Wait times and other metrics are improving, contractor says.

Wait times and other metrics are improving, contractor says. boonchai wedmakawand / Getty Images

The Contractor Responsible for the TSP’s Troubled Recordkeeping Transition Pledges to Improve

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Officials with the federal contractor responsible for the Thrift Savings Plan’s headache-inducing transition to a new recordkeeping service apologized Wednesday for the many difficulties participants experienced over the past few months and vowed to continue to improve the new system.

At the monthly meeting of the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, which administers the federal government’s 401(k)-style retirement savings program, representatives with Accenture Federal Services acknowledged a number of mistakes in how the public-facing portion of the June transition to a new recordkeeping system worked.

“We want to start with an apology: In the early days of the program’s go-live, the call center experience was not up to the standards of the FRTIB, it wasn’t up to our standards, and it certainly wasn’t the experience that the participants and beneficiaries of the Thrift Savings Plan deserved,” said Elaine Beeman, the company’s civilian portfolio lead. “We’ve been working night and day to fix it, and we’ve got very good news in terms of metrics . . . We’re very close to meeting all of our targets, and we’re very pleased about that, and we were able to take the ‘high call volume’ message off of the website last week, and we hope now we are in a position to offer the world-class experience participants and beneficiaries deserve.”

Since the TSP moved to Accenture’s recordkeeping system on June 1, participants have bemoaned a variety of issues with the new service. In the early days, many struggled to set up new login credentials to access their accounts online and update beneficiary designations. Participants also faced hours-long wait times for service via the ThriftLine call center. But as those problems began to subside over the last month, Government Executive has received complaints of more individualized problems accessing loans, making transactions and the new process for requesting historical documents that once were readily available on the TSP’s website.

Owen Davies, Accenture’s client account lead, acknowledged Wednesday that the company severely underestimated call center demand and made setting up TSP.gov accounts too difficult.

“When we went live, all of our work was planning for a certain amount of call volume, and we took the TSP’s largest single volume day in the past, and doubled it, figuring that was a reasonable expectation,” he said. “But instead of two times, we got six times the call volume, and we weren’t prepared for that or staffed for that, which led to a really horrible experience for participants. The second thing we did exacerbated that: with a mind towards fraud protection, we required everyone to set up new online credentials . . . We made that process really cumbersome, and it was really hard for a vast number of users, and that in combination created a really bad situation. Everyone felt it and you felt it and your brand felt it.”

Davies touted recent data indicating that those two issues have largely subsided thanks to the contractor easing account setup rules and increased staffing and training of call center employees. “Reskilling” ThriftLine representatives should make the process of getting help for those struggling with issues like loans and withdrawals easier, he said.

“So far, around 2 and a quarter million participants have claimed their account and set it up successfully, and our call volume is dropping,” he said. “We’re at around 21,000 per day, which is still higher than the historical average, but we expect we’ll see that trend continue downward. Another thing we’re working on is we’re trying to get to an outcome within the first call.”

Moving forward, Davies said Accenture plans to keep making improvements to the new website to make it easier for participants to use and make changes.

“Here’s what we’re focused on now: the online experience for installment payments, withdrawals and loans,” he said. “Some of those things have been implemented, and some are still coming. We’re also looking at increasing access to historical documents, trying to figure out if there’s a way to make some of that more available to participants if needed.”