The TSP board says it isn’t done touching up its new website

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The board overseeing the federal Thrift Savings Plan has been working for six months to fix bugs in its brand new website launched last June. Many functions have been improved, but customers say there’s still work to be done. For an update,  Federal Drive with Tom Temin spoke with the board’s external affairs director, Kim Weaver.

Interview...

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Best listening experience is on Chrome, Firefox or Safari. Subscribe to Federal Drive’s daily audio interviews on Apple Podcasts or PodcastOne.

The board overseeing the federal Thrift Savings Plan has been working for six months to fix bugs in its brand new website launched last June. Many functions have been improved, but customers say there’s still work to be done. For an update,  Federal Drive with Tom Temin spoke with the board’s external affairs director, Kim Weaver.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin
How does the board feel what is the board’s assessment of the state of that portal for plan holders at this point, as we begin 2023?

Kim Weaver
First of all, I want to correct a common misconception. This was not just an updating of the website, this was a wholesale transition from our record keeping system, the actual software that holds all the information programs, all the tax requirements, loan requirements, withdrawal requirements, all of that, and switched it to a different system. So you know, a lot of people think it was just sort of a refresh of the website. And it was far more fundamental than that. And it bought us and our participants, more features and more security. But with it, as you say, came some dissatisfaction and the problems with call center, people waiting on hold for unacceptably long periods of time. That was corrected in mid August. And we’re now hovering between 20-25 seconds to answer a phone call, which is a reasonable length of time.

Tom Temin
Right. I think your latest pie charts of summary of results for the latest month, I believe would have been November showed the bulk of questions are answered online without a phone call.

Kim Weaver
Yes. And that’s the other thing that we have added. Those are the new features is we have a bot which many websites have which just answer sort of routine questions. And then we also have during business hours live to chat, if you don’t want to call and a lot of people, especially younger people prefer texting or typing to actually interacting with a human. You can correspond with a live agent or real human and get answers to your questions. And a lot of that is happening. And in addition, people are completing a lot of their transactions online.

Tom Temin
All right. And so what do you plan to do then next, is it all completely the way you want it?

Kim Weaver
No, it isn’t one of the things that I think the most frequent request that we get is to be able to change the amount of your monthly withdrawal online. That was something that we introduced in the fall of 2019 to our previous system, and people found it very convenient to be able to go in and on any given day determined that they would get a different amount the following month. That was not a functionality of the system that rolled out on June 1. It is something we are looking at to bring back. I don’t have a timeframe to announce here. But it is something that we know will address a big portion of the complaints that our participants have.

Tom Temin
Is there a question as to whether they could be out of compliance with IRS rules, if they can’t easily change the withdrawal?

Kim Weaver
No, because the TSP at the end of any calendar year, if you are of an age to be required to take a required minimum distribution, and you have not taken that dollar amount, by December, we will send you a check. You don’t have to ask because the tax penalties are stiff to say the least, we take the steps to make sure our participants are not in jeopardy of that.

Tom Temin
And just out of curiosity. I’m not at that age yet or I am that age, I’m just not doing it yet. Do some of the private 401(k) operators do that also like the Fidelity’s and so on?

Kim Weaver
I don’t know, I do not know if there’s automate well, actually based on a sample size of one my father, no, they don’t. Because that’s how I know these tax penalties are stiff. We do it. I don’t know what private sector plans.

Tom Temin
All right. We’re speaking with Kim Weaver. She’s Director of External Affairs at the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board. And the other issue that came up recently was that people can’t see the whole history of their growth and additions and subtractions of the TSP going back decades, in some cases.

Kim Weaver
That data is available. It is not available as live data. And it’s not available as live data because to transport that over and to protect it would have cost money and added additional security risk. And we looked at people’s usage of that information. It’s not that we just made the decision willy nilly. We looked at usage and determined that it was not sufficient to outweigh the costs and risks of transferring over live data. What is available online are the year-end balances for the last 10 years, and your transactions from June 1 forward. And additionally, I’ve seen comments that say that people could get information going back to 1987, the inception of the TSP, and that was not available online previously. There is a limit to how much data you can carry in any given system.

Tom Temin
Yeah, I wonder what else people imagine they could do before June 1. And getting back to looking ahead, what are some of the other plans for enhancement of the system and the site?

Kim Weaver
Our contractor is looking and we are looking at customer satisfaction. And the contractor has already made some changes, when you log into your TSP my account to address people’s desires, to see their options to access various features of their account, those are now at the very top as a banner at the top. So you don’t have to scroll down, you can simply look up and see your account summary or account history. And it’s right there. And maybe I know account summaries right, account history may be the wrong title for it. But it’s now at the very top so people can just access it right away. And we and they are going to continue to look at people’s responses and comments. And we’re taking them seriously and making changes. The other thing we’re doing is continually doing quality control for our call centers. Because especially early on, we know that participants weren’t getting necessarily either complete or wholly accurate information. And that was a product largely of new call centers, new representatives, learning the system learning the plan, and we’re now fully six months in. So what we’re doing is and what they’re doing is continued training and continued quality assurance to make sure that when participants call in, they get informed representatives who give them the full and complete answer.

Tom Temin
And by the way, does the TSP have its own call centers, you don’t share a call center with someone helping with tech support for radios or something?

Kim Weaver
They are dedicated to us. The representatives who are working on TSP calls are working on TSP calls alone.

Tom Temin
All right. So anything else we need to know about the 2023? I mean, you can’t make the stock market return back.

Kim Weaver
No, that is outside of our control. If we could do that, boy, would we be something. We’re just going to continue to iterate and make improvements to address issues that we find and to make it better for our participants. Always that’s our goal.

 

 

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