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After the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board launched a new system for Thrift Savings Plan participants to access their retirement savings, many users expressed frustrations over numerous technical challenges with the update.
“I finally got my account created after many calls and anguish. Financial records are still unavailable on TSP website,” one respondent wrote.
We received 1,815 responses, composed of about 67% current federal employees, 30% retired federal employees and 3% former federal employees who are not retired. The results account for a small portion of TSP participants and some numbers may not accurately reflect the actual breakdown of all users’ experience.
Overall, about 55% of respondents said they had issues once they were in the system. And, about 83% of respondents who experienced issues said they couldn’t access their statement history.
As the board initially planned in the transition, historical data, documents and other messages from the old system are not yet available to participants, FRTIB Director of External Affairs Kim Weaver told Federal News Network. That’s because the new recordkeeping system will take multiple weeks to roll out.
The board has all of the information in store and it will soon become accessible to TSP users. Participants will be able to see 10 years of financial history by mid-June.
To request older statements, Weaver said participants should call ThriftLine, the board’s customer service center (contact information is listed on this website).
Customer service challenges
But many participants said they are hesitant to call customer service because of the long hold times and overwhelmed system.
Long waits and some users’ inability to reach a customer service representative were other frequent pain points for survey respondents.
About 30% of respondents who experienced difficulties said they reached out to customer service – and more than 88% of those participants rated the service quality very low, saying they were on hold for multiple hours. Some said their calls dropped or the representatives were not able to offer solutions.
In response, the board added 185 new customer service representatives last week to try to help with the high call volumes. FRTIB plans to add more staff as needed, Weaver said.
But some survey participants said the staff increase was not enough.
“Even with added customer service representatives, calls are still taking hours to be answered, then dropped as one waits that long. After waiting 1.5 hours, I got [in touch with] a representative who placed me in another queue, only to be dropped after waiting three hours,” one respondent wrote.
Weaver added that participants can ask the new virtual assistant for answers to most common questions. The assistant can securely let participants get account information and request certain transactions.
The new assistant presented challenges, too. One participant wrote in an email to Federal News Network that the chat window wasn’t fully functioning and shared a screenshot of an error message.
Many survey respondents also said in a free response section that they had difficulty navigating the new system and mobile app. Some said they preferred the old system and didn’t see a need for the update.
“It is not intuitive at all to navigate and important information is buried multiple links deep. The old website was much better because everything was just a click or two away,” one respondent wrote.
“There’s a bit of a learning curve with the new interface. It feels like the dashboard is less informative than before. I have to go to different places for specific information unlike before when it was all laid out in a couple places. While not pretty, it was effective,” another wrote.
Weaver said the website update was necessary to add more layers of security and better protect participants’ personal information.
“Because protecting our participants’ retirement savings is our highest priority, all TSP participant-specific information is behind the My Account login,” Weaver said. “Participants, and the public, can continue to find information regarding TSP fund performance — such as share price history, rates of return, and other data — on the public site at tsp.gov. All information specific to an individual is accessible only after a participant has validated their identity and accessed their My Account.”
Along with enhancing security, the board also developed the new interface with the hope of making a more functional, easy-to-use system.
“Our new My Account interface was built by listening to the pain points employees commonly have accessing traditional applications. Our contractor relied upon research that shows 40% of employees experience symptoms of burnout at work and most frequently use our platform in high anxiety moments. We took that to heart and developed an experience that’s smarter and more empathetic than anything else on the market,” Weaver said.
The board used existing applications like those for consumer banking, mortgage, fitness and well-being to inform the new interface. Additionally, Weaver said the board tested the application with some users before the launch on June 1.
“A 2022 user research study… found most users [who were] tested believed the user interface was less cluttered and easier to access the things they needed compared to traditional portals used for similar purposes.”
But the survey results overwhelmingly showed that many participants were unhappy with the design. For example, several respondents said they were unable to find the annuity calculator in the new system, when it previously was easy to see in My Account.
“The new website is cumbersome and lacks vital information crucial to financial decisions. I cannot find the educational material nor calculators that were previously available,” one respondent wrote.
Difficulties setting up new account
Some survey participants had challenges getting into the system in the first place. About 62% said they experienced difficulties when trying to set up a new login with My Account.
“I’ve had an awful experience trying to repeatedly set up my login. I’m at a loss. May try customer assistance today, but I’m not willing to wait hours to speak with someone,” one respondent wrote.
“I created a new account, but I am unable to log in to it. I have not seen any communication from TSP acknowledging that this is a major issue. I tried to call ThriftLine and waited on hold for more than three hours before I was disconnected,” another wrote.
Despite challenges for some participants, many other survey respondents said they were able to log in and use the platform without any issues. Nearly 90% of TSP participants who have tried to log in have been successful.
“I actually had a good experience. I waited a few days before I went online to set up my new login. I had been using the two-factor authentication with TSP when they initially introduced it a few years ago. The process of having to create another login was fine,” one respondent wrote. “I was a little nervous when they did not associate my phone number with my account, but after selecting a few security questions and providing answers, I was able to complete the process and log in again with my new information without any issues.”
Other respondents said patience was key — they waited several days or more before trying to get into the new account system.
“I knew the new platform would be extremely busy the first few days so I waited until June 9 to register for the new website. No problems at all!” one respondent wrote.
“With any large scale conversion you are bound to have issues — I am waiting to log in until all issues have been resolved,” another wrote.
As many TSP users continue to express frustrations with the system, the board said it is taking complaints into account and working through some of the major issues.
“We will continue to review common My Account navigation questions and feedback to identify future usability enhancements,” Weaver said.