Northwestern Mutual looks to build data science pipeline

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Data science has become a critical business component in insurance, but there is a severe skills shortage. Life insurer Northwestern Mutual knew it needed to attract and nurture more data science talent in order to remain competitive and fill the gap.

To that end, the company has increased its commitment to develop and retain data science talent in its home city of Milwaukee. It recently partnered with Marquette University and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to invest nearly $40 million to create the Northwestern Mutual Data Science Institute. In addition, in partnership with several other companies in Milwaukee, the company released a comprehensive study of technology talent and its impact on the local Milwaukee economy.

“For Northwestern Mutual – and most large companies today – data needs to be integrated into everything we do to provide our clients with financial security and a leading digital experience, as well as provide a competitive advantage for our company and financial advisors,” says Karl Gouverneur, VP of digital workplace, corporate solutions and head of digital innovation at Northwestern Mutual. “As data science becomes more critical to how we do business, our enterprise data and analytics team has been growing rapidly and we need strong talent with the right skills and passion to fuel that growth,” he says.

The company’s data and analytics teams take action on data insights to streamline and find new ways to solve business challenges and identify new business opportunities, he adds. Data science is used to streamline internal processes, assist in underwriting, create financial wellness scores and develop tools to pair prospective clients with advisors.

The goal of the data science collaboration in Milwaukee, he explains, is to build a technology ecosystem and advance southeastern Wisconsin as a national hub for technology, research, business and talent development, while creating an organic pipeline of tech talent in the area. The approach is similar to a strategy by MassMutual.

“We expect the Institute will help us stay on the leading edge of this field, as well as make intentional connections between education and job opportunities,” he says. “We need strong talent with skills in business, mathematics, behavioral sciences, process design and industrial engineering. The Institute will help us develop an organic talent pipeline to meet those needs.”

In addition to helping with curriculum planning, Northwestern Mutual will also offer classroom and office space in its new innovation center, Cream City Labs (set to open in Fall 2018). Its technology leaders will also partner with the universities on teaching opportunities, internship programs and shaping curriculum around real-world business opportunities.

By exposing data science students to the breadth and depth of opportunities to apply what they learn in the insurance and financial services industry, Northwestern Mutual can attract more talent, says Gouverneur.

“As the digital experience becomes more important to our company and clients, more and more of our employees are working on digital projects and we have a large need for tech talent,” he explains. “One of the perceptions we face is that many people think of Northwestern Mutual as a traditional life insurance company and might not expect technology to be a large focus or core capability. However, nearly half of our workforce works almost entirely in the digital space.”

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