Bento Engine has had a busy few months, recently announcing several upgrades.
The latest was unveiled this week when the predictive client-communications technology platform for financial advisors announced their new partnership with marketing firm FMG. The new FMG Bento Collection provides users of both applications a limited subset of three life events and three age-related milestones and content based on them from within the FMG content library. While the full Bento Engine menu of life events and milestones currently numbers in the dozens, this collaboration means advisors can tap some of Bento's collateral for generating client advice or communications without leaving the FMG platform.
Philipp Hecker, CEO and co-founder of Bento Engine, took the time to speak with Wealthmanagement.com about this latest partnership, how the company got started, the loss of co-founder Greg Quental, what’s ahead for the firm and the industry as a whole and more.
This Q&A has been edited for style, length and clarity.
Wealthmagement.com: Take me back to when you first started Bento Engine in 2020. What was the impetus? What gaps did you see in the market that you thought you could fill?
Philipp Hecker: The ideas behind Bento came from years of participating in and observing the industry in a variety of functions. At J.P. Morgan, I founded and led a unit called Wealth Planning and Advice. During that time, I saw the power of comprehensive, holistic advice at work. The magic happens on the client side in experiences and outcomes, and on the business side with loyalty, referral rate and share of wallet. They all go up when advisors support, engage and serve their clients in truly comprehensive ways.
However, I’ve also observed how many advisors from various business models talk the talk, but don’t always walk the walk consistently. Oftentimes, they tend to do that work manually and for their best clients only. We saw an opportunity to scale that work by using technology and central content systems. This puts advisors in a position to bring comprehensive advice to the middle and bottom of the book, which is oftentimes woefully underserved.
Over the years, I have closely followed the chart of fintech logos Michael Kitces has maintained. And I saw how much innovation is happening in product-related fields with infrastructure. But when it comes to advice, arguably the most important thing in wealth management, I still saw a green-field opportunity. Bento Engine is not alone. There are many other great peers in that category including Asset-Map, FP Alpha and fpPathfinder. But in all modesty, I feel that we’re helping pioneer the advice engagement category, which to me is what wealth management is all about. Engaging, serving and advising your clients is the past, present and future of wealth management. It’s where the rubber meets the road. It’s where the advisor truly engages with their clients and prospects. Where she creates value. Where she demonstrates her worth.
WM: I know you lost your co-founder Greg Quental last year. Tell me more about working with him. What were his contributions both personally and professionally?
PH: I’m glad you asked. Greg Quental and I go way back to J.P. Morgan years where we worked side by side. I was thrilled to start the Bento endeavor with him. He served as our president and co-founder. His imprint on the firm’s mission, culture and attitudes are deep. Although he’s gone, he lives in Bento and with us in perpetuity. One of his sayings which we use often is, “Everybody is chief cook and bottle washer.” In this startup, you must be able to think and act strategically at a very high level while at the same time taking control of operational, everyday execution aspects. That’s a mindset that sticks with us to this day.
WM: I know you’ve made several announcements lately, including the “Install Now” feature you debuted at this year’s AdviceTech.LIVE earlier this month. Tell me about these specifically and more broadly where Bento Engine is headed.
PH: We are a combination of technology via APIs into CRM. We also have content programs that cover the all-important next step. We use the technology to surface Next Best Actions for the advisor and alert them of certain advice opportunities. But for advisors to act on these opportunities, we feel it’s important to also give them all the content they need to execute.
We started with a program called “Life In Numbers” which focuses on 15 fixed age points that trigger distinct wealth management risk opportunities.
We soon thereafter added “Life Events,” which, as the name implies, focuses on getting married, divorced, having a child, moving to Florida, buying a business or selling a home. More dynamic life events that don’t always but oftentimes happen in the lives of the clients and prospects. When they do, they represent major opportunities to lead with advice and capture money in motion. When you overlay these two programs, we cover the entire life cycle of the client and prospect with dozens of advice engagement opportunities.
Since then, we’ve built out the program further. We launched a “Children & Wealth” program that helps the advisor engage, connect with and serve the next generation of the client's family in early and constructive ways around financial literacy.
We launched a “Life In Numbers: Direct To Client” program. Bento by default always works through the advisor. However, if firms want us to, we can send the right advice to the right people at the right point in time automatically on their behalf. Oftentimes this is being used with retirement plan populations with large pools of prospects, with emerging client segments.
We recently launched “Your Journey,” which is a lead generation widget that advisory firms can put onto their website. This converts more of their website visitors into booked meetings by leading Bento-style with personal, conceptual advice.
Since then, we launched the “Install Now” capability at AdviceTech.LIVE. Many of our partner firms are quite tech-savvy. They get it quickly and they want to get going fast. And if they want to install Bento in a self-directed way online by following a six-step journey. Pick your product, do the billing, do the API integration. We can do that with them in totally digital self-directed ways online.
WM: Tell me about this partnership with FMG. Why was this the right company for you to work with? And, more broadly, what is your philosophy on when and how to partner with other firms?
PH: We’re very mission-driven as a company. That’s also part of Greg Quental’s heritage. We are laser-focused on bringing better advice. We want to provide timely, personal, impactful advice to as many families as possible. As such, we’ve made a call to seek partnerships that help us amplify our reach. FMG is a wonderful partner in that sense. The tens of thousands of advisors on their platform in turn serve millions of American families. Bringing our content via the FMG rails to a much broader, more diverse audience is a good thing. It’s the size, scale and reach, but it’s also the cultural and philosophical alignment around the power and importance of helping advisors not only to market their practices but serve the advisor and their clients in as comprehensive, integrated and easy-to-use ways as possible.
WM: Looking over the horizon a bit, what trends do you see coming, not only for your business but the industry?
PH: Clients will continue to demand more from their financial service provider. Their views and attitudes are informed by their experiences in other categories. They want more for their money. They want more and better advice that is personal, relevant and impactful. They also want to be spoken to on their terms, whether they are visual or audio learners.
I would also point out the supply and demand imbalance around human advice in our industry. The demand for human advice, in our mind, will only go one direction: Up. When you think about wealth creation, the wealth splintering across generations and the complexities around the tax code, the demand for human advice will only continue to increase. At the same time, we struggle as an industry on the supply side. Despite our collective best attempts, we’ve been flat-ish at best for a long time. That means that all advisors must increase their loading ratios to be able to take on more clients to meet the demand for human advice. The only way to do that without compromising service levels is by using more and better technology that helps them to scale the most important part of their work, advice engagement.
The regulatory landscape continues to evolve. Regulators are rightfully challenging us as an industry to make sure that our advice is personal, relevant and somewhat uniform across the book of business.