Since Bank of America and its Merrill Lynch Wealth Management division began offering a variety of elder care support services three years ago, nearly half of the financial institution’s more than 1,400 employees have taken advantage of the program’s resources.

In 2014, BofA and Merrill put in place a variety of legal, financial and counseling resources for employees who also who also serve as caregivers for adult family members. Most of these employees are in their 30s and 40s and belong to the so-called “sandwich generation,” since they must care for their aging parents, even as they continue to support their own children.

The BofA caregiver resources program is intended to ease that burden by offering access to and discounts on a variety of services, such as information on assisted living residences, legal support for healthcare and financial proxies, support for patients with dementia and daycare facilities for senior citizens.

BofA’s caregiver program also looks to help employees determine who will play what role in the care recipient’s life. “Who is the health proxy? The financial proxy? Who is preparing the legal documents? We are trying to help people prepare for that as opposed to having them figure it out for themselves as they go along,” says Jim Huffman, BofA’s head of U.S. benefits.

As part of the program, BofA and Merrill host a series of regularly scheduled town hall meetings, where caregiver employees can give voice to their challenges and learn more about the services in place to help support them. Employees also have access to email newsletters, webinars and live video feeds of the town hall meetings.

By taking advantage of its group purchasing muscle, BofA has been able to negotiate employee discounts from various elder care facilities and service providers. “In some cases, we found very significant discounts for employees to take advantage of,” confides Kevin Crain, head of workforce financial solutions at BofA.

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One of those discounted services is a pre-paid legal plan. For $14 per month, Crain says employees can gain access to a nationwide network of lawyers, which can help them with various legal matters, such as arranging for power of attorney on behalf of an aging loved one.

Recently, the program has also begun educating younger BofA and Merrill managers on how to address the needs of the caregivers they oversee.

“We are training managers who may not have these responsibilities themselves, but they need to know that many of their employees do,” says Huffman. Once they have a deeper understanding of what some of their employees are going through, he adds, “they can be empathetic and offer them these resources.”

The cost of caregiving
Compounding the pressure that employees with care-giving responsibilities are under, they are often saddled with but unable to calculate the financial costs associated with this role.

A study conducted by Merrill Lynch and Age Wave, a research firm, found that in aggregate the 40 million U.S. caregivers spend $190 billion per year on their adult care charges.

“When you look at the longevity trends, with people living longer, and the increasing number of people with Alzheimer’s and dementia, that number is not that all surprising,” notes Crain.

But the survey also found that 52% of adult care givers could not say how much they had spent on caregiving-related expenses, and 45% couldn’t even estimate how much they had spent on behalf of their charges within the past month. Additionally, 75% of these caregivers have never discussed the financial impact of their contributions with their care recipient.

The Merrill study also determined that 82% of adult care recipients need at least some help managing their finances, and 53% need help managing all of their financial affairs. As a result, some 92% of adult caregivers must take charge of the finances of the person under their care.

Given this landscape, Huffman expects employee participation in the caregiver program to continue to rise this year, following BofA’s 2018 open enrollment period, and that this is part of a large and growing national trend. “We expect care giving to be the next big employee benefit in this country,” he predicts.

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