Thought leadership: Informing the Workplace and Our World

An interview with Surya Kolluri, managing director, Bank of America Retirement Thought Leadership

Longevity. Caregiving. Brain health. Diversity. Artificial intelligence. An intergenerational workforce. These are the forces that continue to change how we live and work. What can we expect in the years ahead and what impact will these trends have on individuals, the workplace and global policy? How can we navigate this evolving landscape, and what strategies can we implement to help us reach our goals?

For Surya Kolluri, helping answer these questions has been the focus of his career at Bank of America for the past dozen or more years, and it is what continues to inspire him every day. As managing director for Bank of America’s Retirement Thought Leadership, Surya and his team identify and analyze the most influential trends of today—and even look out 10-20 years into the future. The goal: to provide insights that can help inform benefit strategies, programs and public policies all in support of our purpose to help make financial lives better.

Here Surya discusses his work, the issues his thought leadership team and colleagues are focusing on now, and what this all means for you and your employees.

Can you describe the role of thought leadership at Bank of America?

Our leadership team is deeply committed to helping our clients navigate the dynamic forces that are transforming our society and in turn, the workplace. My team and I look at demographic and macroeconomic trends and challenges affecting institutions and individuals, we analyze and study these issues, and then we share our findings and insights to guide us toward actions to help improve the wellbeing of those we serve. For example, our work helps inform the development of programs across our enterprise for our clients and financial wellness content for employees—and sometimes contributes to new policies for the public at large. Because we are continuously sharing our latest thought leadership with our clients, we also believe that this work can be valuable to employers in creating workplace benefits strategies relevant with today’s most critical needs.

What are some of the priority issues for you?

Much of our work springs from the effects that the aging population has on our world. A baby born today has a 1 in 3 chance of living to 100 years old. We are exploring how living longer impacts the workplace as well as what it means for an individual’s health and wealth. Tied to our study of longevity is the issue of who is caring for this aging population. The total number of caregivers in the workplace continues to grow and that has ramifications for both employees and employers. Longevity is also fostering a more intergenerational workforce, presenting new challenges and opportunities. All of this change is fueling the critical need to collectively help people match their health span and wealth span with their ever-increasing life span.

As you can see, longevity is the common thread linking so many issues we face today. It is also my particular area of expertise and one of personal interest. My dad is a widower, and I’ve had many conversations with him about his care as he gets older. Alzheimer’s has also touched my family, and with the possibility of cognitive decline, we are concerned about maintaining his quality of life.

What other areas will you be researching?

Other focus areas for us include diversity and inclusion, gender lens, health care, financial fitness, and artificial intelligence/technology and its impact on the workplace. We are looking forward to sharing insights about these important topics in the coming months.

With so many diverse areas of study, what resources do you have available to support your work?

Our team represents a variety of disciplines and expertise. In addition, we’ve developed key strategic relationships that give us access to leading researchers, and these relationships help further our work. We partner with about a dozen prominent organizations to conduct joint research, such as the Stanford University Center on Longevity, MIT Age Lab, Wharton Business School’s Pension Research Council, Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research, University of Southern California’s gerontology school, Gerontological Society of America, and Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging. In fact, we just sponsored a study with the Milken Institute to understand the impact of dementia on diverse populations. We’ve also founded two organizations, the Global Coalition on Aging and a CEO Initiative for Alzheimer’s Disease. All of these relationships support our ability to conduct deep and meaningful research and add texture to our work.

How can employers use the insights you share with them?

As a tight job market has created a war for talent and continues to make it challenging for employers to attract and keep employees, our work offers insights that can help them create appealing programs and benefits to help position their companies as preferred places to work. Our research can provide a better understanding of the challenges employees face, factors important to them, and what they expect from their employers—all of which can inform strategies to engage employees and foster a satisfied and productive team. The wellbeing of employees remains a top priority for employers, and one we share with our clients. We’re investing in uncovering and communicating information that will help equip us all to be better at serving that purpose.

You mentioned earlier that your work contributes to the dialogue around public policy. Can you elaborate?

Our research often leads to pioneering work; for example, how we organize financial guidance and solutions around life priorities, or how we integrate gerontology with our advisory services. These innovative approaches often draw the attention of policymakers. Our Government Relations team often contacts us about inquiries they field from members of Congress and other organizations. We are also invited to present our latest thinking at national and global conferences. For example, I recently presented at the AARP Executive Summit on financial impact of caregiving and at the G20, an international forum for governments from 19 countries and the European Union. Lorna Sabbia also represented Bank of America at the Silver Economy Forum in Helsinki. Having a voice on these issues can help inform future policy positions.

What makes you most excited about your work?

The 21st century is going to experience major transitions―cultural, technological, political and economical. We are creating content and insights that can be really valuable to so many people and groups working toward improving the financial lives of Americans. Leaders across our own enterprise can access and use this information to help clients in every area we serve, whether retirement, banking or investments. I can’t tell you how energizing that is.

Source: Bank of America Merrill Lynch

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