The first CMO of Northwestern Mutual explains why she looked at dating sites, not finance, for inspiration when she needed to revamp the $128 billion firm's website

The first CMO of Northwestern Mutual explains why she looked at dating sites, not finance, for inspiration when she needed to revamp the $128 billion firm's website

Aditi Gokhale

Northwestern Mutual

Aditi Gokhale, Northwestern Mutual's first CMO, looked to an unusual source for inspiration for a website revamp.

  • The first chief marketing officer of Northwestern Mutual is trying to shake up the financial services company's sleepy image.
  • Aditi Gokhale said in a recent interview that she's looking outside of finance for inspiration. When she redesigned the company's website, where investors can find a financial advisor, she tried to replicate how consumers use dating sites.
  • Other financial services CMOs are trying novel strategies like putting BlackRock content on Alexa, as they fight for consumers' attention and dollars.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

The first person Aditi Gokhale calls after a major life change isn't always her husband - sometimes, it's her financial advisor.

As the first chief marketing officer of Northwestern Mutual, a $128 billion asset manager, Gokhale is trying to help consumers build similarly close relationships with the firm's network of 9,000 financial advisors. Before she took on a full website revamp, she identified why people are hesitant to work with an advisor, she told Business Insider in a recent interview.


"The consumer barriers, when you're thinking about financial planning, are that the consumers feel anxious, they don't feel very educated, they don't necessarily want to speak to an advisor because they think the advisor's trying to sell them something," Gokhale said.

See more: The CMO of $998 billion asset manager Nuveen explains how the brand is trying to stand out in an increasingly crowded field

To bridge that gap, Gokhale looked outside finance to better understand how to make these connections. She landed on dating sites - not the typical source of inspiration for a 162-year-old financial services company, which until a decade ago was called the "quiet giant," she said.


"When you think about building trust with an advisor and trying to find your long-term partner, there's a little bit of that emotional, what matters to me feeling," Gokhale said.

Northwestern Mutual's existing matching process for consumers and advisors asked some basic questions - age, gender, household income. To better reflect the "what matters to me feeling," Gokhale added questions similar to dating sites about life goals and life stages, noting consumers are more likely to rework their financial plans when they're on the cusp of a new life stage.

Behind the scenes, the company also refined its algorithm and messaging to better address consumers' feelings of anxiety and lack of preparedness to meet with an advisor. Gokhale said the changes were an unquestionable success, with a 95% match rate between consumers and advisors.


Once they're matched, advisors may set up in-person appointments - not unlike a first date.

"You're talking about money. That's a very personal aspect of one's life. I do not believe that can be a purely digital experience," Gokhale said. "We completely believe in human-plus-digital."

Other asset managers are also starting to think creatively to connect with consumers with digital tools.


Frank Cooper, BlackRock's CMO, told Business Insider last year that he's thinking about new ways to reach individual investors, from revamped content to launching applications on voice-controlled speakers, such as Amazon's Alexa, Microsoft's Cortana, and Google Home.

Both Cooper and Gokhale come from consumer-focused backgrounds, rather than financial services - the former was the CMO of BuzzFeed before joining BlackRock, while the latter's prior roles included CMO of photo service Shutterstock.