Review of Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management 2021

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Updated on Thursday, June 24, 2021

Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management is a subsidiary of Northwestern Mutual, a Fortune 500 life insurer and financial services company. While Northwestern Mutual has its headquarters in Milwaukee, it is a national organization with branches across the country. Under the Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management division, the company provides financial advice, investment recommendations and trust services. The firm creates customized investment plans for each client.

The bottom line: Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management, a subsidiary of a large firm, offers investment solutions, private wealth management and financial planning and insurance services.

  • Creates customized investment plans for all clients
  • Offers referral services to outside investment advisors
  • Negotiates fees on a case-by-case basis
Assets under management: Over $200 billion
Minimum investment: Depends on the fund; not publicly available
Individual investor to advisor ratio: N/A
Fee structure: Fixed fees, other (referral fees)
Headquarters: 611 East Wisconsin Avenue
Milwaukee, WI 53202
Phone: 866-664-7737

All information included in this profile is accurate as of June 18, 2021. For more information, please consult Northwestern Mutual’s website.

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Overview of Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management

Northwestern Mutual opened the Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management subsidiary in 1968 to oversee its broker-dealer and investment advisor services. Northwestern Mutual itself launched in 1859 out of Wisconsin. It is a mutual life insurance company, which means the company is owned by the insurance policyholders.

Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management states on its website that it has over 6,400 financial advisors and professionals across the nation. Financial advisors at the company receive the support of Northwestern’s Wealth Management Investment Team, which includes chartered financial analyst (CFA) charterholders.

Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management’s pros

  • Awards for its size and reputation: Fortune named Northwestern Mutual one of the World’s Most Admired Companies in 2021. Financial Planning magazine also ranked Northwestern Mutual Investments Services as the No. 7 independent broker-dealer by revenue in its 2020 “IBD Elite” feature.
  • Customized investment recommendations: Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management does not offer a one-size-fits-all portfolio for all its customers. Instead, your advisor will customize their investment recommendation based on your personal financial needs and situation.
  • No performance or trading fees: Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management advisors charge an advisory fee based on your needs and investments. The firm doesn’t make commissions on trades or for your portfolio’s performance, which can drive up costs.
  • Broad service offerings besides investment management: As a large Fortune 500 company with multiple divisions, Northwestern Mutual, the parent company, offers a wide range of financial services besides investment advice, including insurance and business services. Additionally, you can find a Northwestern Mutual branch and advisor nearly anywhere in the country.

Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management’s cons

  • Not a pure investment specialist: Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management has not won any awards for its overall investment performance. The firm does not try to beat the market to earn above-average returns and does not actively trade in your portfolio, as many other investment advisory firms do.
  • Potential conflicts of interest due to other services: Northwestern Mutual originally started as a life insurance company, and that’s still one of its main services. Additionally, the firm also acts as a broker-dealer. While the firm’s brochure states it does not believe these other activities interfere with its objectivity in providing advisory services, it still could mean that your advisor has other incentives and focuses beyond just managing your investments. For example, the firm could make money selling insurance.
  • Difficult to predict investment cost without a meeting: Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management does not publicly list its fees and investment minimums. It depends on each custom portfolio. This means you can’t easily compare their costs without contacting the firm first.
  • May require you to navigate multiple divisions and referral partners: Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management is just one of several subsidiaries at Northwestern Mutual. Sorting out all the different groups may get complicated.

What types of clients does Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management serve?

Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management serves:

  • Individuals
  • Pension and profit-sharing plans
  • Trusts
  • Estates
  • Charitable organizations
  • Corporations and other business entities

It also works with financial professionals who aren’t part of Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management and offers them a fixed-income advisory service.

The exact investment minimum needed to open an account will depend on the investments the client picks, but Northwestern financial advisors work with all types of clients, not just high net worth individuals. Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management does offer a high-end advisory service for clients investing at least $1 million in assets with the company through its Private Client Services program.

Services offered by Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management

Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management does not run investment funds itself or provide active portfolio management. The firm offers investment advisory services on a non-discretionary basis, meaning advisors do not have trading authority for client funds. Instead, the firm advises clients about potential investments, and then, if the client decides to go through with a portfolio recommendation, Northwestern Mutual Investment Services can process their trades as a broker-dealer to set things up.

Here is a full list of services offered by the firm:

  • Investment advisory services
  • Financial planning
    • Retirement planning
    • Trust and estate planning
    • Charitable planning
    • Education planning
    • Business planning
    • Tax planning and management
    • Cash flow forecasting
    • Spending analysis and budgeting
    • Long-term care planning
    • Debt management
    • IRA and 401(k) rollovers
  • Insurance/risk management
  • Employee benefit plan fiduciary services; 401(k) consulting; pension consulting
  • Workshops and seminars
  • Newsletters and publications
  • Collaboration with clients’ lawyers, accountants, etc.
  • Brokerage services

If Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management cannot serve a client’s needs, it also provides referrals to other outside firms in exchange for a fee paid for by the other advisor. In addition, the firm offers a fixed-income advisory service specifically for other financial advisors.

Clients of Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management could also access the broad services of Northwestern Mutual as a whole, which sells insurance, works as a broker-dealer for investments, offers financial planning services and provides support for business owners.

How Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management invests your money

When you contact Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management, it will partner you with a local financial advisor. The advisor will go over your portfolio size, risk tolerance, financial goals and time horizon.

With that information, the advisor will suggest a customized portfolio for your needs. If you’re interested, you then make the investments through Northwestern Mutual Investment Services, the firm’s broker-dealer service that offers assets including:

On its Investment Services page, Northwestern Mutual states it is focused on long-term investment results and diversified portfolios. The firm does not offer its own actively managed portfolios and is not focused on trying to create above-average market returns, especially in the short term. The firm does not offer the more complicated investment strategies seen at other registered investment advisors, such as trying to time the market to earn a higher return.

Fees Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management charges for its services

Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management advisors do not earn performance-based fees or charge commissions for making trades, which the firm believes helps it focus on long-term performance. Instead, its fees are fixed and vary based on the individual or corporation it is serving.

According to its Form ADV, Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management can also make money through referral fees, when it sends your account to another advisor through its referral service.

The exact amount you will owe depends on what investments and services you sign up for, so you’d need to consult with an advisor to find out. There aren’t standard fee charts available, because Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management customizes each client’s investment portfolio.

Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management disciplinary disclosures

Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management does have a disciplinary track record, with events involving the firm, its affiliates or its employees.

In April 2020, for instance, the company entered into a Letter of Acceptance, Waiver and Consent with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). Without admitting or denying anything, the firm consented to entry of of the FINRA’s investigative findings that, between 2005 and 2017, it failed to establish, maintain and enforce a supervisory system that was reasonably designed to review and monitor the transmittals of funds from the accounts of customers to third-party accounts and outside entities, in violation of applicable National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD) and FINRA supervisory rules. The firm agreed to sanctions including a censure, a $350,000 fine and certification that the firm had enhanced its supervisory systems and written supervisory procedures.

You can find more information about the firm and its disciplinary history on its IAPD page.

Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management’s onboarding process

If you are interested in learning more about Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management, you can set up an appointment with one of the firm’s financial advisors. Through its website, you can fill out a short questionnaire, providing your contact information as well as details on your top financial goals and your current income.

The firm will then pair you with a local advisor who is a match for your needs. Northwestern Mutual’s website notes that it will ensure the advisor you’re matched with has the right expertise for your goal, works with other people like you and understands the area in which you live.

You can also look up specific advisors or try contacting a local Northwestern Mutual branch to schedule a meeting.

During the first appointment, the advisor will get to know your:

  • Financial situation
  • Risk tolerance
  • Investment needs
  • Timeline

They will use this information to put together a customized investment plan for you, using the Northwestern Mutual resources and assets. If you’re happy with the plan, you can transfer over your money to launch the portfolio using the firm’s broker-dealer, Northwestern Mutual Investment Services.

From there, Northwestern Mutual notes your advisor will regularly update your plan and meet with you to make sure your portfolio continues to stay on track. However, the advisor themselves will not have discretionary trading authority for your portfolio, so you’ll need to approve any changes yourself.

Is Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management right for you?

While the firm’s investment products and philosophy aren’t flashy, Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management has an excellent overall reputation. The firm also doesn’t limit itself to working with high net worth individuals. You could set up a meeting and learn about possibilities regardless of your income.

If your goal is to create a long-term, uncomplicated investment plan that’s customized to your needs, Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management could be a good fit. The firm could also be worth checking out if you’re looking for services on top of investment management, such as insurance and general financial planning.

On the other hand, if you’re bringing in a large portfolio and want a more sophisticated trading approach, you may want to consider a more investment-specialized RIA. This type of firm may be more focused on generating above-market returns and could have advisors actively trade your portfolio, rather than just giving you general advice as Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management does. Be sure to research multiple firms to ensure you find the right advisor for you.

The “Find a Financial Advisor” links contained in this article will direct you to webpages devoted to MagnifyMoney Advisor (“MMA”). After completing a brief questionnaire, you will be matched with certain financial advisers who participate in MMA’s referral program, which may or may not include the investment advisers discussed.