It has been quite a year for Alera Group. Since joining 24 firms together to become the nation’s seventh largest employee benefits firm, the Deerfield, Ill.-based brokerage has plans to grow even more.

In January, 24 independent employee benefit, P&C, risk management and wealth management firms across 15 states — with $158 million in annual revenues and 20,000-plus clients —joined together to form Alera Group.

Since then, Alera grew organically at just over 10% in the first quarter of 2017, with similar results expected in the second-quarter, says Rob Lieblein, Alera’s chief development officer. He adds that the firm has also hired numerous producers who have a strong focus and attention on organic growth.

The firm recently completed two acquisitions, acquiring employee benefits firms AIC Denver LLC on June 1 and Group Benefits LLC of Memphis, Tenn. on July 1.

Some of the acquisitions have been to cover a geographical market where Alera Group did not have a presence or the firm wanted to expand, says Lieblein, who is also a member of EBA’s Advisory Board. Others were “roll-in” acquisitions where Alera acquired smaller firms with around $2 million in revenue that were having a difficult time accessing resources, such as technology and capital, says Liebelin.

“We found those firms fit in very well culturally with an existing firm that was in their market,” he explains. “They work closely with the local Alera Group firm.”

Alera is currently in serious discussions with more than 40 firms for acquisition. The firms have provided Alera financial information and range from $2 million to $50 million plus in revenue across employee benefits and P&C.

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“Our story has been very well received by the marketplace,” Liebelin says. “We have been able to show we have a different business model compared to the other firms out there. We are [also] doing things that help us create a competitive advantage in the marketplace.”

That competitive advantage, he explains, is partially built around a distributed equity model, which allows any firm joining Alera to give equity to other people in their firm, from producer to account executive and beyond.

“This is not an ESOP,” Lieblein says, “it is regular ownership, just like the original founding partners have.”

“That is attractive because people want to reward their people not just for what they did prior to joining Alera but also to have them incentivized and to have the same goals, which is to grow the value of Alera over a long period of time,” he adds. “These people are getting a real opportunity to get equity and stock that can create significant wealth for them over time.”