Online gerontology grad accepts new Merrill Lynch post

By Andrea Bennett 

In her job as a retirement specialist for Merrill Lynch, Cynthia Hutchins MA ’13 was consistently struck by how this generation’s retirement would be unlike all previous generations to date.

“The financial implications of aging for the Baby Boomers are enormous,” Hutchins said. “First, there is longevity. We are living 20, 30 and 40 years in retirement, while the generation prior approached retirement expecting to live just 10 to 15 years.

“Then, with benefit and pension plans dwindling to virtual nonexistence, there has been a shift of responsibility from the government or the employer to the individual.”

These exceptional circumstances fascinated Hutchins, a 30-year veteran of the financial services industry. With full support from her firm’s leadership, she decided to expand her expertise on today’s aging population with a Master of Arts in Gerontology from USC.

“I chose the online program because of the reputation of USC and the Davis School of Gerontology,” she said. “I was impressed by the convenience of being able to do the entire program online without receiving any less of the quality of an on-campus education.”

The Maryland resident continued to work 60-hour weeks while she attended classes online in the evenings. She said she was surprised to feel like every other student in her classes.

“There was technology to dial in and participate in the classroom, and Skype our questions,” she said. “I really did feel connected and never like an onlooker.”

Hutchins said she was also pleased with the support she received from her professors, who were always available and responsive, and her advisers, who called multiple times each semester to check in and ensure all of her needs were met.

The program’s unique multidisciplinary approach to aging offered a comprehensive perspective that few other programs provide, she noted.

“USC integrates seven different disciplines, including sociology, physiology, psychology and policy, and that really addresses life priorities, such as family, health, home services and infrastructure,” Hutchins said.

“Other programs just focus on the physiology of aging, but the USC program approaches aging from the human perspective, and every class was relevant.”

Hutchins’ employer found her newly acquired degree so valuable, Merrill Lynch created a director of financial gerontology position just for her and became the first firm to hire a full-time gerontologist.

David Tyrie, head of retirement and personal wealth solutions for Bank of America Merrill Lynch, said Hutchins’ gerontological expertise marks a new era for retirement planning at the firm.

“Cyndi’s appointment to this unique role comes at an important time, when people need access to a deeper level of expertise and guidance that can help them to and throughout retirement,” he said.

Hutchins said she is grateful for her USC education, which has allowed her to lead this effort by consulting the firm’s more than 14,000 financial advisers on gerontological trends and challenges affecting their clients.

“We’re changing the conversation with clients from money accumulated to their goals around their retirement lifestyle,” she said. ”USC has enabled me to lead this evolving conversation and help this new generation prepare for a long, fulfilling retirement.”