Bank of America Merrill Lynch Launches Longevity Training

The program for HR and benefit plan professionals helps them understand issues facing all generations in the workforce.

Today, at the 2015 White House Conference on Aging, Bank of America Merrill Lynch will announce the introduction of a longevity training program for human resources (HR) and benefit plan professionals.

Developed in partnership with the University of Southern California’s Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Longevity Training Program is designed to drive greater awareness and understanding of the evolving needs of the nation’s aging population and their families.           

The program offers insights into the latest advances, research and experiences associated with the sociological, psychological and physiological aspects of aging and their implications across all generations of the workforce. Program participants will learn about the importance of and issues associated with longevity and retirement planning through a deeper exploration of seven life priorities, including health, home, family, giving, leisure, work and finances.                     

“Designing benefits programs and delivering financial guidance to employees today requires a profound appreciation for the longevity revolution and a deeper understanding of issues associated with aging,” says Andy Sieg, head of Global Wealth and Retirement Solutions at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “Providing HR professionals greater access to this knowledge can help them better connect with employees as they progress through their careers and toward their later years.”

Participants must complete up to five hours of training over the course of four to eight weeks, delivered through a combination of on-demand videos featuring USC professors, online courses and reference materials, and web-based best practice presentations and knowledge-sharing from Bank of America Merrill Lynch, including director of financial gerontology Cyndi Hutchins. Upon completion of the training, participants will receive a Certificate of Completion from USC.

Hutchins tells PLANSPONSOR participants will also be provided with a quick reference guide that pulls together the most relevant content from the training, which they can continue to reference. A version of the program is also being completed by Merrill Lynch advisers, mostly retail, and assistants to advisers. The firm has not yet decided if the program will be extended to more advisers or business banking customers.

NEXT: Program details.

Hutchins, located in Baltimore, Maryland, says as employers acquire knowledge about longevity issues they will be able to not only design more meaningful employee benefits, but generate a better interaction and understanding among the multigenerational workforce.

She notes that when people think about longevity, they tend to think about older people rather than living longer. Longevity issues are greater for those who are younger. One thing the course addresses is that Baby Boomers may still be in the position to take advantage of the traditional three-legged stool of retirement savings—pensions, Social Security and personal savings—but Generation Xers may not have pensions and Millennials may also face reduced Social Security. In addition, many Gen Xers are part of the “sandwich generation,” aiding both adult children and aging parents. Hutchins suggests Millennials may become part of what she calls the “club sandwich generation,” aiding adult children, aging parents and aging grandparents.

Employers that understand these challenges can design retirement and other work benefits accordingly, she says. For example, to help reduce the stress for those aiding family members, employers could offer flexible work hours or telecommuting.

USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology professor George Shannon, MSG, Ph.D., an actor for 30 years who went back to school at age 55, shares more details of how the program explores life priorities.

Good health not only results from good nutrition and education. According to Shannon, studies show those surviving best are not only individuals who get better health care, but those who are more educated, have social connections and have more money. “These factors are as important as health care,” he tells PLANSPONSOR. Employers can share this information with employees to help them control their own destiny. In addition, to stay safe, the program discusses home modifications, such as grab bars in the bathroom, adequate lighting and the position of rugs.

COMING UP: Why longevity education is on employers’ shoulders.

Giving to younger generations is important to people. Employers can train employees about how to take care of their resources and be able to put aside resources for younger generations with the least risk and largest payoff. Shannon says finances—training people to take care of their future financially is the bedrock of mental, physical and financial stability. “Individuals should prepare to live to age 95; those 30 years after age 65 have to be meaningful,” he says.

Shannon says it if individuals could get longevity education in high school or college, that would be great and take the burden off employers, but since they don’t, if employers do not educate them, who will?

Employers who want a healthy workforce, and need to have people showing up for work, have to take some responsibility for employees’ welfare, he says. “It makes sense for them in the short term because employees will be more sociologically and psychologically well.” In addition, he notes that retirement is no longer an age of leisure, people want to keep working to maintain engagement and interest. “Employers should value older workers,” he says.

Shannon also contends many employers want to help people and feel paternalistic toward employees. “The Baby Boomer generation is big, but Gen X and Gen Y are just as big. We have to be thinking about [longevity]; don’t take for granted that people will take care of themselves,” he says.

“If employers understand the challenges each generation is facing, they can make changes to get the most out of employees and make it easier for them to perform on the job,” Hutchins adds.

The program will be rolled out to about 50 employers by August 3rd and nationally in October.