Will seeing an elderly version of yourself make you wiser while you're still young?
That's the theory behind a new product launched by Merrill Edge, a financial planning platform operated at Bank of America. The application — dubbed "Face Retirement" — produces a digitally aged image of the potential retiree, along with the cost of living around retirement age.
A harsh reality: Not only will I be wrinkled, but a loaf of bread will be $9 and the average car will cost $84,000? Ouch.
"We couldn't get our clients to think ahead to the future," said Dean Athanasia, preferred banking executive at Bank of America. "Then we thought of this — the aging process."
Science seems to support that idea. Two researchers at Stanford University found in a study last year that participants who were introduced to their "future self" were more likely to save for retirement. And those who interacted with a happier version of that future self stashed away even more.
In thinking of retirement, people seem to want themselves to be happy. That's probably the biggest reason why, when we tested the product on a random sample of Tri-State residents, they found the results of their own aging unsettling.
"I look like the scary witch from 'Hansel & Gretel,'" said marketing exec Jina Myers, 30, who said she has a "little" saved for retirement. In response to his decades-older digital alter ego, Richard Cording, 59, asked his wife if she wanted to stay married to him. The majority of respondents suggested they should be saving simultaneously for plastic surgery.
Some retirement experts argue against such fear-mongering. "Today's boomer really needs a message of optimism and hope," said Frank Troise, founder of FreeRetirementReport.com. "I'm not certain that a stark financial and physical picture is exactly what they need in order to compel them to action." (Read More: New Retirement Calculus Gives New Life to Tricky Annuities)
According to McKinsey & Company, two-thirds of early baby boomers will find they haven't saved enough to maintain their standard of living once they retire. Many Americans must work longer to combat that, if they can.
Athanasia started saving in his thirties, which he deems "too late." By his estimations, the average 30 year-old today would need roughly a million dollars in hand to retire comfortably at age 65. The problem: Half of the millennial generation — aged 18 to 29 — have nothing in their retirement accounts.
And historically, there were few outlets catering to them. Even some 25 million households in the traditional boomer set have found themselves outside the scope of big-box brokers since they have less than $250,000 in assets.
That could be changing. Merrill Edge, the low-cost planning platform at Bank of America is just one of a crop of financial advisers catering to young people by heading online — while still competing with the likes of Charles Schwab and Fidelity for the boomer clientele. (Read More: Is Women's 'Retirement Gap' Really a Pay Gap?)
LearnVest, a budgeting startup popular with the twentysomething crowd, rolled out a wealth management platform earlier this year, with prices starting at $89 for a three-month membership to work one-on-one with an expert. The most involved tier — "The Portfolio Builder" — costs $599 for a year.
Another planning product still in beta form is the two-year-old Future Advisor, which offers a basic money management membership for free and a premium membership that will automatically rebalance your portfolios — at fees advertised as 80 percent off traditional advisories. (Read More: Retirement Bliss May Turn to Blues for Some Boomers)
None besides Merrill Edge — yet — have gone so far as to put the client face-to-face with the grim reality of the future, but perhaps they might if it proves successful. Since its early December launch, some 150,000 people have logged onto the program, with 10 percent sharing their image on Twitter or Facebook.
Says Athanasia, it not about being afraid: "It's a conversation starter."