Executives of Bank of America’s Merrill Edge program have taken a page from The Christmas Carol to prompt investors to change their financial behavior: They’re offering them a glimpse of their future selves.  Through a new online tool that ages a consumer’s photo, investors can see what they’ll look like many years down the road.

The idea behind the new tool is to motivate Americans to save more for their retirement and to engage in conversations about their financial future, said Alok Prasad, head of Merrill Edge, an investment management program for mass affluent customers with $50,000 to $250,000 in investable assets.

The tool – coyly named Face Retirement -- was prompted in part by a Stanford University experiment that found that people who saw images of their age-tattered selves were more likely to save more for retirement than those who were spared the vision.   “People who see an age-progressed rendering of themselves are more likely to allocate resources to the future,” Prasad said.

The tool, which launched Tuesday, shows investors images of what they will look like at various ages in the future. In addition, it forecasts costs of living in selected years.  For example, in 2047, the cost of living will have increased 222%, with bread going for $7.41 a loaf. It also includes an estimate of how much consumers will need to retire and the steps they can take to begin saving. 

“It provides a snapshot of what you need to retire at that age,” said Prasad.

To use the tool, though, consumers need a computer with web camera, so their photo can be taken.  

The tool was developed to address the retirement worries that appear to consume mass affluent consumers, according to Merrill Edge research, said Prasad.  In its most recent semiannual report on the mass affluent market, Merrill Edge found that half of mass affluent Americans have saved less than $250,000 for retirement and that 56% plan to retire later than they were compared to a year ago.

Interestingly the research found that concerns about retirement diminish when individuals are engaged and having conversations about their future retirement needs. “The level of concern goes down significantly,” said Prasad, for “consumers who are engaged, are talking about the topic, or getting advice from other professionals or friends and family.”

Indeed, greater investor engagement is a key goal of the tool.  Users are able to post pictures of their future selves on Facebook, provoking what Merrill Edge hopes will be greater dialogue among the mass affluent.

“Our hope is that as they get engaged, they get more insights. They get exposed to the topic and hopefully take action,” said Prasad.

The Merrill Edge program offers mass affluent customers the option to manage their money via an online, self-directed investment account. They can also receive investment advice and guidance from Merrill Edge financial advisors located at bank branches and at the Merrill Edge call center.  Merrill Edge has more than 1,500 advisors, said Prasad.

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