Longevity the focus of new training program for benefit pros

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As the White House kicks off its Conference on Aging this week, one financial services vendor is launching a new education program for its plan sponsor clients focused on creating greater awareness and understanding of the evolving needs of the nation’s aging population and their families.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s Longevity Training Program, created in partnership with the University of Southern California’s Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, will be available to the firm’s retirement and benefit plan customers later this year, and is based on a similar program the firm launched for its advisers earlier in the year.

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. Upon completion of the training, participants will receive a certificate of completion from USC.


EBN spoke with Cyndi Hutchins, director of financial gerontology with Bank of America Merrill Lynch, about the impetus behind the new program and what role employers play in helping educate their workers on retirement and aging issues.

How did this program for benefit and HR professionals come about, and what will they learn from it?

Hutchins: The program is really a product of [our] commitment to understanding longevity and understanding how longevity is changing the concerns and the needs of the workforce.

We developed [the program] in coordination with the University of Southern California. The [Leonard] Davis School of Gerontology there is probably the leading gerontology school in the country, if not the world. We designed a roughly four- to five-hour program for our plan sponsors, so that we could just educate them on the topics of longevity. The program really is designed to help plan sponsors acquire the knowledge and the skills that they need to take their understanding of longevity to their employees. Our objective is to give them the knowledge and the tools, so that they can provide more meaningful benefits but also for them to improve retention rates and then ultimately create more generationally friendly workplace environments for their employees.

There’re eight component parts to the program. We have an overview section that talks about things like [the] Older Americans Act and policies that have affected the workforce and employer benefits. Then we have seven additional modules that are formatted around what we … call the seven life priorities, and those are health, home, family, giving, leisure, work and finances.

Each of those sections has a series of short videos that were produced by USC and the USC professors are on the videos providing content around the things that we felt employers need to know and understand around each of those seven life priorities. Plan sponsors can go in at their leisure and view the videos, and we have a quick reference guide that they can download and print out.

What is the employer’s role in the broader issue of aging – beyond just offering retirement benefits such as 401(k) plans?

Cyndi Hutchins: I think that more and more employees are depending on their employer to educate them, first and foremost, about the things that they should be doing to plan for a longer retirement. That’s one aspect.

The other thing that is very challenging is that employers are dealing with multiple generations in the workforce, and baby boomers are working longer. You’ve got the millennials who are trying to claw their way up the ladder, you got Gen X stuck there in between, and each generation approaches the workplace differently, so if the employer can really understand these multiple generations they can help zero in on what the needs of those individual generations are as they start to think about retirement, and plan for the benefits that they need to be providing so that their employees can retire successfully.

How does each of the primary generations in the workforce today – the boomers, Gen X and millennials – approach retirement?

Hutchins: The Boomers are leading the way. They’re the ones that are, for the first time, looking at retirement saying, “This could be 30, or even 40 years. ... I might need to be thinking about working longer, cycling in and out of work, and maybe reinventing myself, learning new skills so that I can be a contributor in the workplace until a much later stage of my life.”

I think the Gen Xers are looking at that [approach] and they’re thinking about it more as the norm. The baby boomers are trailblazing … the Gen-Xers are looking at it as saying, “I'm probably going to have to adopt the baby boomer model of maybe working longer or working part-time or figuring out how work and the income that can be generated figures into my longer retirement plans.” They're … really focusing on taking individual responsibility for their retirement and coupling that with what they might be getting from Social Security.

The millennials are looking at it and saying, “I may only have one leg of that [traditional retirement] stool because I may not even have Social Security down the road.” They're looking at it as [having] to take 100% responsibility for retirement. Granted [they are] younger, so [they] have longer to save, but [they] really have to juggle that along with the other priorities of raising a family, buying a home, educating [their] children, maybe paying off student debt.

I think [for] each generation, it gets a little more complicated.

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