“It’s a mess,” said Stacy Pekins, an Agriculture Department retiree who said she was locked out of her account and then blocked with customer service for four hours. “Lack of professionalism, lack of access and lack of information are not convincing. As a retired person, this is a vote to get my money out of TSP.”
Federal retirement savings program to broadly expand investment options
Dell. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D.D.C.) raised several issues last week in a letter to the governing board of the Thrift Savings Plan, called the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, or FRTIB.
“Electors indicate they have attempted to contact TSP ‘Thriftline’ for assistance, only to be stopped for several hours and then disconnected before speaking to anyone,” she wrote. In some cases, account holders must now wait for a security code to be delivered by mail, “which delays account access for weeks,” she said.
The board apologized for the problems, blaming logistics difficulties and staff shortage at customer service centres. It says successful logins for new accounts have been increasing in recent weeks and wait times on customer service calls have decreased.
“We anticipate that transitions, as are most, will be bumpy,” the board wrote to Norton on Friday. “We sincerely apologize for the disappointment and inconvenience caused to some of our participants. We are working to address these issues as quickly as possible so that we can help those who need it.”
The system, which launched on June 1 after years in development, added features to the TSP, including allowing investors who meet certain conditions to transfer some of their money to external mutual funds. TSP, a 401(k)-type program for current and former federal and military personnel, had 6.6 million account holders with $734 billion on investments as of the end of May, making it the largest such program in the nation.
The change required investors to update the online accounts they use to manage their money to move between funds, change ongoing investments, or take withdrawals.
Federal employees and retirees have described an epidemic of malfunctions with the platform, and worried lawmakers are pushing for rapid reform.
“I think the worst part is that my experience with TSP before was great,” Pekins said. “It was easy, reliable and accessible.”
Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) wrote to the board last week that several of their “components have been unable to complete the login setup process, and when they try to call Thriftline, they’re at least is put on hold for one hour.” He sought clarification about what TSP is planning and whether there are “workarounds for TSP participants to access their accounts while these login-setup problems persist.”
TSP’s board says data shows improvement. Since June 1, successful new logins have increased from 75 percent to 90 percent, and the addition of customer service representatives has reduced call wait times, although the board acknowledged that Waits “lasts too long.”
However, Norton said in a statement Tuesday that the board’s response “does not address the problems that my constituents are having access to their TSP accounts. In addition, the response fails to provide information about what FRTIB problems are.” What is planning to do to fix the issue. I will continue to look for answers, improvements and accountability.”
Another federal retiree, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the nature of his former job, said he took until last weekend to try to sign in “in the hope that they’ll work out some bugs”. Been waiting, but the system can’t identify the information it’s used for years. “An attempt to scan and upload my driver’s license and passport also failed. I am now waiting for a login code via US Mail,” he wrote in an email.
TSP has posted a list of “known issues” arising in re-setting up online accounts, including suggestions that account holders try a different browser and turn off autocomplete functions.
That page also notes that personal account balances and messages are now only going back to the June 1 switch-over; Investors should call the customer service line if they need information in advance. The message also urges the account holders to ensure that their designations of beneficiaries are up to date in case of death.
A federal employee who asked not to be identified because of the agency’s policy prohibiting public comments said he had trouble with both of those policies. In an email, he said that he was able to restore his personal account fairly easily, but it did not reflect the beneficiary election he had previously made and that the account lacked the information he wanted to see.
“I expect more from an organization that administers and protects my retirement,” he said. “These two small issues cast into doubt the ability of the entire organization to carry out its mission.”
TSP spokeswoman Kim Weaver said more than 800,000 investors have created new logins. A recent 90 percent success rate for new logins “isn’t bad customer service from our standpoint. It’s really making sure we’re protecting our participants’ accounts. … That’s what bots are trying to do.” ,” she said in a phone interview.
She said that since June 1 – when the phone line received 130,000 calls, 2.5 times the previous daily high – the number of call center employees has increased from 485 to 805. During that time, the call drop rate has dropped from 90 percent to 66 percent. The TSP said the average waiting time on the call line has now come down to 49 minutes from two hours on June 6.
“While our service level in call centers needs a lot of improvement, it is headed in the right direction, and we will continue to add call center representatives to handle the increased volume,” she said.