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An innovative way to 'face' retirement

A new app encourages retirement savers to picture themselves in old age.

By MSN Money Partner Feb 26, 2013 2:09PM

This post comes from Emily Brandon at partner site U.S. News & World Report.

U.S. News & World Report logoBank of America wants to put a new face on your retirement -- literally. The company's Merrill Edge unit recently released a new app that shows users how they will look decades in the future.


The tool digitally ages a picture of the user and shows a series of renderings of the person's  future self at various ages, concluding with a photo of how he or she might look after age 100. To reinforce the message that the user will get old one day, the app then flickers back and forth between the current photo and the aged photo.

Next to the aged photos are messages about how much the cost of living will increase by the time you reach a given age, and the expected prices for milk, bread, gas, utilities and other consumer items you are likely to need. In the bottom right-hand corner, Bank of America makes its pitch about saving in its Merrill Edge IRA for retirement.


Image: Woman with computer (© Jose Luis Pelaez/Getty Images/Getty Images)But you aren't required to hand over any personal information or even your email address to use the tool. "Our goal is to engage those 18 to 34 who have not yet started thinking about retirement and get them engaged as soon as possible," says Alok Prasad, head of Merrill Edge. "We tried to use this aging tool to kind of bring a little bit of humor and fun into a tough topic and get individuals thinking about their future selves."


Merrill Edge says more than 250,000 people used the face retirement app to create aged photos of themselves in the month after it launched. And about 10% of those users shared their aged photo on Facebook with their friends.


When April Kessler, 42, a business librarian in Austin, Texas, first tried the face retirement tool, she invited her colleagues into her office to look at it. "We all joked it was going to make us save for plastic surgery," she says. "I decided I need a little more sleep and possibly I need to start moisturizing more."


But she also went back to look at the aged photo again later. "It's a gimmick, for sure, but it does make you think about it," she says. "It is a reminder that you are going to get older and you do have to plan for the future."


Some experts say the tool is not likely to have an immediate impact on retirement savings, but the experience of seeing your future self could be recalled later when you make 401k or IRA decisions.


"It's not like somebody goes on there and then happens to read one of their statistics about what you will need and calls their bank the same day," says Kit Yarrow, a consumer research psychologist at Golden Gate University and co-author of "Gen BuY: How Tweens, Teens, and Twenty-Somethings Are Revolutionizing Retail" who is not affiliated with the tool. "It may not inspire someone to pick up the phone right away, but I think it builds a relationship."


And if you begin to think of yourself as someone who will grow old one day, it could change your behavior at a key moment. "It's hard to image that you are ever going to get there when you are 18," says Yarrow. "Getting someone to visualize and imagine themselves in that position is a major benefit of this campaign."


The face retirement tool is based on a series of experiments, conducted at Stanford University and published in the Journal of Marketing Research in 2011, that found that people who view age-progressed photos of themselves often consider allocating more money to retirement accounts.


For example, in one of the studies, 50 people were shown an aged or current picture of themselves and then asked to allocate a hypothetical $1,000 among four choices: a checking account, a fun and extravagant occasion, a retirement fund, or buying something nice for someone special. Participants who viewed the aged photo said they would put significantly more in the retirement account ($172) then those who viewed a current photo ($80).


How effective the tool is at getting you to increase your retirement contributions may depend on your attitude when you use it. "If they see it via Facebook, I'm not sure someone is going to change their 401k contributions," says Hal Hershfield, an assistant professor in the marketing department at New York University's Stern School of Business and co-author of the original marketing research. "If, on the other hand, they are actually in the mindset of trying to get more information about retirement, I think this could have a measurable impact on the types of decisions that they make."


Erica Agran, 41, of Chicago, shared a photo of herself at age 57 produced by the face retirement app on her blog, Erica Finds. "It got me interested and thinking about my retirement number and when I can retire," says Agran, who already maxes out her 401k. "I think the fact that they went out so far into the future when you are 107 years old makes it more like a novelty and something harder to take seriously."


Agran isn't convinced that the app produced a realistic representation of what she will look like in old age. "It seems to sag your face a lot, but your hair doesn't change," she says. "My mom doesn't look like that, so I'm pretty sure I won't either."


More on U.S. News & World Report and MSN Money:

Mar 21, 2013 8:24PM
Ain't this something. A "too big to fail" bailout recipient telling us how to manage money..laughable at best.
Mar 21, 2013 8:05PM
I got laid off - again - and decided to just retire early.  Fortunately, I did have some plans in place and they have worked out for me.  I love it and don't miss the rat race at all.
Mar 21, 2013 9:18PM

With a SMILE!


My former employer, through attrition gave a bunch of us a years salary and pension, if eligible.


So I took the money after 25 years, along with my 401K and didn't let the door hit me in the A$$ on the way out and ran like hell.


Age 55, no debt and $650K, I'm a happy boy!


One very sad aspect to all this is the young kids with families and mortgages the corporate morons kicked to the curb before letting the rest of us go. 


I didn't mind working and would have stayed on for 30 or 35 years (Bigger pension after all).


I can only hope the company hired these kids back after letting us old timers go! 

Mar 22, 2013 10:59AM
If you haven't built a significant retirement before you either choose to or are forced to retire, your physical appearance will be the least of your worries.
Mar 22, 2013 8:50AM
Planned retirement in todays world is a fantasy. Most people were forced to retire as corporations today throw away any worker over 55. I was lucky and when tossed out was able to sustain. There are many who will not. Sad Best advice I can offer is get out of debt as fast as you can. With prices on everything increasing be prepared to change your style of living. You can be comfortable with less. It's not fun, you must make it work. It took six months to clean up the debt, but surviving is easier without it.
Mar 22, 2013 7:15AM
With Obama in office I don't worry about my retirement.  I know he will make sure everything will fine.
Feb 26, 2013 9:16PM
Mar 22, 2013 11:19AM
these Fidelity ads are so....annoying.
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