TIAA-CREF in Hot Water

IT issues once again are causing a spike in the number of customer complaints.

The IT issues at TIAA-CREF have once again reared their (collectively) ugly head.

Details of increasing problems with Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association-College Retirement Fund, one of the nations largest private retirement systems, have recently been forwarded to eWEEK from disgruntled customers. Those, added to a number of complaints filed with TIAA-CREFs New York oversight board, point to still-unresolved issues at the company.

Andrew Mais, a spokesperson for the New York State Insurance Department, confirmed Oct. 20 that consumers have filed 21 individual complaints against TIAA-CREF since the beginning of 2006. Of those, nine are still pending.

Customers have confirmed to eWeek that theyve filed complaints with the Securities and Exchange Commission as well, which does not comment on individual companies.

Nearly a year ago, TIAA-CREF customers noticed something was amiss with their pension funds. Over the following several months, the situation escalated to the point where thousands of pensioners were denied access to their retirement funds, with customer accounting nightmares not far behind.

The issues at the company stemmed from a botched implementation of a new IT system, Open Plan Solutions, a commercial platform meant to integrate the companys legacy annuity, mutual fund and other service offerings into a single system.

By the time TIAA-CREF publicly addressed the issues, many of the major problems seemed to have been solved. But by midsummer, customers began reaching out once again to eWeek, complaining about persistent account access problems.

"It really is astounding that after more than a year of these problems, [TIAA-CREF] has been unable to solve them," wrote TIAA-CREF customer John Conybeare of Iowa City, Iowa, in an Oct. 20 e-mail to eWeek.

"I have been locked out of my main TIAA-CREF retirement account for four months, unable to do any transactions. … The TIAA system does not let you talk to anyone other than telephone service representatives who just promise more investigations, never with any result or a call back," Conybeare said.

Conybeare has filed a complaint with the SEC and is seeking other means of redress.

Marge Popp, a database administrator and longtime TIAA-CREF member, filed a complaint with NYSID earlier this summer.

In October, Popp spoke with eWeek regarding her ongoing issues with TIAA-CREF, which amount to an inability to move funds from one account to another, the inability to access funds for stock transactions and an accounting error of $100,000.

Not that the money was missing, Popp said; rather, it didnt show up on her personal TIAA-CREF Web page. "My problem … took over six months to resolve, and I am convinced the only reason it was solved was because I was on the phone with [TIAA-CREF] almost every day," said Popp in Corvallis, Ore. "Then once the claim was filed [with NYSID], things went much, much faster."

NYSIDs Mais said his agency is aware of TIAA-CREFs problems with its migration to a new computer platform. "We are … monitoring the situation, as well as resolving any complaints of which we become aware," he said.

Annoyed Big Time

Disgruntled customers have forwarded to eWEEK tales of their increasing problems with TIAA-CREF. In their words:

"There is incompetence at that organization at some level to allow a conversion to get away from them like they did."

—Marge Popp, TIAA-CREF member

"My phone calls finally yielded the

statement that [TIAA-CREFs] money

market account does not have the money to send me, even though my statements correctly indicate that it holds over $15,000 of my money. Is this not called insolvent?"

—A TIAA-CREF customer who requested anonymity

"Sixty days of their inability to post a payroll deduction that has been constant for 130 months is a serious breach of [TIAA-CREFs] fiduciary responsibility." —From a copy of a letter that an anonymous Lehigh University employee sent to the schools TIAA-CREF administrator

"Its like a bank that wont give you your money. Not that theyre saying its not your money, they just wont give it to you." —Howard Stern, TIAA-CREF member

Source: eWEEK reporting