Innovation appears to be the operative word these days at the NFP. The insurance and benefits brokerage recently announced the creation of a $30 million venture fund to find innovative partnerships and technology investments in the HR, insurance and financial-services arenas.

Similar efforts include the NFP Innovation Lab, which conducts ongoing market research for benchmarking purposes, and an Innovation Alley feature from the firm’s annual user conference. It has been rolled out across various regions with client symposiums or roundtables. The aim is to showcase bleeding edge products and services.

“I think it's our responsibility as advisers to stay current with innovation in our industry and bring that forward to our customers,” explains Mark Rieder, SVP of HR technology and benefits administration services at NFP.

With more than 150 offices across the U.S., he says NFP’s insurance agents and benefit advisers were hard-pressed to adequately research “every piece of new software and technology out there, and there was no standard by which we would source and vet the technology to make sure it was a legitimate product with legitimate backing, had a strong executive team and great value proposition.”

Shawn Ellis, managing director of venture and innovation at NFP, references his firm’s longstanding commitment to partnering with leading innovators across diverse lines of business, citing bswift as an HR tech example. He recently joined the company after stints with Zest Health and 7wire Ventures.

A combination of acquisitions and organic growth landed NFP in the No. 10 spot on the latest annual ranking of 50 largest employee benefit brokers by Employee Benefit Adviser done in partnership with miEdge. The firm has a corporate client base of 50,000.

In the current tight labor market, there’s growing interest across NFP’s book of business around talent management and recruitment strategies in the HR tech arena. A group of clients recently huddled to discuss ways to create a new benefits package geared toward millennials. Another area ripe for further examination revolves around clients digging into costly medical claims and increasing employee engagement to make better healthcare decisions.

Taking aim at financial wellness

Within the employee benefits space, NFP clients are seeking partnerships with leading innovators to help improve financial wellness, as well as more effectively manage and mitigate the cost of chronic disease states. Ellis describes this search as “a virtuous circle” wherein customer feedback flows in a timely manner and leads to better decisions that also leverage NFP’s national footprint.

NFP’s Innovation Lab will create standards for sourcing new platforms to help identify “exciting partnerships that will ultimately benefit our clients and advance our position as an industry thought leader,” according to Mike Goldman, president and COO of NFP.

Aligning with innovators has become almost indispensible for benefit brokers and advisers, according to Ellis. Without such partnerships, they may run the risk of losing market share. “The lesson for the industry at large is you can partake in that innovation process and continue to be at the table or shy away from it, and if the latter, then you're facing disruption,” he says.

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