a new 25,000 sq. ft. lease in a redesigned "free-addressing" space
Northwestern Mutual, founded in 1857, is one of the most admired insurance companies in the U.S. and amongst the leading wealth management firms today. The company’s success has been predicated on consistently innovating to serve clients. So, when the firm’s Los Angeles office faced a lease expiration, leadership saw an opportunity to revolutionize its space and lead both its workforce and clients into the future. “We perceived our lease renewal as a prime opportunity to reimagine our space, build our culture and brand, and offer the best possible experience for our advisors and our clients,” said Matthew Plocher, Managing Partner, Northwestern Mutual Los Angeles.
The company sought to encourage mobility and collaboration with a “free-addressing” space that eliminated dedicated seating. Leadership also wanted to improve technology, add wellness amenities and, with these enhancements, build value for the brand in Los Angeles. In addition, with LA serving as the fastest-growing market in Northwestern Mutual’s network, the company needed to attract and retain top talent by accommodating the way today and tomorrow’s advisors envision engaging with each other and their clients to do financial planning at a high level.
Their current LA office was not meeting these needs. Space was being underutilized and lacked energy. The floorplate of private offices discouraged interaction and collaboration. Conference rooms were oversized and not functional. And technology was disjointed and dated, resulting in most advisors relying on paper files.
However, as an established, blue chip financial services firm, Northwestern Mutual Los Angeles faced perception challenges of moving from a traditional workplace to a shared, paperless environment that felt more like something out of Silicon Valley. Advisors didn’t want to lose their private offices and abandon their traditional work styles. They expressed concerns about maintaining security of financial files in a paperless environment, and the confidentiality of team discussions in more open spaces.
Northwestern Mutual Los Angeles turned to CBRE for help.
Solution & Outcome
CBRE formed an integrated team comprised of Advisory & Transaction Services, Workplace, and Project Management talent to best address Northwestern Mutual Los Angeles’ needs. While the Transaction team searched the market for potential spaces, CBRE’s Workplace professionals conducted comprehensive research over a six-month period to provide recommendations. Using proprietary software, CBRE tracked in-seat utilization, including how often advisors occupied their desk seats, meeting rooms, or other shared space. In parallel, Project Management analyzed the firm’s technology to determine the best way to support advisors and evolve to a paperless environment. CBRE also helped Northwestern Mutual Los Angeles prepare for the cultural shift, creating and leading monthly focus groups of advisors, listening to their concerns, incorporating their priorities, and highlighting the positive outcomes of the project as early as the concept stage. “Change isn’t always perceived as a positive thing; we are creatures of habit,” said Chau Le, Chief Operating Officer for Northwestern Mutual Los Angeles. “That required us to have a very thoughtful, intentional strategy of involving all of our constituencies at every level.”
After a thorough search, CBRE identified a prime office location in downtown Los Angeles on the 34th floor of 515 South Flower Street. Armed with months of research and input, CBRE worked with the architect to design the space in a way that would meet and exceed the needs of Northwestern Mutual Los Angeles’ employee base.
The new space features an abundance of natural light, stunning views and a client experience center with a concierge, espresso bar, and private meeting rooms. Advisors and teams can choose from a variety of workspaces to conduct focused business and collaborate more efficiently with their teams and clients. Complimentary healthy snacks, a wellness room, and standing desks underscore the firm’s commitment to the well-being of the firm’s people.
To address privacy concerns, CBRE designed the shared environment with a significant amount of enclosed spaces, including large huddle rooms and client meeting spaces that can be booked in advance. The floorplate is laid out in “neighborhoods” or “zones” so teams know where home base is and who is adjacent to them.
With its new optimal design, Northwestern Mutual Los Angeles consolidated from two-and-a-half floors in its old space to one full floor in the new one. The buildout of the space was guided by CBRE’s Project Management team, who helped streamline the process, finishing ahead of schedule, and under budget. The result: occupancy per person fell to 160 square feet from 516 square feet. The company achieved a 38 percent reduction in overall space and realized a 30 percent reduction in overall real estate costs.
As part of the reinvention, CBRE helped Northwestern Mutual Los Angeles standardize their technology, establishing best practices for managing a mobile environment and effective collaboration tools. Today, employees can connect to screens in individual work stations, conference rooms and the customer care center. The company also created an online store where advisors can buy devices. All these efforts helped to create a more seamless and connected experience and a paperless environment for Northwestern Mutual Los Angeles. “Our focus was, ‘How can we help our advisors to grow their businesses within this environment?’,” noted Fred Chang, Chief Financial Officer for Northwestern Mutual Los Angeles. “With more energy in the space, more collaboration and better technology, we can enable our advisors to be more productive and more motivated.”
Northwestern Mutual Los Angeles has conducted a number of surveys, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Despite initial trepidations around moving to a more open and collaborative environment, advisors say they enjoy the flexibility to sit anywhere in the office and start working, the ability to see colleagues more often, and the energy they feel when they come into the office. They also appreciate the warm welcome of the client experience center, providing a place they are proud to bring their clients and conduct business. Jessica Ormandy, Chief Marketing Officer, Northwestern Mutual Los Angeles, notes, “Our new space reflects the Northwestern Mutual Los Angeles brand, our investment in the future of the company, and our commitment to create an environment where talent can thrive and the client experience is best-in-class.”
“CBRE opened our eyes to what was possible. Their strategic approach helped us to better understand ourselves, as well as the type of workspace design that would best fit our business. There is inherent value in having an objective, third-party perspective—that professionalism, that independent thinking, leading us through the entire process of change management. We could not have done this ourselves. We thought it would never work for us.”
Matthew Plocher, Managing Partner
Northwestern Mutual Los Angeles
“The goal was to define the employee and client experience, and translate that into a workplace that provided the right subscription of space, services and technology—something that would serve Northwestern Mutual Los Angeles’ immediate needs today and be able to grow along with them over the next 10 years.”