Merrill Lynch today announced that it is partnering with both a university and a travel company, as well as adding new apps, to beef up its client-facing technology effort, known as Merrill Lynch Clear.
Merrill said it was teaming up with the University of Southern California Leonard Davis School of Gerontology to forge a training program for Merrill Lynch advisors. In a 12-hour course that can be taken over four to eight weeks, Merrill advisors get access to research about aging, which can include topics like Alzheimer’s, elder abuse, fall prevention, clients’ physiological changes, and so on. The course includes on-demand videos and online courses. Participants will get a certificate of completion from USC and can get up to nine continuing education credits for CFP, CIMA or CRPC designations.
At the same time, the brokerage has partnered with Virtuoso, a luxury travel network, in a relationship that gives Merrill clients access to Virtuoso’s boasted network of 355 invite-only agencies and 9,000 travel advisors. In an age where many people have turned to online sources for travel arrangements, high-touch travel networks like Virtuoso have emerged for situations when an advisor is still necessary—when clients going to exotic places want specialists at their disposal, for example, perhaps when they want to get in and out of a city or hotel quickly.
These additions are meant to buttress “Merrill Lynch Clear,” the firm’s technology-aided program in which advisors create a more comprehensive picture of their clients’ retirement. Merrill rolled out the “Clear” program in May of last year. The program allows the firm’s advisors to discuss client goals and objectives with a series of smart technology apps.
One app, for example, shows clients an hourglass with their money spilling out year after year, allowing them to adjust the spray of money by adding things like annuities or lowering annual withdrawals to show them how fast the money will run out. In another section centered on family priorities, clients can prioritize what they would most like to do with the money—whether it’s setting aside money for grandkids’ college or some other thing. Under another section, called “home,” clients can look at maps showing the states with the lowest tax rates, if they want to move, and prioritizes things such as how far away the clients will want to live from adult children. Another section called health analyzes how much things like home health care might cost as they live longer.
This kind of interactivity is a pretext for advisors to have more incisive conversations with clients about their plans—and will likely get them to reveal things they might not have done otherwise, maybe reveal something else they own, like company stock ownership, and draw a better picture of what the clients’ real goals are when drawing up a financial plan. Merrill hopes that in this way the firm can not only build a better relationship with clients, but also likely get them a bigger piece of the clients’ wealth and offer them a financial picture that’s based more on their goals than the gyrations of the stock market.
The program topics and apps are organized by seven life priorities retirees have—their health, their homes, their finances, their giving, their leisure time, their family and their work. Under each priority is a series of apps and those drill down into research topics.
One of the new discovery apps announced Thursday demonstrates how the sequence of market returns can affect clients’ savings. Users can run a dial along past retirement dates, including those right before market meltdowns, and see how their savings would have stacked up over longer retirement periods.