TIAA-CREF: Mo Money, Mo Problems

 
 
By Renee Boucher Ferguson  |  Posted 2006-03-13
 
 
 

On the surface, all is well at the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association—College Retirement Equities Fund, better known as TIAA-CREF. Despite recent issues that denied thousands of pensioners access to their funds—in some cases for months, while others received overpayments amounting to thousands of dollars— customers contacted by eWEEK March 5 said that, by and large, their issues have been resolved.

Sources close to the company, however, have come forward to stress that there are still issues with TIAA-CREFs Open Plan Solutions platform. This time, the problems arent on the funds disbursement end, as initially reported by eWEEK, but rather with the inflow of money, particularly during conversions from the legacy system to Open Plan Solutions.

Problems range from synchronization issues between TIAA-CREFs Web software and SunGards OmniPlus record-keeping system to backdating payroll and allocating incoming funds to proper accounts, sources said.

"There are serious disconnects between the participant Web access software and the record-keeping system," said a source close to the company who requested anonymity. "On a few fundamentals, the two softwares follow a different set of edits ... two weeks ago, roughly 1,000 interfund transfers per week would have appeared to be successfully requested by the participant, only to fail that night during batch process."

Click here to read more about these upgrade problems.

TIAA-CREF spokesperson Glen Weiner confirmed that there are issues with synchronizing the Web software with Open Plan Solutions. "In some cases its true that our Web and our processing systems are out of sync as we work to update [the system]," Weiner said. "But nothing gets lost. We have systems in place to catch things."

Separately, there are issues with backdating payroll contributions that fall at months end, according to one source. "If the month end is a payroll date, [TIAA-CREF] has issues of how to post that money. There are problems applying money to an account over the back end because [the system] cant backdate the money," said the source. "Its not uncommon for payroll to come in the last day of the month and not be applied until the next week."

The inability to backdate payroll distributions results in a customers retirement contribution not actually being in his or her account. If that person requests a funds withdrawal on the first of the month, the funds will not be available. Fifty-thousand customers at the University of Washington do not get their contributions updated for one to two weeks, sources said.

To read more about these complaints, click here.

Weiner acknowledged the issue but said that its more the way financial transactions are cleared versus an issue with Open Plan Solutions.

Issues with funds disbursements stem from the way accounts are managed in Open Plan Solutions, sources said. "The complexity of the TIAA-CREFs product structure causes multiple occurrences on the new record-keeping system," said a source close to the company. "Many participants are converted improperly and set up with duplicate accounts where all of their future contributions go to default investment selections."

According to a different source, that also means that one person on the back end is not going to handle a $50,000 withdrawal, for example, because its in five different places.

"Lets say Im one of the schools TIAA is converting—all of my stuff would convert, but there would be money in the old system and money in the new system. Its definitely a very messy process."

Weiner said that one unique feature, the companys portable pension system that provides access to current and past accounts regardless of where customers work, can also have glitches. "Sometimes [issues] can happen. When they do, we have dedicated teams [to fix the problem] and contact the participant and ensure any out-of-pocket expenses they incur will be reimbursed."

Weiner also confirmed that the company is outsourcing some of its school conversions to consultants.

New York-based TIAA-CREF is one of the nations largest private retirement systems, with more than 3 million members from the academic community and about 15,000 institutional investors. The companys plan is to convert all its member institutions to the Open Plan Solutions platform by the end of this year. To date, its converted about 50 schools this year, and 250 overall.

While eWEEK previously reported that TIAA-CREF had put some conversions on hold until technical issues with the Open Plan Solutions platform were fixed, Weiner confirmed the company has no intention of putting conversions on hold.

"Weve made a lot of progress, but we also know there may be further problems, and were going to work night and day to solve them," said Weiner. "Weve redoubled our focus on whos available to work on these problems."

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