago, 40 years ago. You called your broker to make a trade. That’s what an investment advisor was good for, the guy that gave me trades. Some people still think of us as stock collectors and the guy that does the trade, or the gal that does the trade, but that’s not what we are. We’ve evolved because we’ve now taken a lot of that. That’s somewhat been commoditized and so our value has gotten bigger and more than that to where we are now doing planning and goal-oriented planning and having deeper conversations with our clients.
I think if you just look at our industry by itself. We were spending 40 hours a day just doing stock buys and sells. Now we’re spending 40 hours a day and we’re doing a lot more planning-oriented stuff. Just think about where we’re going to be in 10 years because of how exponential technology is, and the value you will be able to provide. I think that the one last point that I would say is that the industry, and our profession, is going to be more focused on the word advisor as opposed to investment. Investment advisor, the advisor word is going to be much more important to the client than the investment side. I think that that’s how our industry is going to evolve, and technology is going to allow us to evolve by delivering more services to more people.
Steve Sanduski: I think you’re spot on there, and the thing I would add to that is I would add the word life to that conversation in addition to advisor, so it’s advising on the life things and not just the money things, because pretty much everything in our life in one way or another is touched by money. That’s one of the companies I cofounded with my business partner, Mitch Anthony, this company called ROL Advisor which stands for Return on Life. So, we’re definitely right in sync with your thinking there that this technology can free you up to focus on the things, the purpose of people’s lives, what they want their money to do for them, those sorts of things. I think we’re definitely in sync there.
Matt Reiner: One last thing. The last one thing I want to say, people think I’m crazy when I say this. We were talking about the travel industry and how that’s evolved. We are dealing with people’s money, and a lot of people come to us when they’re retired and they say they want to go and travel. Is it too crazy to think that a financial advisor is now actually doing the travel arrangements, so they have someone in their office that is the travel agent to help their client go travel the world and meet their goals that they have on their financial plans by utilizing and leveraging the assets that you are managing.
Then, what that shows is that you’re not necessarily just doing the advising of investments, you’re advising the investments to allow them to go do something that they want to do, and they get all of that within the services that you offer. That is where, I think, the ROL, which I love, is going. That’s giving them a true return on life based on the services that you’re providing. It is based and foundational on investing and money, but it’s ultimately more purposeful and fulfilling on what you’re giving back through your actions.
Steve Sanduski: I think that’s totally right. I remember I was sitting in on a client meeting one time and going over the client’s situation. They were retired and talking about what some of their big goals were. One of their big goals were to take their whole family, extended family, on a big vacation. They wanted to know if they financially could afford that. Going through the numbers the advisor says, “Yep, you can afford that.” Well, then we wrap up the meeting and the advisor is making little chit-chat and says, “Well, what do you have on tap for the rest of the day?” The client says, “I’m going to go call my travel agent.”
Matt Reiner: Exactly.
Steve Sanduski: So, it’s all about, “Hey, we’ve saved the money and now we’ve actually going to go do this big trip that you’ve been helping us save for.” Ultimately it’s about what’s the money for? I think that’s one way that advisors can add tremendous value is helping clients clarify what’s important to them, helping them save for those things, and live along the way, not just saving it all up for some day that we call retirement. It’s enjoying each day as it comes, as well.
Matt Reiner: Exactly. I agree.
Steve Sanduski: All right, well, let’s jump into a few rapid-fire questions here. It’s always fun to wrap up the conversation with this. So, why don’t we start with what’s one of your favorite books that you’ve been reading here lately?
Matt Reiner: I just finished a book by a guy by the name Jerry Colonna called Reboot. Jerry used to be a venture capitalist. He got out of venture capital, being really successful. Actually, in the middle of it his firm being really successful that he started, and went out on his own to figure out what he wanted to do with his life. As we’re talking about trying to help people live their best life, he went out and gave up the millions of dollars that he was earning to just figure out and get his life back. It was an inspiring book. Anybody that’s building their own firm to understand and think through what is your purpose in life and what you really want to be doing. It also helps you kind of relate to others to help them live an even better life and help them find that path on their journey as well. So, it’s a really great book. Jerry’s an inspirational speaker and his book made me view a lot of things differently in terms of life in my personal life, and then also in my professional life, as well.
Steve Sanduski: Well, we’ll go ahead and link to that in our show notes, as well. How about a new skill that you are trying to learn, or one that you’re trying to improve?
Matt Reiner: My leadership skill. I think if you boil that down it’s mainly on delegation. I think that us as all leaders and entrepreneurs we have the vision, we have started it, it’s our baby, we believe in it so much more and it’s hard to delegate. One of the things that I’ve learned as we’ve been growing Benjamin, I have to delegate responsibilities because I don’t know everything from a technology standpoint. For us to be able to impact the true number of people that we want I have to delegate some of that responsibility, so that’s something that utilizing self-awareness and everything of that nature to help me with is what I’m working really hard on.
Steve Sanduski: Well, this next question is kind of random. Amazon has Alexa and we’ve got Siri, and you have Benjamin, so how did you come up with the name Benjamin?
Matt Reiner: Very simple. It’s all about the Benjamins, it’s all about the Benjamins, and that’s where we came up with the name Benjamin.
Steve Sanduski: Excellent. Well, Matt, I think we will wrap it there. I appreciate you being on the show. Thanks for the insights here and congratulations on what you guys have put together here with Benjamin. If people want to learn more about Benjamin, or you, what’s the best way for them to reach out?
Matt Reiner: Yes, getbenjamin.com is the website for Benjamin, and then I also have my own website mattreiner.com, as well, where I post a lot of video and I have written content. So, you can check either of those out to learn about Benjamin or myself.
Steve Sanduski: Sounds great. I appreciate it, Matt. Thanks.
Matt Reiner: Thank you.