Northwestern Mutual is fishing for talent -- and it's using 6,400 hooks.

The company announced the most ambitious recruitment effort in its history, aiming to add 2,700 financial planners and 3,700 financial advisor internship positions in 2014.

“It’s all about meeting the needs of the marketplace,” says Cindi Criss, director of field recruitment at Northwestern Mutual. The group has a large number of boomer-generation planners who are closing in on retirement, she says, and Northwestern Mutual wants to ensure that a succession plan is in place.

The public needs more planners as well, the company says. Northwestern Mutual's own research finds that 63% of Americans believe their overall financial planning needs improvement; half have no formal plan in place. “There’s a high-demand for trained financial professionals, and our forecasts show the demand will continue to climb in the foreseeable future,” Steve Mannebach, Northwestern Mutual’s vice president of field growth and development, said in a statement.

RETENTION PROBLEM?

One possible reason for the heavy recruiting emphasis: It appears that only a small fraction of the recruits stay on at Northwestern Mutual as full-fledged reps. Last year Northwestern Mutual says it recruited 5,500 financial advisors, including internship positions -- the third year in a row, the company says, that it surpassed its own record highs for recruiting. Yet in the 2013 FP50 industry survey, Northwestern Mutual said it had just shy of 7,400 reps total; in 2012, it said it had 7,201, while in 2011, it reported having 6,945.

In a follow-up email exchange, Criss did not answer a question about the discrepancy.

The 2,700 representatives will be scattered across the more than 350 Northwestern Mutual locations nationwide. While 3,700 spots are offered as internships, Criss says the company expects that one in three interns will end up working with the company after completing the internship.

The company estimates that more than half of the new planners will be career changers, Criss says; Northwestern Mutual does not require its new planners to have a background in financial planning. Historically, she says, the company's new advisors have been an average age of 32, typically with five years of professional work experience. “We look for someone who has a history of success in their career,” says Criss. “Most have topped out and are looking to do something else.”

She adds that the company is looking for prospective planners with an extensive network of people they know and strong leadership skills.

OUTREACH TO VETERANS

One group that Northwestern Mutual is focusing on this year: military veterans. “We have a number of military folks in our ranks and they have proven to be successful,” says Criss. She explains that veterans tend to head down two different roads after becoming planners, with one group creating a strong client base while the other finds a leadership role recruiting other financial representatives.

Recruits without experience in the financial sector will receive both on-the-job training and classroom-style education, Criss says. Although each of the company’s locations has a different style of training, new recruits with little practice can expect to shadow experienced planners and take classes up to three times a week for six to 12 months.

"For those with the right background who are looking to start a new career and want to get into financial planning, now is an opportune time to join an organization that is experiencing significant growth and tremendous success in the industry," said Mannebach.

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