Déjà vu All Over Again

Admittingly, I was a bit intimidated when Matt invited me to join the leadership team here at benjamin, a wealth tech company. After all, I had spent the last 30 years in a variety of roles with two software firms solely focused on the telecommunications industry, and the fintech/wealth management space was a brand-new realm. I had no experience in or working knowledge of this industry. For one thing, wealth management has almost as many acronyms as the broadband industry. Broadband speak: ONT, OLT, NIM vs. wealth management speak: AUM, RMD, NIGO (I still to this day stop team conversations, asking for a new definition). And I’ve more to learn about the day-in/day-out processes and software applications an RIA uses to manage their business. Fortunately for me, I learned a great deal helping innovative, privately owned software companies build successful businesses and had faith that my experience would prove valuable to the benjamin team. In recent months, my confidence in our inevitable success comes from the uncanny parallels between my early days at ETI Software Solutions (ETI) and what we are experiencing now at benjamin. Similarly, both pioneering companies introduced a new class of software products to their industries specially designed to automate manual processes, thus provide an ROI. So, in many ways, it’s déjà vu all over again.

When I first joined ETI in 2003 we only had about a dozen employees (a few more than here at benjamin). Our goal was to be the best software company on the planet to do one thing: instantly activate voice (phone), video (TV), or highspeed data (internet) services to a broadband company’s subscriber regardless of the network they had built to deliver the service to their home. Our objective was to engineer software that would execute these technically complicated tasks regardless of the underlying technology our telecom customer used to deliver the service or their tech stack. We accomplished this over the years with a team of very talented product specialists and software engineers who deeply understood the business processes and dependencies to activate those services and how to build the software to do it. Fundamentally, our software was designed to use subscriber data mined from our customer’s tech stack to automate the activation of all broadband services via APIs furnished by their technology providers. But most importantly, our success was due to our early-adopter customers who immediately understood the return our software could bring to their business. In other words, they got it.

Over the years, ETI’s business thrived as it amassed a broad array of integrations to dozens of these technologies because none of them were integrated into each other nor were they all integrated into the customer care and billing stack. We were the only company that made it our business to accomplish this with a single software platform. Once it was deployed for our customer, our software eliminated countless hours of manual (human) provisioning tasks and the pilot-error mistakes that came with them, saving time and money for the broadband provider while activating services faster and more efficiently to the subscriber than an army of technicians working 24/7/365 ever could.

The pushbacks we heard in our early days at ETI were much like the ones we hear today at benjamin. We were pioneers evangelizing the uniqueness and many benefits of our product, only to hear: “I don’t need the expense of another software platform,” “I’m not sure we’ll get an ROI,” “We bought some software that’s supposed to do some automation somehow,” or “We have people that do that.” Overall, telecom was a people-heavy industry but began to change as the competitive landscape evolved in the mid-2000s and competition forced efficiency improvements. With so many new technologies (soft switches, Fiber-to-the-Home, Internet Protocol Television, etc.) flooding the telecom space in the early 2000’s it wasn’t long before the technology companies who manufactured the platforms and the telecommunication companies who were deploying them realized that manually turning on/off services was not sustainable from a business operations perspective. Thus, ETI’s product began to flourish. Our software became the industry’s go-to integration software product, a far less expensive solution than hiring consultants to build and maintain custom-built integrations or pay employees to manually activate services.

At benjamin, our software fundamentally delivers a similar value proposition to our clients as ETI’s. Integrating the tech stack and unifying the data an RIA uses to service their clients eliminates the repetitive tasks that devour an advisor’s valuable time which needs to be spent strengthening relationships and building new ones. Meeting preparation, client onboarding paperwork, scheduling, confirmation, and proactive notifications prompting an advisor to take action for a client are tasks that benjamin executes seamlessly today by leveraging an advisor’s client data and exploiting the APIs of the software tools (CRM, custodian, financial reporting, etc.) the wealth management firm uses.

The RIAs we serve today understand that the financial services industry is rapidly changing, and to compete and retain margins, they will need to provide a higher degree of service more efficiently, with less overhead. My experience tells me that we’re still in the “early adopter” phase of benjamin’s lifecycle, but soon we’ll be an essential component of how most RIAs service their clients, better.