Don’t put up with bad service
July 20, 2012 7:18PM
Updated: August 23, 2012 10:32AM
D ear Mr. Berko: TIAA-CREF is impossible to deal with. For the second year in a row, I have made the really simple request that they mail me my tax reporting forms. But if I want to review them online, they will not do it. They give clients a choice: (1) if you can view your tax forms online, they will not mail you a copy or (2) If you choose to have your tax forms mailed, they will not allow you to access them online.
When I complain, these people are maddeningly unresponsive, explaining to me how to select or deselect options on their Web page as if I’m an idiot. TIAA’s forms are the only tax forms I have to find and print out myself. And though I like having Web access to my account, I’m concerned that if something happens to me, the people handling my affairs won’t know that these important tax forms are not coming in the mail and must be located on the TIAA website. I’ve complained, but in spite of TIAA’s friendly, caring, warm-hearted advertising, they really don’t give a darn. Any suggestions would
Dear JB: If possible, drop TIAA like a hot rock and move those assets to Schwab, Vanguard or Fidelity, whose employees revel in fast, courteous, efficient and caring service for their clients. In my opinion, TIAA’s platform can’t compete with their better products, responsive people and caring management.
Usually, the more friendly, warm and caring a company advertises its image, the less friendly, warm, and caring its employees seem to be. Over a dozen readers during the past year have expressed their frustrations with TIAA’s customer service. In some cases, those complaints were about major problems that are difficult to resolve. Other issues concern contradictory and inaccurate telephone advice by TIAA spokespeople, which is unprofessional, inexcusable and dangerous to a client’s wealth. Some complain that TIAA supervisors cannot be reached and don’t return phone calls, contradicting TIAA’s carefully crafted, friendly and warm images.
Others complain their letters are ignored. But most worrisome is when personal changes are requested to an account, and the client discovers months or a year later that those changes were never made. TIAA appears to have some communication problems between its cubicles. But the incident concerning your tax forms really takes the cupcake. After spending 14 minutes navigating TIAA’s automated phone system and “guess-pressing” the right combination of numbers, I spoke to a good lad who accidentally gave me an honest answer. He was familiar with the complaint and thinks it should be fixed before the year is out. It seems that TIAA hires Burger King rejects and needs 4 to 5 months of time to teach them procedures to mail tax statements after you view them online. This is not as easy as it you might think because it requires several simultaneous thought processes that were previously exclusive of one another.
However, the good lad’s mildly positive response suggests a near-term solution is a plausible extension of reality. If you have future problems with TIAA, you will “enjoy” better results writing to every board member and corporate officer. Their names and addresses are on the TIAA website. Complaints to the SEC, a toothless paper tiger too busy chasing its tail, may take years to resolve.
Sadly, employees of educational institutions have little choice in selecting their plans. So they get stuck with average firms like TIAA that produce average results for their clients.
As Vladimir Putin recently commented, “Very large organizations with a captive clientele have little reason to excel.” And TIAA is a very large organization.
Address your financial questions to Malcolm Berko, P.O. Box 8303, Largo, FL 33775, or email him at email@example.com.