After staffing up call centers with an additional 320 representatives, the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board said it’s still continuing to try to resolve issues for Thrift Savings Plan participants.
The board, which hosted its first public meeting since a major TSP system update, said on June 28 that there have been some improvements, like a slight decline in wait times for customer service. But participant frustrations and call hold times are still much higher than usual.
“That’s the most that we’ve ever had in the history of the TSP,” Tee Ramos, FRTIB’s director of participant services, said at the board meeting. “Our volumes continue to be historically high, though, so we’re working with our vendor to continue to add staff.”
Ramos said the board plans to add another 100 representatives in the next week, as many of the issues have still not been resolved.
The announcement comes after the board updated TSP with a new recordkeeping system, a mobile app, an e-signature function, an optional mutual fund window, among many other changes. After the launch on June 1, TSP participants vented almost immediate frustrations about technical issues and missing account information. Many participants also struggled to log in to the new My Account system. As a result, more TSP participants tried to reach customer service representatives, yielding unprecedented call volumes and hold times at ThriftLine.
Ramos said despite the challenges, the update was necessary because the old system for TSP was outdated. The board was also looking to enhance security and anti-fraud protections for participants.
“Recordkeeping processes are labor intensive. Those services that we had in the past were delivered through legacy technology that made it difficult for us. Our existing technology and infrastructure was not agile and it was not scalable,” Ramos said. “We as an agency wanted to focus more on continuing to provide a top-tier service, ensuring we had a service that was comprised of an agile and scalable IT infrastructure and focusing our FRTIB staff on improving retirement outcomes and the participant experience.”
But many participants continue to voice frustrations, such as the inability to see beneficiary designations in the new account system. Ramos said that issue was a data quality issue for some users.
“We had roughly 266,000 beneficiary accounts where we didn’t transfer their designation over to the new system. This wasn’t an oversight,” Ramos said. “It was due to the quality of the data in our old system. We weren’t confident that it would transfer well from the old system.”
The board has beneficiary forms available for the accounts with missing information, and a process to follow to get those designations, Ramos said. All participants should review their beneficiary information and update it online.
Another common concern was the lack of access to historical financial data going back further than 10 years. Again, Ramos said, the lack of data available in the system is deliberate.
“We looked into historical data usage trends, and there was low usage and high cost associated with maintaining high availability for the 665 million documents that we had online with our old system. There are also [security] concerns about maintaining that amount of data,” Ramos said. “Participants are able to access year-to-date employee contributions and we have 10 years of account balance information that transferred over. That didn’t transfer over on day one, but it is up and live now.”
Historical information has all been transferred, the board said, but it is not readily available in the new My Account. If participants want to obtain additional statements, documents and other messages from the prior system, they are available upon request.
Still, many participants continued to share frustrations about the update. Beyond those frequent concerns, many users also said the new system is unintuitive and difficult to use. In an exclusive Federal News Network survey, respondents said the new TSP interface lacked calculation tools that were available in the old system, and said it was more difficult to find account information.
The challenges are garnering attention on Capitol Hill, too. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) requested an “urgent meeting” with the board to discuss the issues and get an update on the progress of solving them.
Norton previously wrote a letter to FRTIB, calling on the board to explain the cause of technical issues, unprecedented customer service hold times and missing financial information. The board responded to Norton’s letter, saying that they’re making progress to resolve the issues. But Norton said the board’s response did not fully address her questions.
“The Thrift Savings Plan is so essential to federal employees and retirees that FRTIB must immediately fix the problems with the new online system,” Norton said in a June 27 statement. “Constituents have told me of phone wait times of over nine hours, of disconnected calls, and of missing and incorrect information in their accounts.”
The board has not yet responded to Norton’s meeting request.