Many advisors and carriers are jumping on to social media in a trial-by-fire manner, tweeting and friending their way through the cyber-forest.
Northwestern Mutual opted to buy its way in. That desire to connect with new markets in new ways was the primary reason behind Northwestern Mutual's 2015 purchase of LearnVest for a reported $250 million.
LearnVest is an online advice platform that also provides one-on-one financial counseling through financial advisors. The purchase shook up the 158-year-old Northwest Mutual, said Pete Peterson, the company’s director of strategy and shared operations.
After all, this is a company whose longtime slogan was "The Quiet Company." Still, the purchase invigorated the advisor force, Peterson said during Thursday's workshop session at LIMRA's 2016 Distribution Conference for Financial Services.
"In my 25 years in the business ... I have never been more excited or having more fun than I am right now," Peterson said.
He was part of a workshop on "client-centric innovation." Fellow panelists included Steve Garrity, chief operating officer and founder of Hearsay Social, and Robert Newman, managing partner of National Planning Corp.
Garrity reminded attendees of the role reversal in financial services. Gone are the days, he said, when an advisor paid for a Yellow Pages ad and waited for people to walk through the door and ask questions.
"You don't control the information flow anymore," he said. "By the time they come in, they already know what they want."
And what customers want is to be able to text their advisor, and maybe to have an impromptu FaceTime chat.
"If we don't support those (tools), somebody else is going to," Garrity said. "And then we're at a competitive disadvantage. ... If you do this right, it's unbelievable how well you'll serve customers."
From his list of tips, Garrity picked out two ways advisor firms can boost their social media presence.
For starters, he urged top executives to "lead by example." When the rank-and-file sees the CEO tweeting and trying new things, technology use spreads through the company, Garrity said.
Second, every company has at least a few people who are adept at social media. Find them, he said.
"You can actually find the five, or 10, or 20 people in your organization who are championing this and then enable them," Garrity said.
Not all results will be positive, the panelists said. Northwestern has had "some rough patches along the way," Peterson said. A company with 4.2 million clients and 16,000 advisors, Northwestern dwarfs LearnVest's approximately 10,000 premium clients and 150-person workforce.
Peterson showed contrasting pictures to highlight the differences: Northwestern's stodgy office boardroom and LearnVest's casual office, populated by employees and their dogs. It's a new world for advisors, he said.
"That is our place to try things and test things out," Peterson said of LearnVest. "We are going to be doing some amazing things for our clients."
InsuranceNewsNet Senior Editor John Hilton has covered business and other beats in more than 20 years of daily journalism. John may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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