NICG: Rethinking Human Resources and Benefits in the Changing World

Josh Conklin, Co-Founder, President & Chief Revenue Officer and Zain Hasan, Co-Founder & CEO Imagine the largest uncontrollable item on your P&L spiraling out of control with unsustainable year-on-year increments. In the U.S., healthcare costs drive most of such expenses and are considered the primary reason behind most organizations’ bankruptcies. A majority of U.S. firms depend on insurance brokers, whose primary objective is to make it profitable for health insurance carriers at the expense of unsustainable increases in healthcare cost for employees and employers alike. As a result, patient outcomes in the U.S. are often unsatisfactory, and quality of care suffers because of the healthcare system that is designed for profit instead of patient care quality.

Zain Hasan, with extensive experience in the healthcare insurance brokerage industry, wanted to remove the conflicts of interest that were inherent between organizations and insurance brokers. He states, “The business model of insurance brokerages is broken. A data-driven approach is critical to drive multi-year cost containment strategies. This requires innovation and disruption when compared to your typical fully-insured model in the market where carrier profit rules. We have unraveled the complexity of level-funded and self-funded solutions for our clients and put them in a position to maximize multi-year cost containment strategies while driving better outcomes and engagement for their employees.” Hasan’s aim was to build a firm to offer solutions that remove the misalignments and focus on cost takeout in addition to patient quality outcomes. “As a result, we established a new way and a new firm: National Insurance and HR Consulting Group (NICG),” says Hasan. Through NICG, he created a more transparent, self-funded, and level-funded healthcare insurance practice for small and mid-sized firms. Adding to this, Josh Conklin, the co-founder, president and chief revenue officer of the company, notes, “Through the use of innovative healthcare strategies we are able to put our clients in a position where they can utilize their capital and ROI on their business. This includes a multi-year cost containment strategy, coupled with a solution that promotes an employee engagement culture that our clients are striving for.” Conklin also mentions that the decision from a financial perspective is as important as the impact to the culture of the organization, both short term and long term, and we maximize alternative funding strategies—that are underserved—in a market that typically is focused on a fully-insured delivery model.

"It is not just about selecting an advanced solution; an exceptional HR execution strategy is equally vital"

However, soon after the establishment of NICG, Hasan found that the problem goes beyond just the broker; it is the entire system that is broken. NICG took it up as a mission to fix the broken system. “We wanted to create an approach that will allow us to systematically look at the main drivers that impact the unsustainable costs as well quality of healthcare,” mentions Hasan. But that would only solve half of the equation. The other half—the employee experience and how employees utilize healthcare daily through their HRIS system—remains unsolved. This is where Hasan joined forces with Conklin, a veteran strategist in employee benefits and human capital management, to essentially solve the complete problem.

The Dawn of the HR Technology Marketplace

In today’s world of commerce, the way people purchase has changed dramatically. Modern-day consumers like to research the details of a product, compare its pricing with other similar brands in the market, and check user reviews before purchasing.

Hasan and Conklin wanted to add similar value to the benefits and HR landscape. They combined NICG’s unique healthcare insurance cost containment model with leading-edge HR technologies and people consulting solutions to not only bolster an organization’s benefits administration but also streamline their entire HR processes.

The progressive-minded duo also came forth with a thought-provoking question: “What if there was an agnostic process of purchasing HR technology system that addressed the cumbersome process of evaluating multiple vendors and combined it with people that possessed the functional expertise to maximize those solutions’ potential?” Conklin says, “Today organizations make their buying decisions based on a demo of the technology and its experience, and expect that solution to work seamlessly and effortlessly in their daily workflows.

NICG’s managed services are tailored to the needs of fast-growing startups and organizations seeking to streamline and simplify their HR processes

However, oftentimes, several months later they would call us stating that the application was over-simplified and they are only able to utilize a small fraction of what saw on the demo. This is because the implementation and training of the complete platform is extremely time-intensive and dependent on an understanding the technology at a deep level.”

To alleviate this, Hasan and Conklin created a simple HR tech marketplace consolidating all the options on one simple platform for the buyer, and married that with consultants that can help with the implementation, integration, and optimization of the solution. Human resources officers could then seamlessly evaluate and purchase different HR technology solutions for their organizations from one source, without having to muddle through different portals and product demos. This turned out to be the ‘eureka moment’ for NICG. “This one-of-its-kind marketplace not just aggregates all the best-of-breed HR tech solutions available in the industry, but also combines NICG’s second-to-none insurance cost containment model to impact the largest aspects of an organization’s P&L—namely the labor, tax, benefits, worker’s compensation, and risk,” says Conklin, co-founder, president and chief revenue officer of National HR Consulting (NHRC). Further describing the solution’s capabilities, Hasan states, “NHRC leverages our unique approach of driving the right benefits utilization strategy down to the employee level through the HR tech marketplace.”

Purchasing technology solutions for human capital management has always been considered one of the biggest investments incurred by any company, especially for an organization that is in the mid-market segment. In most of such organizations, the CEOs presume that their CHROs should be proficient in the technical know-how of HR software solutions, and therefore can integrate new technologies with their existing IT architecture with ease. When the HR department fails to do so, the organizations not only endure a financial loss but take a backseat in engaging its workforce. This is where NHRC has been able to strike a difference through its HR technology marketplace approach. Highlighting its robustness, Conklin notes, “We aim to offer a twofold benefit to our clients.” On one hand, National HR effortlessly coalesces all the buying options for a company, thereby dramatically reducing the time taken to purchase a new technology solution (from an average of 120 days to a matter of few days). On the other, NHRC’s team of professionals, having functional expertise in different kinds of HR systems, lends a consultative arm to clients and ensures that the HR technology purchased by them is optimized to the fullest utilization capacity. More often than not, the utilization rate of an average human resource management solution is found to be below 50 percent. The reasons can be manifold: the technology is difficult to comprehend, the systems and modules are not customized to meet the specific requirements of the business, or, oftentimes, the HR managers lack the expertise to reap the best benefits from the solution. “Having spent considerable time in the HR landscape, we are aware of these setbacks. It is not just about selecting an advanced solution; an exceptional HR execution strategy is equally vital. Thus, once we have helped our clients in selecting the perfect solution for their needs, we mobilize our pool of HR tech experts to implement the system in a way that is most beneficial to their business,” asserts Conklin.

Turning Strategy into Execution

When it comes to devising and implementing HR solutions, every organization leaps ahead bearing one goal in their mind: “to evolve as an employer of choice.” To achieve this vision and enhance credibility in the eyes of its employees, the aspects of employee benefits, HR administration, and risk and compliance management play a critical role. Understanding these requisites well, NICG offers a wide-ranging array of strategic HR consulting services. “We prefer calling it business process outsourcing because we enable day-to-day workflows to have less noise, more compliance, and more ease of use,” says Conklin. NICG’s managed services are tailored to the needs of fast-growing startups and organizations seeking to streamline and simplify their HR processes—namely payroll, taxes, compliance, risk management, and benefits administration. Conklin further adds, “We aim to impact the largest items on an organization’s P&L statement. We achieve that through a systematic diagnostic process that allows our clients to clearly see potential outcomes.
While most other companies would only perform diagnosis from the financial side, we tend to take a deeper dive and examine the workflow of the existing HR practices, and then come up with a plan to execute an HR strategy that is unique to the client’s requirements.”

NICG likes to tag themselves as “an extension of your HR team.” “Partnering with us allows organizations to dramatically increase your HR team’s capacity to focus on high ROI strategic initiatives because we quiet the ‘noise’,” asserts Conklin. Substantiating this statement with numbers, Hasan informs, “On an average, our outsourced HR services have helped organizations ensure 40 percent savings in health benefits, improve tactical HR tasks by 32 percent, and bring down the liability of the company by 25 percent through the HR compliance auditing service.” Moreover, when these processes are efficiently tackled externally, HR teams are able to drive higher ROI for their business by focusing on more strategic initiatives such as improving organizational culture, ensuring greater workplace collaboration, and, above all, better employer-employee relation.

Benefits Consulting That Attracts and Retains the Best Talent

Attracting and retaining ‘all-star’ talent is the secret to unlocking organizational prosperity in today’s competitive work environment. Every organization leverages different tactics to ensure greater employee satisfaction: while some espouse the practice of paying higher compensation than the usual market standards, others tend to offer a flexible work schedule. Amid these approaches, offering employee benefits has often emerged as one of the surefire ways of attaining higher employee retention. In fact, a recent study by PwC points out that more than half of the employees consider a good benefits plan offered by the company is a decisive parameter in job satisfaction. However, when it comes to implementing a holistic well-being strategy, most organizations face a conflict of interest with health insurance providers. Backtracking to 2014, this is where NICG’s one of the earliest innovations lay. NICG wanted to bring more transparency to the process, and so created a proprietary model wherein they dissect and assess what’s “broken” in their clients’ healthcare strategy. Identifying the misalignments that are escalating health insurance costs, NICG provides the most actionable cost-containment solution that benefits both employers as well as employees. What makes NICG’s proprietary model even more unique is its consumer-driven approach, down to the employee level. Seeking to drive better employee engagement, NICG employs a geo-sensitive methodology wherein employees get to proactively participate in the process. Instead of providing generic options for urgent care providers, the employees get more advanced features like price comparisons to make more favorable decisions, “which turns out to be beneficial for employers as well,” remarks Hasan. “The process is further incentivized to encourage employees to make cost-efficient choices.”

A Word of Mouth Marketing Approach

NICG is an advocate of the popular phrase: “Actions speak louder than words.” Hasan says, “All of our clients have gotten to know about us through word of mouth. We are usually introduced to our clients by their private equity firm, entrepreneurial organization, or someone from inside the network.” NICG does not believe in— or rather require—a traditional sales distribution model to pitch to clients. “The majority of the companies we deal with lie under one of four categories: ‘rapid growth’, ‘merging and acquiring’, ‘spinoff and divestiture’, or ‘repairing and fixing up’,” says Conklin. “Senior leadership teams and private equity firms engage with us to truly be a partner in deploying a multi-year cost containment health care strategy coupled with transformational HR solutions. The conversation and solutions are part of the same value chain and critical to optimize the end result of improving culture while implementing a rigorous cost containment methodology. That balance is critical for us and our clients. We accomplish this through innovating emerging best practices in health care consulting, coupled with cutting edge technologies that align to the client’s financial and cultural goals,” Conklin adds. The company’s popularity stems from the high economic impact of its HR solutions and services. Elucidating one such case in point, Hasan mentions, “We once did a $1.3 million cost takeout for a fast-growing school.” A private equity group that was on the school’s board was well aware of NICG’s prowess and recommended the school to engage NICG to upgrade their HR architecture. “After going onboard, NICG budgeted a 14 percent renewal rate, modernized their HR technology stack, and saved at least 15 teaching jobs,” highlights Hasan with enthusiasm.

Success stories like these help NICG propel forward. In the journey ahead, NICG—being a people-focused company—not only intends to offer outstanding HR services to augment the employee experience of its clients, but implement a similar milieu in their own workspace, and transpire as “one of the best places to work.” With such uniqueness, Hasan and Conklin firmly believe that their company is poised to usher a new horizon in the human capital management landscape in the coming years.


Fort Lauderdale, FL

Josh Conklin, Co-Founder, President & Chief Revenue Officer and Zain Hasan, Co-Founder & CEO

Specializes in providing a single source solution to everything HR (benefits consulting, technology, and people)