Alexa von Tobel, creator of LearnVest, leaving Northwestern Mutual

She plans to launch a new company; Alibaba former executive to fill her shoes

Jan 7, 2019 @ 2:21 pm

By Ryan W. Neal

Alexa von Tobel is leaving Northwestern Mutual less than four years after the firm purchased her digital advice startup, LearnVest.

Ms. von Tobel is leaving her position as Northwestern Mutual's chief innovation officer to launch a new company, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Souheil Badran, who most recently served as U.S. president of Alibaba's Alipay Ant Financial, will replace her.

In a memo to employees on Friday, Northwestern Mutual chairman and CEO John Schlifske thanked Ms. von Tobel for expanding the firm's digital capabilities.

"We plan to continue working together in business ventures as she takes this next step that she's chosen to pursue in the innovation space," Mr. Schlifske said in the memo.

Northwestern Mutual's spokeswoman Betsy Hoylman confirmed to InvestmentNews that Ms. von Tobel is leaving the company "to launch a venture in the innovation and start-up space, an area of her personal passion."

"This opportunity will enable Alexa to continue on an entrepreneurial path and expand her leadership in the broader innovation community," Ms. Hoylman said in an email.

One of the stars of the early robo-advice wave, Ms. von Tobel launched LearnVest in 2009 as a financial information hub for women. LearnVest was one of the earliest adopters of the hybrid robos, pairing a digital investing algorithm with human financial planners, when other competitors were purely digital.

(More: 10 largest robo-advisers by AUM)

LearnVest had 1.5 million users, including 10,000 clients paying for premium services, and 150 employees in March 2015, when Northwestern Mutual acquired it for $250 million. The startup also brought along 25,000 clients through LearnVest at Work, a program for employers to provide financial planning to employees.

Industry observers at the time wondered if the fintech's startup culture would clash with that of the traditional insurance firm, or whether LearnVest would be forced to push Northwestern Mutual's life insurance products in its financial plans.

Northwestern Mutual shut down LearnVest's financial planning service three years later before it relaunched the website as a millennial-targeted blog covering money, career, lifestyle and debt.

Mr. Schlifske explained in October that Northwestern Mutual had incorporated LearnVest's technology into its own digital platform and that the brands were "mirror images of each other."

"We just merged them into one, and it's available to our clients now," Mr. Schlifske said.

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