(Bloomberg Business) — Northwestern Mutual, the nation's second-largest life insurance company, is buying LearnVest, an online financial planning start-up founded in 2009.

LearnVest is one of several financial start-ups competing to offer advice or investment products through the web more cheaply than at established firms. Unlike so-called "robo-advisers" like WealthFront and Betterment, which primarily focus on investments, LearnVest helps clients set up a comprehensive financial plan.

Northwestern Mutual Chief Executive Officer John Schlifske says the 158-year-old insurer will use LearnVest's software to develop a new financial planning platform for the insurer's 16,000 agents and 4.2 million clients.

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