Merrill Lynch puts a new face on its retirement tools
Bank of America Merrill Lynch has given its Benefits Online web portal a makeover. New tools, additional information sources and a revamped interface are intended to give employees greater control over their post-work savings.
The Benefits Online redesign was rolled out in February for the estimated 5 million participants in Merrill Lynch’s retirement plan, some of whom provided input into the portal’s new features.
“Our goal was to make it more intuitive, interactive and simple to tee up the most important information based on our evaluation of how participants use the site,” says Lisa Margeson, head of retirement client experience at the firm. Objectives included reducing the screen clutter of the old design and adding new tools to help plan participants manage their retirement assets.
The first thing a participant sees when logging into the updated portal is the retirement income projection tool. Along with views of their retirement plan balance, employees can use calculators to analyze how increasing their monthly savings, shifting their investment mix or making some other change are likely to affect their savings rate and investment outcomes. For employees not currently enrolled in the plan, there is an Enroll Now button.
The redesign also aims to help benefit advisers and plan sponsors raise awareness of what Merrill Lynch refers to as employee “retirement readiness.” “The new interface allows benefit advisors to communicate directly with employees to provide savings and investment guidance. The new homepage also provides the user with personalized metrics and data-driven recommendations.
The new features are expected to be especially popular among younger plan participants, who eschew mailings and printed fund reports in favor of interactive, online tools. Per Merrill Lynch’s 2017 Workplace Benefits Report, 70% of millennial workers prefer to receive financial advice online.
Helping out advisers
“These web portals are like a car’s chassis,” says ERISA and retirement plan attorney Ary Rosenbaum of Garden City, N.Y. “They really help out the advisers in getting their message across.” Rosenbaum, who is not a Merrill Lynch client, adds that “As an administrator, I love the idea of [being able] to just click to get approval of the distributions. I still have plans where I have to create a PDF and have clients sign the form.”
The updated website also includes an expanded to-do list that advises participants ways to improve their savings and investment behavior and overall financial wellness. For example, employees might be encouraged to increase their 401(k) contribution rate to take full advantage of any employer match. A new Quick Links page directs visitors to tools for common tasks, such as changing contribution levels, altering investment mixes, designating a beneficiary and determining their loan eligibility.
Since the updated portal launched, Margeson says there has been a 300% increase in the firm’s retirement site activity. Currently, she adds, Merrill Lynch is working to develop a mobile version of the site and a refresh of its plan sponsor site, both of which are expected to be ready by early summer.