Federal employees continue to express frustration with the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) website, the portal through which millions access their accounts. At its re...
Federal employees continue to express frustration with the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) website, the portal through which millions access their accounts. At its recent monthly meeting, the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board (FRTIB) revisited its IT modernization project, which deployed in May of last year. For an update, the Federal Drive with Tom Temin spoke with Kim Weaver, the FRTIB’s Director of External Affairs.
Tom Temin Some of the chief functions that people were complaining about. It looks like you have made progress on those. And let’s begin with just being able to specify your monthly withdrawal or your minimum required distribution. That was, I think, making people tear their hair out. Is that largely past us now?
Kim Weaver It has been totally fixed. You can set your monthly payment as low as $25 and in whatever amount you want to take.
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Tom Temin And you can change that month by month if you want.
Kim Weaver You can. And the other improvement is that you can change that installment amount with just one phone call. Previously, we’re having to call in, cancel the amount you were getting, and then call back and restart. That has been revamped and you can now change your monthly payment with just one phone call to the thrift line.
Tom Temin But you need a phone call. You can’t do it through the website.
Kim Weaver And that’s what I was just going to say. Coming in the spring, you will be able to do that online. And so you won’t have to call the thrift line at all. I don’t have anything more specific than spring, but it is coming.
Tom Temin At the board meeting, Accenture, the contractor, was there. I mean, did the board kind of say, hey, folks, you really got to get this turned around?
Kim Weaver They did. The board members were asking some, I would say, pointed questions to the Accenture officials who were there and expressing the fact because, of course, our board members are hearing directly from participants as well. So they’re well aware of the challenges and the frustrations that people are feeling, not only as fiduciaries do they want to get it fixed, but as human beings, they want to make it as easy as possible.
Tom Temin I figure if I’m getting email, the board must be getting a lot more email, because I get requests for help and I can’t help people, I don’t have access to it and it’s not really my authority to do that. So that’s good to hear. What are some of the other issues? People were wondering about just the phone call time. What are the trends there? And whether the question could be answered when they did reach someone?
Kim Weaver So as to the second question. Every call center rep, we call them [Patient Service Representatives (PSR’s)], every PSR went through refresher training. So to the question you just posed, if we answer the phone quickly, that’s great. But if you get somebody who then can’t help you, that’s not as great. And so every PSR went through refresher training to make sure that they understood our program and understood their specialty, because different call center reps focus on different issues, withdrawals, loans, whatever. And then the other thing that we did was we added in statements to TSP’s Myaccount. So participants can log in to their TSP Myaccount, and in their secure mailbox they will see quarter one and quarter two of 2022 statements and the annual 2021 statement. And that will provide a lot more information to people so that they can see an entire two year cycle of their TSP.
Tom Temin And how far back in history can people look at what they’ve been doing with TSP and in the old website, could they go back forever?
Kim Weaver In the previous website, they could go back to, I believe, 2003. In the current website, you can go back to June 1. 2022, because that’s when we switched over. If you need statements or information prior to that, you can call the thrift line and we will mail you statements.
Tom Temin No plans to load that old data up so that people can do that on a self-service basis?
Kim Weaver So the reason we didn’t, was we looked at the people who had accessed it, how frequently that data was used, and we determined that based on the usage versus the money and the security of having that live data available, we didn’t transfer it over. But as I said, if people want it, they can call in and get the older statements.
Tom Temin We are speaking with Kim Weaver. She is the director of External Affairs at the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board. And just getting back to the phone question for a moment. According to your results from the most recent month, there were 240,000 calls queued up, 230,946 answered. So you have just a very small number that were not answered. Is that pretty much within your metrics and hope for customer experience? It’s not like the IRS, which doesn’t to answer any of them.
Kim Weaver Roughly 80% of the calls were being answered in less than 20 seconds, which is pretty darn good. What we’re focusing on, at this point, is continuing that service level. And we also have 35% repeat callers, which means that they either didn’t really get the answer they needed the first time around or that their issue hasn’t been resolved. And so we’re focusing on trying to reach out to those people and be proactive, and sort of identify people who are calling back repeatedly and reaching out to them to find out what exactly the issue is and how it can be resolved.
Tom Temin And what is the integration on the back end there? That is to say, if someone is calling in and you give your credentials to the rep on the phone, are they also using the same website in the same system to look up things and help answer questions?
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Kim Weaver Yes, the representative has access to the participants data. They don’t have access, because it’s not live to like the previous historical data. So if I called and I said I want my balance from 2018 in December, they don’t have immediate access to that because it’s not live data. But they do have information to, we dispersed your monthly payment on X date and it was this amount with this amount of tax withholding, for example.
Tom Temin And for people that want to move funds around, from one fund to the other, those types of activities, just general maintenance of your account according to one’s own judgment. That’s all fully operational?
Kim Weaver Oh, yes, absolutely. And that has been since day one. And you can do that online. We can log into your GSP Myaccount, and you can move money as you desire.
Tom Temin So if you feel confident, you can move it some percentage out of the G Fund into one of the other hotter funds, if you feel like it.
Kim Weaver Exactly.
Tom Temin And we should also point out that besides online and calls, you get email and written correspondence. And the distinction between the two in the monthly report says, that people still write letters to a TSP?
Kim Weaver Oh, absolutely. You’ve got to remember that a big chunk of our participants are postal employees. As a former postal employee myself, letters are still in our lexicon, as it were. And so we respond to whatever channel we get them in. If we get letters, we respond to those, we respond to emails, we answer phone calls. [Electronic Virtual Assistant (EVA)] is the bot that is there that has been enhanced to be more useful to people. If you want to call in, some people like to call in to the thrift line and go through the system to get like their balance, for example. And you need a PIN number, much like you do with a bank or an insurance company. You can now change that PIN number through EVA. And so that will insist you, if you choose to use the IVR system to get your account information.
Tom Temin Just from looking at the statistics, it seems like you’re really going to get those [Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS)] people and some of the older folks to at least get to the email age, because the one area where you really have a backlog of substantial numbers is written correspondence. Right now there are 4443 outstanding. There’s only a couple of hundred emails outstanding.
Kim Weaver Yes, and that’s exactly true. And it’s, as we both know, letters seem to take longer than emails. You can respond to an email relatively quickly. Letters just take a little longer. And we are working on that.
Tom Temin And just if you would, maybe before we wrap up here, just characterize the board’s feelings about Accenture, about the site. Are they optimistic now? And do they feel like they’re out of the woods?
Kim Weaver I think we’re out of the woods, yes. But I don’t think that we’re done. And, in fact, the board asked Accenture to come back again, relatively soon. And I don’t have timing for when relatively soon is, but the board’s interest level is not abated. And obviously, we as FRTIB staff, are continuing to work with Accenture to make changes to address problem areas. But it is stabilizing and we’re able to address problems faster, which I think is really key to a more mature program.
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