The battle to win more retirement clients is heating up, as
The Merrill Lynch Clear program begins with an iPad app that advisors use with clients to start conversations about what's important to them, and then to adjust their financial plan to meet those goals.
“The lead question is no longer ‘How’s your money?’ It’s ‘How’s your life?’” explains
Merrill has been running the program in pilot mode for the past eight months. About 3,000 advisors are currently using the iPad app to help clients identify their financial goals. Merrill executives expect the number to rise to about 12,000 advisors this summer.
Ken Dyschtwald, president and CEO of consulting firm Age Wave, sees this effort as a natural response to the progression of the baby boomer generation. He notes that as boomers pass through life's stages, they have flooded institutions, beginning with nurseries and later high schools and universities, forcing them to successively change how they function under the force of the boomer generations demographic weight.
According to U.S. Census data, there were 79 million Americans over age 55 in 2012, representing about 25% of the nation's total population. The percentage of boomers among advisors' client base is even more disproportionate. Slightly more than half of all advisor clients are now between 50 and 70 years old, according to data from
A Sleeker Approach
Merrill advisors say their new app is a much more useful than previous approaches for engaging with these clients.
"When I first started ten years ago as an advisor, it was ‘here is an 8-page questionnaire, please check this boxes.’ This is a stunning realization for the client that we get it," says
The app functions as a kind of conversation starter. When meeting with a client, an advisor simply asks them how important seven factors are: health, family, leisure, finances, giving, home and work. Then, with a swipe of the finger, the advisor highlights those areas that are important to the client, opening additional Web pages with research on college tuition, long-term care or other topics of relevance. Sometimes the data is illustrated using interactive graphics, to further provoke discussion.
"It's a simple, visual way of saying, 'did you know that X people need long-term care by age 85?" explains Tyrie.
Acquiring New Clients
Merrill executives hope the initiative will bring in new assets as impressed clients share their financial planning experiences with others.
Watson, who has been involved in the pilot program since the beginning, says that it has provided a framework for retirement conversations, such as legacy planning, and that he's subsequently obtained new clients through referrals. "They can't help but share what I've done for them," he says.
Of course, advisors have long worked with clients on retirement issues like long-term care and estate planning.
"We've already been doing this piecemeal," acknowledges
Davis adds that "People spend more time planning a trip to
The Merrill Lynch Clear iPad app was developed in house, says Tyrie. The firm will begin a marketing push this summer, targeting Web sites that address specific client interests such as healthcare and travel.
The program represents the latest effort by the wirehouse to better equip and train its advisors with regard to retirement planning.
But the program doesn’t end with baby boomers, says Tyrie.
"From a business perspective, this almost demands working with the next generation because these life priorities can't be addressed without their involvement," says Watson.
“It’s given me the vitality not to retire," he says.
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