Bank of America Merrill Lynch has unveiled a new set of features for its 401(k) and employee financial benefit programs including new mobile access to retirement account information.
Benefits OnLine Mobile, a financial benefit platform, is scheduled to roll out to Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s plan participants on their mobile devices in the next couple of months. The new feature will allow participants to access their financial benefit plan account information and alerts for account events such as an equity vesting.
The firm plans to continue to add to those mobile capabilities into 2012, including plans to allow employees to complete transactions via their mobile device. That will include transferring funds, reviewing retirement income projections, and working with the firm’s current Advice Access offering for saving and investment advice. Advice Access, which works with more than 400 corporate benefit plan programs, also has phone and in-person services.
“We want to meet the employees where they are, and where they are is all over the place,” Steve Ulian, head of relationship management, said of the new capabilities, which will work on Android, Blackberry and Apple devices including the iPhone, iPad and iTouch.
Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s enhancements come as it has seen new demands from both employers and employees as emphasis on corporate benefits has increased.
“Employers now feel, I think, a far greater responsibility and accountability that their benefit plan offering is well utilized, well appreciated by their employees,” said Kevin Crain, head of institutional retirement and benefit services at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
Those benefits still have a role in employers’ war for talent even with unemployment currently at 9%, according to Crain. Employees, at the same time in responding to new financial pressures, want greater access and clarity to their employer benefits, he said.
To meet those needs, Bank of America Merrill Lynch plans to steadily add to its financial benefit features into next year.
In addition to mobile, Bank of America Merrill Lynch is scheduled to roll out new employee financial services through the end of this year and into 2012. That is aimed at providing employees with tools and resources to help them with planning for financial goals other than retirement, such as budgeting, college costs, debt management and estate planning.
At the same time, Bank of America Merrill Lynch has also launched several new features available to employers and employees now.
That includes broadening the investment choices that human resources and benefit professionals can choose from. Those expanded offerings now include 4,700 investment options such as passive and actively managed commingled trusts, non-proprietary stable value funds, target date funds and separately managed accounts. Those investments are provided through more than 130 investment managers. Employees also have the choice of using a self-directed brokerage account.
Bank of America Merrill Lynch is also providing defined benefit discretionary services allow for a co-fiduciary investment management responsibility with defined benefit plan sponsors.
With these new features, the firm has also expanded its benefit plan professionals servicing employees. That includes 20 teams of about 160 financial advisers that have been put through new training for plan sponsors benefit plans. Some of those financial advisors are also set to provide defined contribution investment consulting services aimed at helping plan sponsors with the fiduciary risk of 401(k) plans.
The financial advisers will work with a staff devoted to plan sponsor programs, including the integration of defined benefit, defined contribution, equity and non-qualified deferred compensation plans.
Lorie Konish writes for On Wall Street.