TIAA-CREF Pensioners Call for Help

 
 
By Renee Boucher Ferguson  |  Posted 2006-01-13
 
 
 
TIAA-CREF pensioners, frustrated with the companys inability to respond to ongoing fund disbursement issues, are seeking relief from oversight organizations.

Several TIAA-CREF (Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association—College Retirement Equities Fund) pensioners have notified eWEEK that they are lodging formal complaints with the SEC (Securities & Exchange Commission) and with the New York State Insurance Department.

At the same time, eWEEK has learned that TIAA-CREF has likely halted the migration plans of about 80 percent of its 15,000 higher education clients to its Open Plan Solutions platform, according to a TIAA-CREF employee who has requested anonymity.

"Only twenty percent of the schools are converted," the employee said. "The rest are on hold … finally, there are some apologies and acknowledgements that there are problems with the system."

However, TIAA-CREF spokesperson Glen Weiner, in New York, denies that there has been any slowdown in the companys plans to migrate all of its member schools to the TOPS platform by years end.

"Our conversion schedule is proceeding as planned," Weiner said. "As part of that plan we took a break in January to allow year-end bookkeeping, similar to the breaks we take at the end of each quarter."

As eWEEK reported previously on Jan. 7, TIAA-CREF, one of the nations largest retirement systems, is experiencing major issues with its Open Plan Solutions platform implementation.

Those problems have caused, in some cases, months-long delays in pensioners receiving funds, the inability to roll over accounts, long wait times at TIAA-CREFs call center, and, its been recently learned, the inability to sell TIAA-CREF stock.

While the company publicly pointed to infrastructure upgrades as the culprit, internal TIAA-CREF e-mails obtained by eWEEK from an anonymous source fingered Open Plan Solutions, or TOPS as it is known internally, as the culprit.

According to the e-mails, from Oct. 1 through Dec. 1, 5,529 participants—schools and universities—that migrated to the new platform experienced payment delays.

Click here to read more about glitches experienced by TIAA-CREF pensioners.

That includes lump-sum annuity disbursements, systematic payments, transfer payout annuities, interest payment retirement options and individual retirement accounts. TIAA-CREF consultants were authorized to pay bank charges for participant overdrafts.

In November, problems were also identified with TIAA-CREFs Single Sum Settlement System that created issues primarily with systematic withdrawals, but with other lines of business as well.

Colleen Speno, a pensioner who has been unable to receive funds from a transfer payout annuity, sent an e-mail to the Trustees at TIAA-CREF on Jan. 10 notifying them of her formal complaints to the SEC and NY State Insurance Department.

Speno told eWEEK she has made 21 calls to TIAA-CREF in the last week looking for answers, with little success in getting answers—or access to her funds.

"I have spent 20 hours (since the 30th of Dec) of my time on the phone with your Representatives trying to get my money transferred to my IRA for payout," Speno said in her letter to trustees. "I began this process back on Nov. 17th, 2005. Each time I have called I have received much Miss Information."

Speno is also contacting an attorney.

Likewise, A. Peet Hickman, a Physics professor at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Penn., has filed a complaint with the SEC, and is considering filing a complaint with the New York State Insurance Department.

While some of his initial fund issues have been solved, Hickman said, "The bottom line is that I still cannot effectively manage my accounts. I have been frustrated in carrying out my decision to sell a small fraction of my CREF stock at a time when the market seems high."

A Jan. 7 call to both the SEC and the New York State Insurance Department found that neither organization was looking into the system issues at TIAA-CREF, though the Insurance Department had been made aware by TIAA-CREF of its problems.

An SEC spokesperson said Friday that the SEC does not comment, in general, on any actions or complaints regarding specific companies. New York State Insurance Department officials were not immediately available for comment.

"Weve made a lot of progress, but we still have more to do," TIAA-CREFs Weiner said, regarding the complaints filed by pensioners. "Were current with most of our transactions, but were still working to resolve individual cases. We want to work with people to resolve their issues to their satisfaction."

Editors Note: This story was updated to include comments from a TIAA-CREF spokesperson.

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