It's not easy to define NFP. Though it stands as one of the biggest insurance brokers in the USA and globally, it's more than just a broker. NFP is an integrated financial solutions company at its heart – focused on benefits that enable employers to win the talent war, wealth and retirement that enhance financial security, and P&C that mitigates risk. And now, due in part to the seismic technological and marketplace changes, NFP is also an experience-focused organisation.
NFP’s growth strategy has always focused on acquisitions and partnerships with companies that can complement its vision. But now, partnerships include innovative, digital technologies that enhance the integration and collaboration in a more personalised way.
Mark Rieder has been with NFP since 2002, spending the last four as Head of Innovation. “We launched our innovation efforts in 2018 with a focus on the InsurTech, FinTech and HRtech space, assessing how it was going to influence the way we would do business moving forward.
“Four years later, armed with what we learned, my focus has shifted to helping drive the organisation down a digital transformation path, launching our strategy, and encouraging the whole organisation to rethink the way we do business.”
The insurance industry has been a laggard when it comes to technology adoption, he adds, even though there have been plenty of examples in other sectors of how digital transformation can change a whole industry for the better.
But without buy-in, change can't happen. “My role is to challenge what we're doing and ask, ‘What if we did this? Would we have a different outcome?’. Unless you're pushed, you sometimes sit back and become too comfortable, so I’m the person who makes things uncomfortable, I guess,” Rieder says with a smile. “The biggest problem people or organisations have when they try to digitally transform is they focus too much on the technology. Innovation and digital transformation is actually much more about people than technology.”
NFP Connect: a system of engagement
That said, there is a need for infrastructure to help execute the change strategy. Rieder, along with Jayaprakash Subramaniam ‘JP’ and the entire NFP Development team, has partnered to drive the development and subsequent roll-out of NFP Connect.
“NFP Connect is our proprietary platform that's supporting this transformation within the organisation. You may have heard the term ‘system of record’– well, in an organisation like ours with a variety of business lines and practice areas, we have many different ‘systems of record’. NFP Connect brings those disparate systems and the data within them together in one place – into a ‘system of engagement’. NFP Connect enables our offices, advisors, clients, and their employees from across our entire enterprise to land on one unified platform and interact in a more personalised way. The way we provide this personalisation is by aggregating data to create information – it's really about connecting people with information.”
Compared with other industries, he admits insurance has not built the best user-experience reputation. NFP Connect looks to change this by combining ease-of-use and convenience alongside data clarity and insightful analysis.
“Certainly, a lot of technology is embedded in the platform. I could talk in terms of AI, ML, and NLP, but I think terminology can actually prevent our industry from moving forward. We make things more complex when we bring these words into play. We really should talk about creating a better user experience, solving problems, engaging people – this is the recipe for success. Digital technologies are important, but expanding the impact of the actionable data behind the technology is where we can have the most impact. NFP Connect creates an opportunity to provide clients with insights from across their organisation through a single interactive dashboard that is personalised for them.”
NFP has grown over the years, organically and by acquisition, and has faced the challenges associated with blending diverse systems. Rieder believes the enterprise nature of NFP Connect, which launched in late 2021, is already showing it can be a catalyst for more organic collaboration, in a more efficient and effective way.
NFP Connect takes an ecosystem approach to its platform. Rieder believes it would be naïve to claim – at a time when InsurTech is advancing in a hockey stick curve – that any single technology could tackle every problem.
“Our philosophy is to embrace our legacy partners, the startup community and any other new technologies that help solve employers’ and individuals’ human capital, risk, and financial security challenges. But it is critical that we do so with a watchful eye on building a better user experience at the same time.”
By taking the data out of all of the system silos and allowing users to access the information in one place, rather than through multiple URLs and browsers, NFP Connect creates a better user experience. This convenience and user experience drives more adoption; more adoption drives more data; more data drives more information; and more information drives greater personalisation.
It’s an Evolution
The vision is to advance the organisation down the path of digitisation to digitalisation to transformation. “Transformation is where really cool stuff starts to happen.
“It's where we bring in automated recommendations and start to capitalise on the expertise we've invested in across a larger spectrum of clients, but still in a personalised fashion.”
Rather than project-specific execution, Rieder wants to keep the organisation centred on transformation. “Many organisations seem to be solely focused on developing products, with the use of new technology to solve specific problems. And, whereas this is important to us, we're more about reinventing the way we do business and making it transformative. We're making great strides but are far from done – if ‘done’ even exists.. In the world of finance, people don't always like to hear ‘the project's never done’. But the reality is that you are never done with trying to be better, and this is what our platform is intended to do.”
Drawing on the best collaborators
“We're keenly focused on partnerships,” Rieder continues. “We truly believe that to impact change and effect change in our industry, we must foster an ecosystem of collaboration between our organisation, partners, and customers. When we think about the ecosystem from a technology perspective, there are varying levels of partnership and integration.
“We have our partnership with Applied Systems, Salesforce, and others core to our strategy because they are where much of the data originates. Our P&C operation relies on Applied Systems (an essential insurance cloud management system) and their EPIC platform for policy management and other support tasks, so they are a key partner. Their focus on boosting their product through new development and acquisition makes them extra valuable because as they grow, we grow.”
“Then we have point solutions that solve particular problems – examples include Ascend, TrustLayer, ServiceNow, Bindable and Bold Penguin, all of which help us execute, streamline and create efficiencies within our transactional-related activities . Still, in many cases throughout the industry today, these are tackled manually; if these processes can be automated, it will create better experiences for end users and our teams alike.”
Finally, there are NFP’s carrier partners. “Aflac has been a mainstay partner over time, not only within our benefits practice but now within our digital marketplace, aiding the ability to bring a product to an individual and allow them to approach the whole buying process from a digital perspective. Many buyers are now digital natives accustomed to doing almost everything on their mobile device, and we think it’s critical to meet them where they are. Partners like Armadillo, a home warranty programme that is a part of our marketplace, are doing just that. We're starting to see more and more companies adopt this digital-first mindset, and we want them to be part of our ecosystem.”
“The InsurTech space is seeing exponential growth. More and more solutions are coming to market. It's important as an organisation that we have a strategy on how to approach it. But one recipe for how it doesn't work is to focus on the technology first and then find a place to plug it! Our approach is to come together and identify the problems, then go out and find technology that solves those problems.”
That said, he believes in keeping a proverbial ear to the ground, constantly meeting with the innovators bringing these solutions to the table. NFP's innovation lab doesn't set out to create blue-sky solutions; instead, it streamlines and standardises the way it interacts with the innovator community, assessing their solutions and bringing them into its ecosystem – whether established players like Applied Systems and Salesforce, startups such as TrustLayer and Armadillo, or carriers such as Aflac.
Rejuvenating the elderly insurance industry
Rieder is convinced the insurance business is at an inflection point and ready for a big shake-up, so it is critical to be acting on a plan. But he also thinks that, with the pace of technological advancements, it's delusional to think that a detailed five-year-plan is feasible.
While it's important to know the direction of travel, things are currently moving too fast, so the key is to always be adaptive. “For too long, our industry seems to have been in a bubble, but that bubble is starting to pop. As this happens, stagnant thinking companies will struggle to keep market share. Insurance will always be about identifying trends and mitigating risk, but now the industry must take a leap and embrace the new tools that can assist in doing so in a more effective way. There’s so much room for automation of the mundane day-to-day tasks that folks are executing on a regular basis. This is our focus .”
“Can we create a better environment for our employees and make it an industry that young people coming out of college really want to get involved with? They don’t want to plug and chug along with spreadsheets – they don't even know what that is! So, if we want to attract and retain employees, we need to focus on them, not just our customers.
“Better customer experience will come about if we create a better experience for our employees.”