Technical Glitch Foils TIAA-CREF

By Renee Boucher Ferguson  |  Posted 2005-12-05 Print this article Print

Nearly a month of IT problems plagued TIAA-CREF, one of the nation's largest retirement funds, leaving thousands of pensioners with no access to their money.

Nearly a month of IT problems plagued TIAA-CREF, one of the nations largest retirement funds, leaving thousands of pensioners with no access to their money.

According to sources familiar with the matter, Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association-College Retirement Equities Fund is in the midst of a major platform upgrade gone awry. The precise technologies at the heart of the upgrade remain unclear. The problems began to surface Nov. 15, initially affecting about 30 people but later escalating until "thousands" of customers were feeling the pinch, the sources said.

One frustrated TIAA-CREF client told eWEEK that he spoke with TIAA-CREF representatives on Nov. 28 and was told the trouble with the institutions IRA accounts was forcing the company to reinput client information manually.

TIAA-CREF spokesperson Glen Weiner initially said that there had been minor delays in a small number of transactions—and that corrective actions "have been or are near completion." Weiner followed up in a second statement late last week that the matter had been settled.

"The issue has been resolved, and the checks have gone out," said Weiner. "Technological and human resources were brought to bear to resolve it. We dont foresee this being a problem in the future."

But, by press time, not all TIAA-CREF clients were convinced.

"I just wanted to let you know the problem has not been resolved," said one TIAA-CREF customer, in an e-mail sent to eWEEK. "The TIAA phone reps have been very polite but give no useful information, such as when might the problem be solved. ... My transfer is now over two weeks late and still no result."

"Many of us have mortgages due, or other cash needs, which simply are not being processed," said another TIAA-CREF client who requested anonymity. "TIAA-CREF has appointed escalation teams to try and get something done and to reassure participants that something is being done."

New York-based TIAA-CREF is one of the largest private retirement systems in the United States, with more than 3 million members from the academic community and about 15,000 institutional investors. Officials declined to provide any additional details regarding the issues or to comment on their customers continuing frustrations.

TIAA-CREFs reserve is common among financial institutions—a practice that knowingly keeps customers in the dark when problems arise.

"Theres definite reticence, especially with a company like TIAA-CREF, which is a very private company in a private industry," said Eric Fitzwater, a financial services analyst with SNL Financial LC, in Charlottesville, Va. "If someone at the corporate office said something that was technically accurate but misinterpreted, it could cause waves that couldnt be stopped."


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