Despite the troubled state of the global economy, Northwestern Mutual Financial Network’s Rochester office is doing very well.
“In fact, the organization is in a period of rapid expansion,” says Russell Schwartzbeck ’97 (finance), managing director of the Greater New York Group - Rochester. Since 2006, the office has nearly doubled, from 15 financial representatives and 10 full-time support staff members, to 29 financial representatives and 18 staff members.
Schwartzbeck hopes to add an additional dozen financial representatives.
The company also hires interns, and Schwartzbeck looks to his alma mater in that regard. He’d like to hire up to six interns from RIT. He looks for business background, but he’s especially interested in students with IT experience.
“The technical skill set is a big advantage for us,” Schwartzbeck says.
Schwartzbeck, a native of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., joined the company as a college intern in 1996. He didn’t expect to remain there after graduation; “I just thought it would be great to have on my resume.” However, he found the work so rewarding that he stayed on as a financial representative after graduation. “It’s not just about selling,” he says. “We have the opportunity to have an impact on people’s lives. I enjoy helping people.”
“That’s especially true these days,” he says. “In today’s economic climate, people need help and advice. Clients turn to us for assistance in key lifetime financial areas such as college funding, retirement and estate planning.”
David DuFlo ’70 (business administration) also began his career with Northwestern Mutual as an intern—in 1966 in the Utica, N.Y., office. “It was an opportunity to learn a great deal about people,” he says. “I had no idea what I wanted to do. I thought this might be a way to find out.”
After serving in the military service and graduating from RIT, he joined the Rochester Group in 1974. Now, as a financial adviser, he has clients all over the country.
The company has evolved tremendously since he started. Back then, “There were just three or four tools in the toolbox,” DuFlo notes. Today, the financial representatives can provide life insurance, disability insurance, long-term care insurance, annuities, mutual funds and other investments and risk management services.
Although DuFlo and Schwartzbeck love the work, they agree that a career as a financial representative is not for everyone.
“Like any sales-oriented job, it’s challenging,” says Schwartzbeck. “There’s no guaranteed paycheck, and rejection is a factor.”
Successful reps work very hard, because, DuFlo points out, “If you don’t work, you don’t get paid.”
The industry statistics are sobering: Only one in 10 financial representatives’ remains in the business after five years. Northwestern Mutual has a retention rate of 23 percent, but the Rochester office’s rate is an outstanding: 25 percent after five years. Schwartzbeck attributes that to the company’s emphasis on training—and also because the selection process is very exacting.
“We’re making an investment in the people,” says Schwartzbeck. “We want to make sure we have a good fit.”
He looks for people with a strong entrepreneurial spirit, high energy, leadership qualities and a sincere desire to help others. Financial representatives must enjoy working independently while also contributing to a team environment. The highest ethical standards are required due to the nature of the work.
“There’s one more important attribute,” says DuFlo. “Being a good listener—that’s a critical factor.”
Traditionally, more men have pursued careers in the business, but Schwartzbeck would love to see more women in this field. “I think this is ideal for many women, because of the flexibility,” Schwartzbeck says.
In fact, most successful financial representatives see independence as a benefit. “You really have a unique opportunity to run your own business,” says DuFlo. “You have a great deal of freedom, a great deal of flexibility.”
But possibly the best part of the job, both alumni say, is the opportunity to meet new people, grow and learn.
“That’s one of the things I love about the career,” says DuFlo. “You learn something every day.”
Adds Schwartzbeck: “You’d have to be an ameba not to learn something.”