Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Just Plain Stupid

As with many people who worked in the non-profit sector or higher education, a substantial portion of my retirement savings was with TIAA-CREF.     Several years before I retired TIAA offered two sets of counseling on financial issues.   The first was actually quite helpful.   I gave them some net worth information and my goals in retirement and they did some projections about whether the resources I had accumulated would be sufficient to keep me going.

But then about two years later, the person who had been my account executive left TIAA and was replaced with another person who I found to be less capable.    They proposed another investment review (mind you this is something I have done on my own for all of my professional life) and this time the account exec came back with a worried tone that I was significantly short of my goal.   When I expressed surprise at the result - the person said something to the effect that the results had been checked.   I asked the account exec to send me the back up materials and when that was done, I found that the calculations had left out one significant asset entirely.   I thought that was pretty sloppy.

After much deliberation I finally decided to pull my assets out of TIAA.   As I began to do that I understood that I would be unable to move all of the assets out into a rollover.   The TIAA portion of the accounts would have to be taken out over a period of time.   I set that process up and when I got the first annuity payment found that the withholding amount had been incorrectly calculated.   So I contacted TIAA and was told how to correct that on the next check.   I sent a fax to TIAA with two requests.   First, I proposed a new set of withholding limits.   At the same time, for their convenience and my own I asked that the annuity payments be direct deposited.

When I decided to withdraw my funds I was forwarded a big set of documents which I had to sign in triplicate.  I called TIAA and asked whether it was possible to fill out the forms electronically.  They said no.   Idiotic.   Every other financial institution in the world has figured out how to fill out forms electronically but not TIAA.

Let me tell you a bit about my banking habits.   The bank I use is primarily electronic.   Since I have had the account I have never used checks.   Those few payments that will not accept electronic payments get a physical check that is created at the bank.  I do it all online.   Likewise, I hate getting physical checks, it is a pain to deposit them.   Thus, all of my clients in my consulting practice use electronic funds transfer to pay me.   So I thought the request to TIAA would be simple.  But they asked for a voided check.

I have run into this request before and so asked my bank to create one counter check with the routing and account numbers. I have a PDF of the counter check in my files.   Every other vendor I use has been able to accept the counter check that I asked my bank to create for me.   I do not want any physical checks - because I do not need them!

But not TIAA.  Some person from my account services team called and said they can only accept either a physical check - voided or a letter from my bank.    I called back and told them to bad I was not going to supply that.

Why should I be so agitated about this?   The reason that financial institutions want a copy of a printed check is to make sure that the electronic transfers do not get routed to the wrong account.  In this case I supplied them with a copy of the visual characters of my account.  (Many vendors ask you to verify the account number, but all except TIAA have accepted the countercheck I had created by my bank.)    There is no legal or financial reason to make this request except that some moron attorney thinks the company is better protected by having physical copies of every document.   In a world where Adobe Verified signatures are the norm - that seems out of date.   If TIAA wants to continue to compete for managing people's money they might think about getting into the 20th Century.  (The 21st is probably hoping for too much.)

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