Northwestern Mutual exec von Tobel leaving, forming $200 million venture capital fund

Founder still active under LearnVest brand

It took about three years to complete the $450 million construction project for the 32-story Northwestern Mutual Tower & Commons. Credit: Jon Elliott of MKE Drones LLC

Last updated on June 18th, 2019 at 12:49 pm

Chief digital officer Alexa von Tobel has left Milwaukee-based Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. to form a $200 million venture capital fund.

According to her LinkedIn profile, von Tobel left her role as chief digital officer, chief innovation officer and chair of the NM Future Ventures Investment Committee at Northwestern Mutual in December, and her role as founder and chief executive officer of personal financial planning subsidiary LearnVest Inc. this month. On her LinkedIn profile and in an SEC filing Wednesday, von Tobel is listed as a managing member of Inspired Capital Partners L.P., a New York firm that is preparing to launch the venture capital fund.

A representative of a company connected to the number listed on the SEC filing for Inspired Capital Partners L.P. said the company had no knowledge of the venture capital fund.

Northwestern Mutual announced in May it would discontinue the core product of LearnVest, which it described as the “next step in the integration” of the fintech startup, which it acquired for a reported $250 million in 2015. Through the acquisition, LearnVest became a wholly owned subsidiary of Northwestern Mutual while retaining its brand.

NM’s plan as of May was to re-launch LearnVest later in 2018 as a consumer financial education tool. However, the LearnVest financial planning tools do not appear to be available on the LearnVest site or in app stores.

But the LearnVest site and social media accounts have continued to post content, including an Instagram Live question-and-answer session with von Tobel last night in which she announced she has written a new book, “Financially Forward,” and will be going on a national book tour when it’s released in May.

“The whole point of this book really was the world is changing, your wallet’s changing, technology is getting better every day and I want to do everything in my power to help give you guys the shortcuts, the best skills, all of the hacks you need to make your life better,” von Tobel said in the video.

She said the personal finance world is different than it was just five years ago, with the rise of cryptocurrency and the sharing economy among the changes. von Tobel wrote her first book, “Financially Fearless,” in 2013.

During the discussion, von Tobel also encouraged those watching to follow her at @alexavontobel, @financiallyfwd, @learnvest and @northwesternmutual.

von Tobel founded LearnVest in 2009 and grew it to 1.5 million users. It had 150 employees when it was acquired by Northwestern Mutual. von Tobel continued to be based in New York and lead the subsidiary.

Northwestern Mutual has been undergoing a transformation process over the past several years as it shifts toward a focus on technology. The acquisition of LearnVest and appointment of some of its leaders to key positions at NM was part of that process.

Souheil Badran is executive vice president and chief innovation officer at Northwestern Mutual as of this month, according to his LinkedIn profile. An experienced technology executive, Badran now oversees Northwestern Mutual’s NM Future Ventures, Cream City Venture Capital and Wisconn Valley funds.

Badran previously was president of Americas for Alipay, a leading Chinese mobile payment platform with 520 million users, from 2016 to 2018. Before that, he was president and chief executive officer of Nashville-based advertising technology firm Edo Interactive. Earlier in his career, Badran was SVP and general manager of world payments and SMB commerce at Digital River; SVP and general manager of First Data Corp; vice president and general manager of international and channel operations at Verisign; director of commercial banking at Digital Insight; and worked in product management at Metavante. Badran holds an MBA from Cardinal Stritch University.

After this story was published, Northwestern Mutual confirmed the staffing changes and released a short statement about von Tobel’s future plans: “We plan to continue working with Alexa von Tobel in business ventures as she takes this step, but we don’t discuss potential investments.”

NM also said Emilia Sherifova has been promoted to the chief technology officer role.

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Molly Dill
Molly Dill, former BizTimes Milwaukee managing editor.