Northwestern Mutual taking human-plus-technology approach
In early 2015, when nearly 160-year-old Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. announced it was acquiring 6-year-old online financial planning firm LearnVest Inc., it wasn’t clear to observers how the old and new would mesh.
Would LearnVest and its employees be completely absorbed into the much bigger parent company?
Would Northwestern Mutual let LearnVest and its technology team operate entirely as a separate company, without efforts to integrate its expertise into the insurance side of the business?
Would LearnVest just become a product that agents could offer to their clients?
It turns out that none of the above scenarios has occurred. Instead, Northwestern Mutual has used the technology and employee know-how of LearnVest to create a new online platform that helps policy owners craft and monitor – with advice from their financial rep – a personal comprehensive financial plan.
The new client website, which can include up-to-date data on personal financial accounts, insurance coverage and other information, acts as sort of a financial GPS – global positioning system – to help keep a financial plan on course, said Timothy G. Schaefer, Northwestern Mutual’s executive vice president for client and digital experience.
“It allows the adviser to really spend time thinking about the right paths and strategy for the client,” Schaefer said. “It allows the client to really engage in conversations about what it is they’re trying to achieve.”
As Northwestern Mutual financial representatives come to Milwaukee this weekend for their 136th Annual Meeting of the Association of Network Representatives, the complementary relationship of people plus technology in the insurance business is likely to be a topic often discussed.
Northwestern Mutual recently published results of a survey that asked consumers how they would prefer to receive financial advice. The majority – 54% — said the ideal solution combines a human relationship with technology.
That’s what Northwestern Mutual now is offering and working to enhance.
While so-called “robo-advisers” – inexpensive online financial planning tools that invest and re-balance in line with a customer’s risk tolerance and growth targets – are expected to increase greatly over time, both Northwestern Mutual and LearnVest value human interaction as well as financial technology.
LearnVest, which still offers its financial planning software to consumers for a $299 set-up fee and then $19 a month for ongoing support, starts out with a consultation with a human financial adviser.
In seeking collaboration and integration after the merger, Northwestern Mutual and LearnVest teams launched two efforts designed to help them make sure they’re giving financial reps and clients what they need and want from the company’s online financial planning platform.
The Digital Experience Lab includes 700 advisers and staff who give the company feedback on the platform, while the Client Insight Community generates feedback from policy owners.
Schaefer said the ability of Northwestern Mutual policy owners to log in to the company’s personal finance website can help “make it relevant to them every day and get them connected with their money” on a daily basis.
“It allows them to both understand when they’re making great choices and building the right financial habits, but also help guide them back to the right path that they’ve planned out on those occasions where people make a decision to be impulsive and spend some money on something that they haven’t planned,” he said.
Among benefits of Northwestern Mutual’s human-plus-technology offering is that it’s available for people at all ends of the income spectrum, Schaefer said. Many financial advisory firms only want clients who already have accumulated substantial assets, he said.
“We really focus on meeting people early in life and helping them realize their potential by better financial habits, better financial planning — so we really see an opportunity,” Schaefer said.
The annual meeting of financial representatives starts Saturday in Milwaukee and continues into Wednesday.
The event is expected to draw 10,000 people — reps, family and staff — from across the U.S. and have an estimated economic impact of $12.9 million locally, according to Visit Milwaukee.
“We are thrilled to welcome Northwestern Mutual back to Milwaukee once again,” Paul Upchurch, president and chief executive of Visit Milwaukee, said in a statement. “Northwestern Mutual represents the largest convention of our year and has a tremendous impact on our area’s economy.”
Northwestern Mutual will be conducting events and seminars at the Wisconsin Center, BMO Harris Bradley Center and metro hotels such as the Hilton Milwaukee City Center, Hyatt Regency Milwaukee, InterContinental Hotel & Resort and Pfister. Gatherings and events also are planned at Discovery World and the Milwaukee County Zoo.