A Team Approach to Enhancing the Client Services Experience

A Conversation with Evamarie Schoenborn, Northwestern Mutual

In this first episode of our Wealth Management Leadership podcast series, SIFMA President & CEO Kenneth E. Bentsen, Jr. sits down with Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management Company President & CEO Evamarie Schoenborn for a discussion about how the firm’s use of advisory teams has enhanced the advisor-client relationship, her approach to leadership and more. The podcast explores how Northwestern Mutual’s advisory teams create a more intimate and responsive experience for clients. It looks at the benefits and opportunities for growth among team leaders, and how advisory teams help enhance the firm’s diversity of thought and talent recruitment.


About SIFMA’s Wealth Management Leadership Podcast Series

The financial advisor-retail client relationship is critical to helping retail investors accomplish their unique financial goals, including saving for retirement, funding a child’s education, buying a home or creating a legacy.

In this podcast series, SIFMA President & CEO Kenneth E. Bentsen, Jr. speaks with wealth management industry leaders for an insider’s look into the advisor-client relationship. The financial services industry deeply believes we must boost retirement savings, enable Americans to save more, promote financial literacy and support a strong retail investor culture. This exciting new podcast series looks at how SIFMA member firms have enhanced the client experience by exploring innovative approaches to drive client engagement including teaming, exploring demographic trends and the role technology plays in wealth management.



Edited for clarity

Ken Bentsen: I’m Ken Bentsen, President and CEO of SIFMA, and I want to welcome you to the SIFMA podcast. Today we’re joined by Evamarie Schoenborn, President and CEO of Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management Company, for a discussion on how the use of advisory teams enhances the client experience and fosters positive growth among the workforce. As President and CEO, Evamarie is responsible for the overall business strategy for Northwestern Mutual’s Retail Investment Products and Services, which includes the company’s advisory programs, personal trust services, private client services, discretionary investment management, and fee-based financial planning.

Her team supports more than 8,000 Northwestern Mutual Financial Advisors working with clients nationwide. Evamarie also plays a formal role in Northwestern Mutual’s diversity and inclusion efforts and actively advocates for investor success and greater diversity within the industry. Finally, we’re proud to have Evamarie as the Co-Chair of SIFMA’s Private Client Group and a member of the SIFMA Advisory Council.

When planning for the future, the advisor-client relationship is ever-evolving. And we continue to hear about the innovative approaches adopted by SIFMA member firms to better engage with their clients as they help them plan financially for the future. Today, we’ll hear about how Northwestern Mutual is finding success in their comprehensive approach to client service by encouraging advisors to build teams and supporting them in that endeavor.

On that note, Evamarie, thank you for joining us. And maybe you could start by telling us about what a strong advisory team looks like from Northwestern Mutual’s perspective and why you were encouraging this client service model.

Evamarie Schoenborn: Thank you so much, Ken. It’s such a pleasure to be here with you today to talk about how our advisors are serving their clients. And so we have noticed that our advisors and their teams have told us that performance is expected. Responsiveness is required. But creating intimate experiences is where that value really comes and how clients and their families feel understood and heard, the sense of shared intimacy in the relationship.

And how that intimacy gets created is oftentimes not just between the advisor and the client and their family but between the advisor and the team and the family. And part of that is kind of threaded into what I just got done saying about performance is expected, responsiveness is required. And so as our advisors have grown their practices, in order to provide that sense of responsiveness to our clients, our advisors have had to expand their thinking about their service model because the advisor are serving so many clients, it can no longer be this one-to-one relationship but maybe more of a five-to-one.

So an advisor may have four different people on the team that the client is aware of and has a relationship with so that, at any point in time, there are five different people that understand this client intimately, their wants, their needs, their dreams, their aspirations. And so as advisors build out their teams, they’re thinking about how do they create that sense of intimacy. And many of our advisors who’ve been very successful in serving many clients are thinking about how do they do what they do best and then get other people to complement them in terms of chief operating officers.

So as advisors grow, they see this need to better serve their clients and families, and then they expand their team to complement their skillset by adding a Chief Operating Officer, and then other roles within the team, client service members, operations people. But the client is not then only aware of the advisor in the relationship but is aware of the team. So it’s a surround-sound for the client and their family with many people understanding what the desires and aspirations are for the client and their family.

Ken: So you put it — there’s a lot in there that you just laid out. But one thing maybe to dig into it, you talk about your advisors who built their book of business; they have multiple clients that they’ve worked with over the years. Are there challenges to taking an advisor who’s worked solo all this time and getting them to move to the team model?

Evamarie: Yeah, I think some of the challenges are for advisors to think of themselves as leaders rather than just advisors. And an advisor is naturally drawn to being a leader of a relationship. But when you’re a leader of a team, that’s a different skill set. And so really thinking about what does it mean when you’re leading a team, and what are the different roles within this practice that need to be delivered upon in order to achieve that level of exceptional service.

So when it’s all just you, you know the playbook intuitively in your head. But now, if you’re going to create a surround-sound relationship with a client and their family, it can no longer just be you with the playbook. Now every person on the team has to have a consistent understanding of what exceptional looks like so that no matter who picks up the phone, the client has the kind of experience that you, Ken Bentsen, are known for, right?

So there is a brand that goes along with that experience. And in order to have a team that’s effective, there needs to be an operating rhythm created across the team so that everyone has one view of how we serve our clients. So again, regardless of who picks up the phone, there is this sense of urgency, responsiveness, and intimacy.

Ken: And so you touched on this both in the comments you just made and before, but maybe to dig a little deeper, how would you define the benefits to the clients who are working with an advisor who has such a robust team?

Evamarie: I think the benefits to clients and families is that, when a client/family member picks up the phone to speak with someone from that team, everybody on that team can be responsive to their needs. So you’re not just reliant upon Evamarie being in the office. It could be Evamarie or anyone from the team who will have an understanding of your hopes, dreams, and aspirations.

And I think that that’s really what’s important these days. I think now more than ever, clients want to be understood. They want their goals to be shared goals with their advisor and their team. And I think that it just creates so much more capacity for demonstrating value when you have this team environment.

Ken: You know, you and I spoke on a podcast last June of 2020, which seems like a lifetime ago during the height of the pandemic. And you were talking about how COVID changed the way your advisor teams interacted with clients, explaining [to them] talking about the use of Zoom and other technologies that actually improved interactions, led to more real conversations with clients about their goals. Now more than a year later, what have your teams learned, and are there any new approaches or practices your teams used during the pandemic that you see continuing?

Evamarie: I think it’s really interesting. What we’ve seen is that advisors and their teams have been able to keep more appointments, and appointments are actually on time because it’s Zoom, right? So you hit the ‘Leave’ button at the top of the hour and you’re on to your next appointment. So I think the benefit of the pandemic has been that people have become much more comfortable with technology and having virtual meetings. And we expect that this will continue.

In talking with advisors and their teams, many clients have expressed a preference for meeting via videoconference. And I think that that will continue. The benefit to the clients is that they don’t have to deal with traffic, parking, any of those things. Now advisors, though, are being very strategic because when they are having in-person meetings, they’re really investing in the relationship. So they’re using Zoom or Ring Central as a way to do a touch base.

But then they’re thinking strategically about then, how do I want to use my in-person time? And I think that that’s what we’ll see evolve is how advisors develop and nurture relationships in a multifaceted way. Whereas perhaps in the past people have felt forced to be in person for these kinds of interim meetings, I think they’ll be a lot more using Zoom, Ring Central to facilitate those touch bases, and then investing really in the relationship when it comes to in-person.

But it’s pretty exciting. You know, we’ve seen a significant uplift in productivity as a result of this ability for advisors to really move through their day in a virtual way. So it’s been really good. I think clients feel well cared for. And we’ve helped a lot of people understand how to use technology.

Ken: Yeah, [at that]. And it’s interesting, you’re right, you don’t have traffic issues; you take some of the stress out of it. And to your point about enhancing the value of the in-person meetings, we just recently had a meeting of — an in-person meeting of our board for the first time in a year and a half. And we’ve had a lot of meetings on Zoom; we’ll have more meetings on Zoom. But it really, one, it was great to get together, but two, it really — I mean, it proved to be an extremely valuable meeting because I think people were eager to engage.

But we still are leveraging the technology in between. And I agree, I think this is something we’re going to see across multiple practices going forward. I want to go back to the team model. You talked about building a — that the advisor needs to become really, besides taking care of their client, they need to be building and managing a team to take care of the client.

How do you see this as an opportunity for, not just in building a team and building out the team’s capabilities, but also providing mentorship to new and aspiring advisors as well as benefits to some of the more seasoned professionals? And have you seen both bringing up new talent but also enhancing your current advisors’ capabilities?

Evamarie: Yeah, absolutely. So I think it’s really interesting because there’re high barriers to entry in this business. There’re a lot of people who might not feel as confident to enter this business because you have to get to a certain level to be successful at it. So this is a lower barrier way to enter the business is to become part of an advisor’s team and by seeing how advisors interact with clients and how they add value. And you can learn about the financial services industry kind of from the ground up.

You could start in an advisor’s practice as a client service person and get exposed to investments, because I think investments are a scary thing for a lot of people. You know, I had a formal education, but when I actually got into the business, I understood that I didn’t know anything, right? So to get into the business in a way that you can learn from a client experience perspective, you can hear how advisors talk about investments, you can hear how advisors talk about shaping clients’ futures and creating hope for the future.

I think it changes the narrative about what we do as an industry. I don’t know that there’s a better way than to join an advisor on their team and then grow with that advisor. And so advisors, every one of them has different kinds of language that they use when they’re helping people think through their life situations. And what better way to learn that than being part of an advisor’s practice, being part of an advisor’s team.

And so I really think what — the value that it provides to these younger people who join the teams is immeasurable. But then equally, these younger people challenge advisors to think differently about what will be required to serve younger people in the market. And so I think it’s really the symbiotic relationship as advisors hire younger people on their teams. But our advisors are equally hiring professionals, so inviting people from other professions onto their teams because there’s a tremendous amount of value in that diversity of thought and experience.

So I think that our advisors are really maturing in their way of thinking about how to serve clients and their families.

Ken: And taking it a step further, how do you see this benefiting efforts that you all have at Northwestern Mutual and across the industry, both in attracting a new generation of advisors but also adding more diversity to the core of advisors? Is the team model proving to be beneficial in that way as well?

Evamarie: I think the team model is, for our advisors who are growing their businesses. [But] equally here at Northwestern Mutual, our career distribution leadership team and our managing partners and managing directors have done a fantastic job of bringing the value proposition of financial advice, financial security to diverse audiences. And in fact, 44 percent — 44 percent of our new advisors last year were women or people of color.

And so that’s a pretty fantastic stat. But I think that we owe that all to our field leadership who’s really out there reaching different audiences with the message of how great a career this can be. Now that’s not to say that our advisors, as they’re building their businesses, equally aren’t successful in inviting people in. As I mentioned, I think that there’s a terrific opportunity [to be on] advisors’ teams. But there’s also an opportunity to be a financial advisor and start your own business and help your community.

And I think that our advisors — our field leaders are doing a financial job at that.

Ken: Yeah, that’s great. I mean, and that 44 percent is an incredibly impressive number. And you make an excellent point as well that it’s — on the one hand, it’s the importance of recruiting and training and matriculating talent in the industry. But equally important, as you noted, is we have a very — we have an increasingly diverse population and an increasingly diverse consumer base or customer base. And so the importance of financial education is always important and increasingly important. And obviously, no better place than through the financial advisory channel in taking that on.

Finally, what does the future hold for advisory teams and their role in the way the industry approaches client service?

Evamarie: You know, Ken, I recently got a very complimentary email from one of our clients. And what was interesting is they said nothing about performance. What they said is that our team, our advisors and the people in the home office working with them, were authentic, intimate, and accessible. And so I really think that while we are in the investments business, what differentiates the experience for clients is being authentic, intimate, and accessible. And the way to achieve that is through teams.

So that would be my thought on where the future is headed is how do we create this experience that is authentic, intimate, and accessible.

Ken: That’s great. Evamarie, I can’t thank you enough for doing another podcast with us. We’ll have to do another down the road. And thank all of our listeners as well. And for more information on the role of financial advice and on the securities and financial markets industry more generally, please visit www.sifma.org. And thank you all for listening, and thank you again, Evamarie.

Amena RossEvamarie Schoenborn is president of Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management Company (NMWMC). She is responsible for the overall business strategy for Northwestern Mutual’s retail investment products and services, and regulatory strategy for NMWMC, including management of the NMWMC Board.

Chantelle CoubaKenneth E. Bentsen, Jr. is President and CEO of SIFMA. Mr. Bentsen is also the CEO of the Global Financial Markets Association (GFMA), SIFMA’s global affiliate.