The study of gerontology, the comprehensive analysis of aging and the problems of the aged, now makes up a new job description and possible new organization direction at Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s retirement plan and financial benefit business.

The financial services giant said last week that it appointed 28-year veteran Cyndi Hutchins to assume a newly created position as its director of gerontology.

Hutchins, a 28-year wealth management and retirement industry veteran, recently finished up a Masters in Gerontology from the University of Southern California while assisting Merrill Lynch’s retirement practice. Hutchins previously served as a financial advisor for Merrill Lynch in the greater Washington, D.C area.

“This whole journey down the gerontology road was designed for me to try to get a better understanding of the needs of the clients I was dealing with,” Hutchins says. “Really my focus is going to help to educate and train financial advisors, and educate our clients as well, on the issues that are unique to the baby boomer generation as they approach retirement and then as they go through retirement.”

In its 401(k) Wellness Scorecard, Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s Retirement & Benefit Plan Services disclosed that that employees younger than 30 and older than 50 were more likely to start funding and contribute more to their retirement plans. Thirty-six percent of older age group were “taking positive actions” because they “seem to feel a sense of urgency about preparing for their impending retirements,” the quarterly scorecard states.

“They are taking action to build their retirement assets and to increase their own financial wellness,” the scorecard report reads for the quarter ending Sept. 30, 2013. Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s proprietary 401(k) business includes 2.5 million total plan participants sand $114.1 billion in total client balances.

Hutchins recounts that gerontology sprang up as a viable option while on the job as a retirement specialist.

“I was meeting with a client who was a gerontology professor, and just that conversation sort of solidified what I had been thinking I wanted to pursue all along,” says Hutchins. “She was just talking very passionately about the issues facing the baby boomer generation and in all aspects of their life: sociologically, medically, psychologically and financially. That was really the catalyst for me to go and head and pursue the degree.”

However, the Towson State University graduate acknowledges that the industry is watching as she plans to speak as a thought leader at the company’s national and in-market meetings, as well as publishing white topics on various topics to burgeon the aging conversation.   

“There will be eyes looking at the success and acceptance of my role,” says Hutchins. “From the client perspective, I think it adds tremendous value, it kind of pioneering, its new and its different but it’s needed.”

But will employee benefit professionals agree that this needed? Hutchins thinks so.

The value for benefit plan sponsors comes from exposing participant employees to thought leadership and information on topics such as  “longevity, health, issues that couples are facing that are approaching retirement, [and] issues of what you as a person get out of working, not just the pay check, but the other needs that it will fulfill,” she says.

“For instance, how are you going to spend your time once you are retired to maintain your sense of purpose? Social engagement and your feeling of relevance?” asks Hutchins. “To me, being able to provide that kind of thought leadership, it gives the employer a tremendous value add for their employees that they are proving that kinds of things through their retirement plans.”

As Hutchins is a gerontology “team of one” right now, she suspects the Bank of America Merrill Lynch could possible consider instituting a team of gerontology specialists. 

“I think we could be one a forefront of something really really huge in terms of the value that we can add in that space [of benefit plan sponsors],” she says.

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