Merrill Lynch launches technology-driven retirement tools

Merrill Lynch Clear uses iPad apps to encourage goals-based conversations between advisers and clients

May 14, 2014 @ 11:31 am

By Joyce Hanson

Merrill Lynch Wealth Management on Wednesday announced the launch of a technology-driven set of retirement tools to help advisers talk about goals-based financial planning with clients.

Called Merrill Lynch Clear, the technology facilitates iPad-driven conversations with applications involving health, family, home, finances, work, leisure and giving, according to David Tyrie, head of retirement and personal wealth solutions for Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

“We are reinventing the way we are having the dialogue around retirement,” he said. “When we pulled it all together, the research showed the customer was looking for a holistic solution.”

Technology used on Clear includes seven iPad “discovery” apps that match clients' life priorities and teach them about topics such as Social Security and lifetime income. In addition, tools include an investment personality questionnaire, illustrations, written content, videos and interactive exercises.

The tools, with brightly colored graphics and the touch-friendly feel of consumer apps, were designed with gamification in mind. The gamification trend brings game dynamics into advisers' practices to encourage desired client behavior.

“Technology can disconnect people, but Clear becomes a tool to connect people,” said Michael Liersch, Merrill's head of behavioral finance. Clear lets advisers talk with clients as they work the iPad tools together, which leads to deeper conversations about finance and investments, he said.

One of Clear's seven apps provides data about health-care issues in aging, such as dementia, insurance coverage and long-term care, said Cyndi Hutchins, director of financial gerontology at Merrill Lynch. The information on the app facilitates honest discussions about those topics, she said.

“Gerontology is not geriatrics,” she said. “I'm really passionate about helping financial advisers understand what our clients want to talk about. Those conversations can be uncomfortable.”

Clear's launch reflects the commitment of Merrill's leadership team to a five-year strategic plan that is overhauling the way the wirehouse does business in the aftermath of the 2008 crash. Merrill has shifted its primary focus to goals-based wealth management, including better client-adviser interactions and simpler language based on the science of behavioral finance, according to Merrill Lynch Wealth Management head John Thiel.

While no new hires are expected to be made at Merrill as a result of Clear's launch, Mr. Tyrie said the tech tools will attract new talent to the firm. And now that Clear is under way, Merrill plans eventually to move the goals-based tools into its institution-based 401(k) market as well as its self-directed Merrill Edge platform, he said.

Baby boomers' demand for goals-based advice drove Merrill to develop Clear, Mr. Tyrie added.

Ken Dychtwald, founder and chief executive of research firm Age Wave, which conducted a survey for Merrill of 5,400 respondents about financial challenges baby boomers, said Census data show that the 55-64 age group in the United States will grow by 73% between 2000 and 2020.

This aging of the U.S. population will have a giant impact not only on the economy but family financial goals, Mr. Dychtwald said of Merrill's new focus on retirees and pre-retirees during a Clear launch party in New York.

“The baby boom is becoming an age wave,” he said, noting that an average of 10,000 boomers now turn age 65 every day.

Over the year prior to Clear's launch, Mr. Tyrie said Merrill learned from its research that clients want three things: a tech-enabled dashboard to keep them on track with their goals, financial education and a “mission control person” — meaning an adviser.

He noted that approximately 9,000 Merrill advisers have received Clear training.

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