TIAA trying to improve on ‘model transaction’ rates


The Senate Council Benefits and Welfare committee used its first meeting of the school term to set some priorities for the year and to delve into problems that some Pitt retirees who do part-time or contract work for the University have experienced with TIAA distributions.

Some of the areas the committee will look at this year are: Family leave for post-docs and young faculty; availability of day-care on campus; support for faculty who are under stress; Pitt Perks and the MyHealth@Work clinic.

TIAA officials were on hand for the meeting to address problems with retirement distributions. The issue was initially raised by Irene Frieze, a retired psychology professor who said she sometimes teaches classes for Pitt’s Osher Institute. Frieze, who is co-chair of the Senate’s Faculty Affairs committee, attended the Benefits committee meeting in hopes of getting answers to why her requests to get money from her retirement account were delayed.

TIAA representatives Jay Mahoney, senior relationship manager for institutional retirement, and Linda G. Pasquini, TIAA managing director, said the company is taking several steps to remedy this problem.

From January to July of this year, they said TIAA handled about 4,200 requests from Pitt employees or retirees. Of those, 754 were “not in good order.” This means that additional paperwork was needed or TIAA had to check back with Pitt about the status of an employee, causing delays in getting lump sum distributions.

Ideally, Mahoney said, TIAA wants to maximize “model transactions,” in which a customer can call in or go on the website, request a payment and have a check sent out quickly.

TIAA has already made changes that allow immediate processing on any hardship requests or for any money being taken out of supplemental contributions made separate from Pitt’s matching plan.

Currently, if a retired Pitt employee is doing part-time or contract work for the University or if they are in a phased-retirement program, they are on the active payroll. If that happens, then TIAA’s system can’t determine if the employee is still eligible for matching funds and someone has to manually check back with Pitt each time — again, causing delays.

Part of the solution to these problems is technological, Pasquini said. The TIAA system can’t automatically recognize part-time or phased retirement statuses. She said there’s a lot of momentum within TIAA to fix the IT-end of the problem, particularly for those in phased retirement, which is not unique to Pitt. TIAA hopes to correct the problem within the next year.

Another big issue is the need for additional training of the TIAA personnel handling the transaction, “who sometimes just blew the call,” Pasquini said. “We get that this isn’t our best foot forward.”

One step in correcting the problem is creating a smaller specialized request handling group for Pitt employee claims, who would be very familiar with all the rules associated with the University’s retirement plan. TIAA also is working to minimize some of the special policy text to make it more understandable.

The company has instituted enhanced processing controls that have screens TIAA representatives have to walk through to make sure all of the correct questions are asked and the request is handled correctly.

And finally, TIAA will be constantly looking at how these extra controls are working and will refine them as needed.

Committee chair Lucas Berenbrok, an assistant professor in the School of Pharmacy, asked that TIAA report back quarterly on how the improvements are going.

The next Benefits and Welfare committee meeting will be at 2 p.m. Nov. 7 at 305 Hieber Building, 3500 Fifth Ave.

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at or 412-648-4294.


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