Is NFP in the Same Industry We Are?

Whenever one starts a research project they inevitably learn things they had not intended to. In the case of our broker survey we have learned a number of things that surprised us. A case in point is National Financial Partners (NFP). I frankly had never paid much attention to this broker rollup though several friends firms are part of this organization.

Over the weekend based on several email requests I decided to add NFP firms to our survey.

Their corporate website is nice and clean  and like all large broker sites they have a page where you can find firms in your area. They boast an impressive 170 NFP owned firms and 330 affiliates which would give them more physical locations than AON, Mercer and Willis/HRH combined.

On its homepage NFP describes its members in this way:

  • Corporate and individual clients access benefits, insurance and investment solutions through our national network of independently-run financial firms.  NFP’s more than 170 owned firms and more than 330 members specialize in providing financial products and services to companies and high net worth individuals.

Sounds impressive. “High net worth individuals”…

When I went to their annual report looking for a list of firms I found some rather odd language describing their business in the CEO’s introduction to the annual report and status of the company.

  • “Reduced same store operating expenses”
  • “On a same store basis revenue from financial advisory was flat..”
  • “On a same store basis life brokerage revenue declined..”
  • “Retail life insurance… declined…on a same store basis
  • ‘NFP contracts with leading financial service products manufacturers
  • “The NFP Franchise

“Stores” ? “Manufacturers”? “Franchise”?

So is NFP a retailer? Fast food chain? Or a  Franchisor?

No they are financial advisory firm. Right? Serving “high net worth individuals”… Do they go the store for financial services?

As I began looking at their member directory I realized that there were no website links on any firm nor any email addresses. A bit odd and inconvenient for a potential customers who wants to do some online research.  All their competitors make it easy to find a firm’s needed info and today a web address is as important, or more so than a physical one.

Out of 650 firms we surveyed only 2  did not have a site and they were local brokers yet as  I started Googling firms names I discovered that between 20% and 25% of NFP’s members had no website at all. NONE. Not even bad sites.

Is this 1995 or 2009? Don’t “stores” have websites? Financial service providers do.

In fact those that had sites on average ranked lower on average than the independent firms we started the research on. Only 1 shows up in the top 10 on Google in any market. None got a “4” ranking.

Also there was no way to find the 330 partner firms. Who these folks are we will never know. Do they really exist?

So we have a huge disconnect here for a publicly traded company who:

  • Describes itself publicly in high falutin financial services terms.
  • A CEO who describes her business like a retailer, car dealer, fast food or chain restaurant owner.
  • A corporate support website that doesn’t provide the basic links to a web address for its members.
  • And a set of firms whose presence on the web is mediocre with only a few exceptions like Charon Planning and Thorbahn Associates.
  • Over 25 of these prestigious firms  have no web presence at all.

I am not quite sure what to make of this but all I know after 35 years in this industry is that I have never heard of a broker or consultant’s  business described as a “store” before. You don’t see Greg Case at AON or Joe Plumeri of Willis talking about their quality brokerage and consulting operations in terms of  “same store sales”. Agency, firm, brokerage yes.  Store…NO!

Maybe NFP is just like those Progressive commercials with insurance in those little white boxes and the ditzy clerk?

If anyone can enlighten me on this please comment but my sense of NFP based on what they are and are not doing and saying online is that they are not playing in the same league as the other major national firms are or that the local firms are either.

That is good news for their competitors and very bad news for their already battered investors.

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