NEW YORK – Merrill Lynch is upping the training it offers its advisors to help them work with aging clients.

Merrill is in the third week of a pilot training program that focuses on the physical and social aspects of aging. The program also compliments the firm's Merrill Lynch Clear app, a tool that facilitates conversations with clients about their retirement goals.

Cynthia Hutchins, director of gerontology at the firm, said at a Merrill press conference on Thursday that the most commonly asked questions advisors ask her revolve around healthcare because their clients are worried about unforeseen costs.

Even high-net-worth clients, she said, are worried about something catastrophic befalling them in their old age.

"I'm a firm believer that we can do a better job as financial advisors if we understand what our clients will face and what they may not have considered," Hutchins said.


The training program consists of 9 modules and was created in partnership with the University of Southern California Leonard Davis School of Gerontology. Hutchins is a graduate of the school.

The modules take about 12 hours to complete and can be completed in four to eight weeks. Topics covered within modules include end-of-life issues and choices, legacy planning, cognitive decline and mental wellness.

Advisors can learn how the needs of an elderly person can filter down to other family members, Hutchins said.

After completing scored tests, advisors will receive a certificate of completion from USC and up to nine continuing education credits if they have the following professional designations: CFP, CIMA or CRPC.
In April, the firm will open enrollment in the program to all 14,000 Merrill advisors. "We feel that it is valuable enough that we want to encourage broad participation in the program," Hutchins said.


At the conference, Merrill also announced that more than 8,000 of its advisors are actively using Merrill Lynch Clear. Last May, the firm started rolling out the app to its entire advisor force, after having tested it with about 3,000 advisors.

Retirement requires constant course corrections, David Tyrie, head of retirement and personal wealth solutions for Bank of America Merrill Lynch, said. Merrill Lynch Clear enables advisors to get clients talking about their retirement needs, aspirations and fears, making it easier to craft financial plans.

"What we are after from a design perspective is the client's reaction," he said. "If I can create something that gets the client engaged and excited, advisors will gravitate towards that."

The app has multiple features, such as interactive graphics that show how fast savings will be depleted at various withdrawal rates. It also contains numerous research reports on a variety of topics that advisors can email to clients.

"Today you need to have all the relevant expertise at your fingertips," said Tyrie.
He adds, "That's the big key for us, that we are integrating everything we've learned in the conversation into your financial plan."

Merrill advisor David Leland said that he uses it with every client, going as far as to always have it on the 55 inch television in his conference room. Everyone on his 12-member team knows how to use the app.

"It's the attention getter that gets them to talk about what's important," said Leland, who is based in Beverly, Mass.

And, Leland adds, "If they come back with a new grandchild, then we'll update it."

Tyrie said that Merrill advisors use the app in person with clients, but that could change. "We do envision that once you've got a client that has gone through this, there could be a version of the app that they could have."

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