2012 Policyowners' Examining Committee Report
Since 1907, a group of three to five policyowners has been given unrestricted access to the company to independently evaluate its operations, management and strategic plans. Each year, the committee’s findings are published in the Annual Report. The 2012 committee’s complete report is printed here.
Pictured left to right: Alyssa Altman, vice president and business unit lead, SapientNitro, a division of Sapient Corp., Chicago, Illinois; Bryan Timm, chief operating officer and executive vice president, Columbia Sportswear Company, Portland, Oregon; William Harvey, president, DuPont Packaging & Industrial Polymers, Wilmington, Delaware; Bradley Winquist, president, owner and director, Circuit Services Group, Inc., Pewaukee, Wisconsin; and Pamela Liebman, (Chair) president and CEO, The Corcoran Group, New York, New York.
We’re honored to serve as this year’s Policyowners’ Examining Committee. As members of the committee, we had a chance to spend several days at Northwestern Mutual’s home office talking to leaders, learning more about the company’s strategy and hearing perspectives from the field force.
We would like to begin our 2012 report by recognizing the importance of Northwestern Mutual’s financial strength. The company has shown resilience through the economic downturn by maintaining its strong surplus, industry-leading dividend payout and the highest financial strength ratings awarded to any life insurer. In times of economic uncertainty, people are looking for the stability and security that Northwestern Mutual provides. This is reflected in the company’s strong product sales from both new and existing clients. To continue to grow and thrive in the future, the company must further evolve to meet changing demographics, consumer preferences and economic challenges. This will involve moving forward on the company’s agenda to address internal and external issues and considering action that is even more bold and visionary.
We believe that by building on the past, adapting to the present and thoughtfully looking forward, Northwestern Mutual’s leaders will ensure a secure future for policyowners, the field force and employees for decades to come.
Northwestern Mutual is engaging with prospects, policyowners and its field in bold new ways. The company’s brand-building efforts are raising visibility of the company and the value of working with a Northwestern Mutual financial representative – or even becoming one. In particular, the company’s partnership with the NCAA® is building national brand awareness while also strengthening local ties through sponsorships in the communities the company serves.
The trusted, personal connection between clients and financial representatives has always been crucial to Northwestern Mutual’s success, and social media provides a new way to foster those connections. We applaud the company’s efforts in branding and social media because it’s another way to build relationships and share Northwestern Mutual’s unique approach to financial planning.
With economic uncertainty affecting consumer confidence, the company’s insurance and investment products, knit together by a holistic planning approach, give people confidence to achieve their financial security goals. We were pleased to see all three elements of the company’s go-to-market strategy in action, including increased marketing and brand awareness, a close connection between representatives and clients, and the integration of products and planning to help clients meet their needs.
We encourage the company to enhance its awareness and ability to react to market opportunities. The demographic face of Northwestern Mutual’s market is changing. In order to bring financial security to more people, the company must meaningfully diversify the ethnic and gender makeup of its field force. We recommend continuing the company’s successful field internship program while also exploring new ways to recruit financial representatives in the future.
Opportunities for growth also abound within the company’s current client base. The planning process must be brought to all existing clients so they can fully achieve financial security. Furthermore, planning can better span generations of clients by bringing heirs and beneficiaries into the policyowner family. We believe a stronger focus on reaching generations of clients is imperative to the company’s growth strategy.
While devoted to the longstanding principles of mutuality, doing what’s right and putting policyowners first, Northwestern Mutual’s culture continues to evolve. Change, embodied in the mantra of “the best must get better,” has characterized Chairman and CEO John Schlifske’s leadership. John has championed advances in talent management, employee engagement, diversity and inclusion, efficiency and data-driven decision making.
In pursuit of this agenda, John is cultivating a dynamic group of new leaders and encouraging open debate and dialogue about key business issues. These new leaders are pursuing innovation while remaining committed to integrity and the strong risk management culture that has served Northwestern Mutual so well. We applaud John and his leadership team for their courage in evolving the culture to ensure the company’s continued success.
We encourage leaders to help and inspire others to bring their best. A culture of accountability is crucial to ongoing improvement. As leaders develop and empower employees, productivity and the overall employee experience will improve. Varied viewpoints also are critical to evolving the culture. We recognize progress in bringing more diversity to both the home office and field and encourage more growth in this area.
Our time on the Policyowners’ Examining Committee has impressed upon us the interdependence between past, current and future policyowners. We all have a stake in the financial strength, vitality and future of our great company. We should not keep Northwestern Mutual’s unique planning approach, relationship-based sales and quality products to ourselves.
We issue a call to action for both financial representatives and policyowners: Create multi-generation plans and relationships.
- Policyowners: Introduce your financial representative and his or her team to your family.
- Financial representatives: Ask to meet with the family members of your clients, and prepare a plan that meets the unique needs of those families.
For more than 155 years, Northwestern Mutual has helped families navigate through their times of most dire need and weather the turbulence of inflation, deflation and economic turmoil. We owe the opportunity to be policyowners to our children, grandchildren and relatives.
Report submitted November 15, 2012