By Renee Boucher Ferguson  |  Posted 2007-08-17 Print this article Print

-CREF Effectively Stealing, Customer Claims"> The system upgrades began in 2005 at TIAA-CREF when the companys then-new CEO, Herb Allison, determined it was time to modernize the companys IT infrastructure and provide new services to the companys customers. The Open Plan Solutions platform was designed to integrate the companys legacy annuity, mutual fund and other service offerings into a single system. At the same time TIAA-CREF also consolidated its data network, implemented a single data security firewall, put in a new trading and settlement system, new desktop systems for customer service agents and upgraded its financial systems. Its not clear where the current issues with customers stem from, but the problems are being blamed on the "system upgrade" according to customers who have contacted TIAA-CREFs customer service representatives.
The company has taken steps to improve functionality functionality of the platform and service to institutional and individual clients is the companys top priority, said Chad Peterson, a TIAA-CREF spokesman, in New York.
As of last week, TIAA-CREF had hired 48 new employees to process pay-in and pay-out transactions. Its also enhanced its Web site so that clients can complete more transactions online. The company, saw a change in CTO, naming Peter Murphy to replace Sue Kozik. "Were fixing the root causes," said Peterson. "We have more work to do, but were making progress." 33 Complaints Filed The New York State Insurance Department, another oversight board for TIAA-CREF, received 33 complaints from customers from Jan. 1 to date. According to Andy Mais, spokesman for the department, 25 of those claims were upheld or adjusted in the consumers favor, two were turned down and one complaint was referred to another jurisdiction. There are five outstanding complaints that are currently open. "The whole thing is just a joke—a very scary joke. I am 66 years old and looking to retire," said Susanna Rechlitz, a beleaguered TIAA-CREF customer who works in accounting at a medical school and filed a suit with the New York agency. "Theyre using this computer upgrade as the constant, constant blame for all this nonsense. Thats been almost a year-and-a-half ago. I work [in accounting] for a medical school. We upgraded our system. Yes, there were glitches, but you called someone in and no matter what the cost, you fixed it. Were dealing with peoples payroll." Rechlitz has contacted her states attorney general and is considering hiring an attorney to settle matters with TIAA-CREF. Rechlitz, like others who contacted eWEEK, is having issues with her contribution calculations as well as a loan payment that hasnt been accounted for—leaving her in arrears with an outstanding loan, despite sending a check to TIAA-CREF to pay off the balance. Rechlitz said there have only been a couple of other employees at her institution affected by the issues at TIAA-CREF. Thats not the case at other institutions. TIAA-CREFs Own Employees Speak Out While the SEC does not reveal specific complaints against companies, a number of TIAA-CREF customers posting to the Consumerism Commentary personal finance blog report that they have, in fact, filed complaints with the SEC and other regulatory bodies after numerous issues. The raft of nearly 40 blog postings on the Consumerism Commentary Web site reveal that the ongoing issues with the companys financial systems upgrade project are also deeply impacting TIAA-CREFs employees. "I am a former employee having worked [at TIAA-CREF] for many years," wrote one blog poster. "Most importantly I am also a customer…Having worked there for so long my assets are substantial. I have also experienced poor service and have been given the wrong information. Unlike the general populace, I can get access to more senior level consultants to correct the problems, but even then it takes too long." To read TIAA-CREFs response to its customers complaints, click here. The poster went on to comment that 42 percent of TIAA-CREFs employees have been at the company two years or less. "Morale is extremely poor. It is no wonder that service is poor. Dont blame the employees. When the current CEO came on board several years ago, there was a need for change and improvement. He seemingly had a plan. However, the execution has been dreadful. Attempts to correct the initial problems have made the situation worse…it is astounding that the Board of Trustees has let this continue." Another poster to the Consumerism Commentary blog, a senior consulting representative who worked at TIAA-CREF for eight years and left last year, was "quite candid" about the scope of problems at the company. "Management has seen to it that, if an employee is honest to participants about the problems, they are soon pressured to leave," wrote the poster. "I speak from direct experience… [TIAA-CREF] may be a giant in the industry but their problems are simply not being addressed by management." Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on servers, switches and networking protocols for the enterprise and small businesses.


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