Sunday, October 19, 2008

Financial and Information Techology Travails on a Friday Night

In these turbulent economic times, everyone is concerned about their investments. But my strategy has been conservative, with more half of retirement savings tucked away in a secure “Teachers Retirement” annuity. As financial markets plummeted, last week, resisted the temptation to check on my holdings. I would not succumb to panic. I would stick with my strategy.
On Friday night, last week however, I decided to take a quick look before leaving the office. I attempted to log into the TIAA/CREF on line site. The site rejected my password. It had always worked before. What was the problem? I tried again. No luck. I changed my password, following the instructions on the site carefully. Quickly a new password was sent to me by email. I changed it as directed, following the instructions on the site carefully. I tried to log on once again. No luck. I switched from my MacIntosh to my windows laptop and tried again. No luck. 45 Minutes had by now elapsed.

I contacted TIAA/CREF by telephone, using the instructions provided on the site and quickly reached a consultant. They would check on the problem and get back to me within seven to ten business days, she said. In the interim, I could request information about by account by telephone. 60 minutes had by now elapsed. I called the number provided for account information. Again, I quickly reached a consultant. After receiving identifying information, she said she would check my account. Soon, she came back on the line. Yes I did have an account with TIAA/CREF, she told me, however there were no funds in my account. This was disturbing news at the end of a week when major banking institutions had failed or been taken over by the government and global stock indices had experienced wile - mostly downward - gyrations. The consultant said she understood my concern and promised to wait while I checked my recently received TIAA/CREF quarterly report. It showed a very substantial balance.

Well... she said, we have been experiencing some problems with our system, but I can’t do anything more for you now. Why don’t you call back on monday morning, she suggested, cheerfully. About 75 minutes had by now elapsed.
The prospect of spending the weekend wondering whether my retirement savings had been a casualty of the financial crisis or some problem with TIAA/CREF’s system was not cheering. I decided to ‘escalate’ and called my TIAA/CREF ‘wealth management advisor on her mobile phone. Not surprisingly - by now it was after 7 PM on a Friday evening - there was no answer. I turned back to my computer and began drafting an email message to my Wealth Management Advisor and Customer Relationship Specialist explaining the evening’s circumstances and seeking their assistance.

I was about half way through my task when the telephone buzzed. My Wealth Management advisor was on the line. She had checked my account using a back-up system. I was still solvent. I was not the only one who had encountered problems. A unusually large number of TIAA/CREF clients, no doubt motivated by the turbulent financial circumstances had tried to log into the system. The system had responded by refusing log ins and with other malfunctions. Hundreds of emails had been received. TIAA/CREF technicians were working to resolve the problem. Nearly two hours had by now elapsed since I first sought information about my account, on line.

Since my own AU organization, the Center for Teaching Excellence, has IT responsibilities I often work with IT technical professionals and know something about their distinctive culture. When there is a system malfunction, their immediate concern is to get things working properly once again. Taking valuable time out to share information with customers not a natural priority. When an IT organization does immediately share ‘bad news’ I know that a manager has been unequivocal and unbending in his (or her) demands that this be done. Apparently TIIA/CREF’s IT organization has no such managers. (Happily, AU’s IT organization now has three of them).

After thanking my Wealth Management Advisor profusely for checking my account and calling me back, I offered a suggestion. When I system problem occurs, why not quickly post information and recommendations for customers on the TIAA/CREF log in page. This could significantly reduce system overload, email volume, phone call volume and client angst. ‘That sounds like a good idea,” she responded. “I’ll pass it along.”

After wishing her a good weekend and concluding the conversation, I turned to my computer and erased the email I had been drafting. More than two hours had elapsed. It was after 8 PM. I decided to call it a day.

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Blogger Marisa Dyer said...

Really very informative post.I am totally impressed and You break it down nicely.

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