The massive overhaul and upgrade of the Thrift Savings Plan was not without its problems. Turns out nobody knows that more than the folks at the Federal Thrift Investment Board, who run Uncle Sam’s massive in-house 401(k) plan. They have a major commitment as administrators, technicians and investors too. In addition to giving investors 5,000-plus new mutual fund options, the overhaul is designed to make it easier for investors. But stuff happens. And when its your retirement nest egg, maybe your biggest asset, the stakes are extremely high.
So for an update, we went to Kim Weaver, the director of external affairs for the Board. We had the questions, she provided the answers.
Q: What happened after the June 1 launch?
We know some participants have been wondering what is going on. On June 1, the TSP switched recordkeepers. A recordkeeper for a defined contribution plan like the TSP tracks all information regarding plan participants: names, addresses, contributions, loans, earnings, withdrawals, etc. We awarded the contract in November of 2020, and we have spent the last 18 months in extensive, detailed planning for the conversion. It was a complete modernization of the largest 401k-like plan in the country. It was the equivalent of simultaneously changing our financial institutions, customer interface and technology platform.
During this transition, we converted more than 26.3 billion records for 6.6 million TSP participants and balanced — to the penny — roughly $743 billion in TSP participant assets. We relied heavily on the many agency teams that supported this initiative, including nearly 100 federal payroll offices. Thanks to their hard work, we began processing payroll data on day one.
Q: Lots of new bells and whistles have been added. What was involved and how’s it going?
Some new features … are the ability to e-sign documents, upload documents, receive mobile push notifications, an official TSP mobile app, a virtual assistant, and a mutual fund window, to name a few. We began communicating the upcoming changes to all TSP participants earlier this year. We let our participants know about the new features, key transition dates, and that they would need to perform some steps to set up online access to My Account after the transition to our new service provider is complete. We communicated through all available channels: website, email, direct mail, social media, webinars and human resources staff at federal agencies and the uniformed services.
Q: Lots of unhappiness from folks trying to get to the call centers. How’s that going?
On June 1, we received 130,000 phone calls, 2.5 times greater than our previous highest call-volume day. The contractor has added an additional 320 people to the call centers since June 1. However, given the continued record-breaking level of call volumes, participants are still experiencing long wait times. The contractor will continue to add staff to the call centers until we return to an excellent level of call center responsiveness.
Also, the new system includes changes that were designed to make a safe system even safer. This is in response to a surge in cybercrime in recent years and the reason why all participants are required to create a new login for online account access, given the new identity management and authentication measures that are now in place. While we know that TSP participants initially faced challenges creating new logins, participants who try to create new logins are successful roughly 90% of the time. This is a balance between convenience and security that allows us to be comfortable that only the participant can access their account. Between June 1 and June 20, 826,445 participants have successfully established new logins and participants have logged in a total of 2.4 million times, either on the website or on the new TSP app.
Q: So where are we now? Is there light at the end of the tunnel?
To put this all in context, in the first 20 calendar days since the June 1 transition, we have processed over 8.3 million transactions representing $2.8 billion in payroll contributions. We have processed 111 roll-ins for a total of $5.9 million; 26,159 loans for a total of $275 million; 290,667 withdrawals for a total of $1.3 billion; and 109,980 people have downloaded the official TSP app on their mobile phones.
We anticipated that the transition would be bumpy, as most are. However, some of our participants are facing more difficulties than we expected. We sincerely apologize for the frustration and inconvenience some of our participants are encountering. We are working to address these issues as quickly as possible so we can help those who need it. We are making progress but are not yet done. We take our participants’ concerns seriously … their full resolution remains our highest priority.
In 2016, entomologists from North Carolina State University conducted a survey of 50 randomly selected homes. Out of around 550 rooms they examined, only five — four bathrooms and a bedroom — didn’t contain a single insect.