By definition, insurance is financial protection from uncertainty. The uncertainty of the global pandemic has made businesses and individuals much more risk averse.
While our outlook to taking out insurance may have changed due to the effects of COVID-19, NFP’s timely digital transformation has armed their employees to successfully work remotely within the new business landscape and helped them engage with clients around the world.
“I think there is now an appreciation for protecting yourself against risks
that you may not foresee,” said Mike Goldman, President and Chief Operating Officer of NFP, speaking from their offices in New York City.
NFP is regarded as a growth company driven by its ability to attract high-performing firms, expand their community and be a catalyst to elevate value for their clients. It prides itself on having a personal touch and makes it clear they ‘start the conversations that create a more secure future for everyone’.
As a leading insurance broker NFP specialises in property and casualty, corporate benefits, retirement and individual solutions and continuously empowers businesses to ‘build from their foundations to grow and flourish’.
Founded in 1998 NFP has offices in the United States, Canada, Europe and Puerto Rico with teams specialising in all industries from sports to healthcare and transport. They enable client success through the expertise of their professionals, investments in innovative technologies and by establishing enduring relationships with highly rated insurers, vendors and financial institutions.
A former attorney, Goldman joined NFP in 2001 and served in a number of diverse roles before becoming the head of Mergers & Acquisitions in 2005. He became chief operating officer in 2013, and in 2018 he added president to his title while also taking on NFP's emerging InsurTech/FinTech/Digital Health Venture Investment Fund, driving the company’s active and deliberate investment in technology.
NFP’s philosophy is that innovation starts with inclusivity. While technology brings innovation to life, they think that true innovation brings value to everyday lives by solving problems, enhancing convenience and reducing costs.
Timely digital transformation
NFP started the digital transformation of the business four to five years ago - which was a timely move in light of how the pandemic accelerated remote working practices for their 5,800+ employees.
“We feel pretty lucky because a couple of years ago we made some very significant investments on the technology side of the equation,” said Goldman. “We moved all of our operations to a common agency management system and we moved everyone to Salesforce on the front-end of the house, investing a lot in our technology platforms. We moved to a place where we could effectively have our entire workforce go remote without missing a beat.
“We were able to put people on Zoom and Microsoft Teams and have them in front of clients even from their homes. It proved to us that you can get stuff done even in remote environments. It showed us that our employees could collaborate and service our clients just as effectively as before,” commented Goldman.
“We could also see the real benefit and resulting business value of the systems we'd invested in like Salesforce, and being more forward thinking about where our pipelines were. I do think it helped accelerate some things for us,” he said.
“I'm proud of how we have shown a lot of resiliency in the environment. We’re pretty optimistic that as vaccines roll out, we'll be getting back to a more normal environment. When you look at what played out in 2020, which entailed a lot of risks for people, the value of the services and the products we provide really stood out in this environment and helped protect our clients and enable them hopefully to get through this,” he said.
Goldman pointed out that NFP found themselves advising clients on an increased array of services than what they were doing before the pandemic. “We held seminars around availing yourself of small business loans, addressing cyber vulnerabilities, proactively supporting employee well-being, creating policies for employees working from home and other challenges and opportunities emerging from the pandemic. We felt we had the ability to introduce experts to our clients and help them navigate through this environment.
“I think that the biggest message is if you're thoughtful about protecting yourself and your business against risks - and you take a long-term view - even when there are bumps in the road like we hit this past year, you'll get to the other side of them stronger than how you went into them,” he said.
Innovation and venture
Goldman said NFP formed both an innovation lab and a venture fund to stay informed and play an active role in solving client problems with innovative solutions. “The thought process behind that was there were so many new technologies coming to market and things that frankly we thought could be advantageous from a client perspective,” he said.
“We really wanted to be thoughtful, consistent and deliberate about how we evaluated opportunities. We wanted to have a central place to funnel ideas, evaluate them and make decisions about supporting them and promoting them to our clients.”
This led to NFP investing in Indio - a company that simplifies the insurance application process to make it fast, collaborative and easy for the client to use. “We rolled out Indio across many of our offices in the fall,” said Goldman, who pointed out that NFP’s philosophy is to invest in companies that add real value and create solutions that will be helpful to clients’ businesses.
“We were able to help them drive to a much more positive result and it ultimately ended up in a very successful acquisition for them. That's just one example, but what really differentiates us is our ability to solve the holistic problem of how our clients interact with insurance carriers and how data is exchanged throughout that process,” he said.
Goldman pointed out the insurance and financial services industry has tended to lag behind in the introduction of new technology citing how onerous the manually intensive process to acquire life insurance was in the past.
“The goal and the expectation is that you get better and you improve and you make it more seamless for people. That's really how we've been thinking about things and how we can expedite that process and make it much easier. If that involves making investments or getting behind solutions, coming to market and helping show the insurance carriers why those solutions are better, then we can be a real expediter in that process,” said Goldman.
“Our clients are able to look back and learn from their own data and get it in a digestible way that can inform decisions that impact their business. Our perspective is that we are the advisor and we have a unique vantage point in really seeing and improving the full chain of that process.”
Technology as a problem solver
Goldman pointed out that during NFP’s digital transformation the impetus was put on how technology should be used to solve problems and make the insurance buying process easier for clients.
“We did decide to move all of our own information to the cloud because we thought it was a much more nimble kind of process. We continue to have a flexible environment around technology so we can plug things in or out as they become better for us and for our clients. It’s been our philosophy to be as flexible as we can with technology because the pace of change isn’t slowing down,” commented Goldman
“We’ve been very fortunate to work with a number of companies that share our views on what it means to be a good partner and provide leading technical solutions. Applied Systems, which provides insurance agency management software, Mitel on the cloud VoiP telecom front, Maureen Data Systems (MDS) and Motifworks on our cloud infrastructure and application strategy – these stand out as organisations who see every interaction as a collaboration. They listen and work really hard to earn and maintain trust, and it shows in their results.”
NFP has the advantage of being an agile private company, giving them a competitive advantage. “We've had a consistent investment group that's been with us since 2013 and wants to continue with us. They understand our business, they understand our strategic vision, and frankly, they allow us to execute with little to no distractions,” said Goldman.
“We were a public company for a long time and I think most public company leaders would agree that there are plenty of distractions - we just don't have those now.”
Goldman stressed that NFP also stands out from its competitors due to the fact the company has an engaging culture and listens to its employees.
“The level of engagement and passion that our people have for serving clients and for supporting each other is really great. I think we have an incredibly collaborative environment and people are really focused on getting the best possible results for clients. That has enabled us to be a very innovative, nimble company.”
Goldman outlined the key challenges posed by the pandemic from remote working to welcoming new employees who have to embrace the NFP culture over a Microsoft Teams meeting.
“We continue to operate in a somewhat unnatural environment and everyone is still, for most aspects of their work life, working remotely.
“The challenge is really to continue to keep people engaged and focused. You have to be very deliberate about what your communications are and make sure that you're communicating frequently with each other because you don't have the ability to just stop by someone’s office or serendipitously run into people in the hall to exchange ideas and thoughts.
“You really have to be very proactive in reaching out to people and communicating. We are also consistently bringing new people into the company. So, getting those people up to speed and getting them to feel the culture is just more difficult in this environment,” he said.
Importance of collaborations
According to Goldman the hallmarks of a great collaborator or partner company is a willingness to share data. “Securely and efficiently sharing data is a really important part of our evaluation of who to partner with. We ultimately want to be able to use the data that we have for the benefit of our clients,” he said.
“If we have a concern the data is going to be held up by somebody else or that there could be any impediments to us being able to analyse and use that data, we'd be hesitant to really partner with somebody like that. If they're solving a problem in the value chain that we think has independent value and they're willing to allow us to use the data for our client's benefit, then I think we feel good about that from a collaboration standpoint.”
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