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How Northwestern Mutual’s Digital Transformation Drives Advisor and Client Engagement

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Sometimes, in the rush to digitally transform, we leave behind the people we’re trying to help. Next-gen portals and platforms promise real-time, personalized experiences. But if those experiences are flawed, then the best of intentions can turn into disappointing realities.

Life insurance carriers who don’t approach development of new digital initiatives with a customer-first POV all too often find out that new is not always improved.

One of the best examples of this challenge I’ve heard came from a recent Life Accelerated podcast in which Christian Mitchell, Chief Customer Officer at Northwestern Mutual, described his struggles in developing their advisor PX platform.

Why Northwestern Mutual created PX

Northwestern mutual had decided to build a proprietary financial planning platform because planning is core to the company’s go-to-market strategy‒and has been for decades. It’s rooted in the organization’s DNA. Specifically, they strongly believe in delivering a holistic solution to meeting their clients’ financial needs, one that mixes insurance and investment elements. Together these two types of solutions can drive higher returns while reducing risk.

It is critical that they own that capability. And so they needed a software solution that could uncover the full spectrum of client needs and provide holistic solutions‒while creating superior experiences for both client and advisor.

Northwestern Mutual’s solution? The PX platform for advisors.

Problem was, the whole approach to developing PX in its first iteration was immaculately planned. Completely rigorous. It just didn’t involve the advisors who were going to use it.

We were starting from a deficit in terms of the hearts and minds of our advisors. We had a tool that is, maybe something someone would love, but just didn't meet the reality of what our clients and advisors need.

Christian Mitchell, Chief Customer Officer, Northwestern Mutual

Product design can’t be based on theory or abstractions

The development team was very focused on getting PX academically, right. But less attention was paid to how the solution would actually work once an advisor engaged with it and how clients would react to it.

Unfortunately, the initial rollout was not successful‒almost worse than starting from zero. Advisor reaction was not at all what the company had envisioned. The platform’s CX underpinnings, which had always been a driver for the project, needed to get a lot more focused and a lot more effective.

And that is when Christian was given responsibility for PX.

How Northwestern Mutual eliminated the advisor trust gap

He faced a couple of significant challenges. The first, how to clarify the strategy and align efforts amongst the different teams and talent sets assigned to the initiative. But also, to work with the field force to turn the solution into something they would really embrace.

What PX needed was advisor involvement in the design process-to understand their POV and get feedback on how they would actually use the platform in front of their clients. It wouldn’t be easy.

The advisor side of digital transformation

Re-imagining the PX platform meant determining how best to combine the technology with the human aspect. What advisors are very adept at doing is using their communication and relationship-building skills to engage clients‒understand their situation, their hopes, needs, and dreams. And, from there, be able to show them the best page or the visualization to help that client understand their specific financial situation and take action on it.

For the development team, the challenge was to build in enough flexibility so that the advisors could express that intuitive side, without building a tool that was so open-ended it admitted the prospect of providing bad advice. The balance would be struck through rounds of meetings with top advisors, gathering feedback and tailoring the platform so that it allowed them freedom, was appealing to their clients and still ensured customers got the best possible advice.

No advisor left behind

Today the PX platform is a wonderful, experience for Northwestern Mutual advisors. The pages come to life for their clients. It harnesses the synergies between various risk products, and investments.

It is a platform that we really developed in tight partnership with our advisors, and is really bespoke to the way that our advisors like to go to market, which is very comprehensive planning, really getting to know our clients, their hopes and dreams.

Christian Mitchell, Chief Customer Officer, Northwestern Mutual

Christian Mitchell and everyone who contributed to the project were able to successfully embed humanity in the core of the design so that PX delivers the exceptional advisor and client transformative experiences they envisioned when the project was conceived.

To find out what lasting lessons Northwestern Mutual learned from their PX platform experience and discover best practices you can apply to your own digital transformation, check out the podcast.

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