TSP's multimillion-dollar plan calls for more customized experience

Tuesday - 10/15/2013, 11:14am EDT

Renee Wilder - Director of enterprise planning, Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board

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The Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board has kicked off a multimillion- dollar plan to revamp the Thrift Savings Plan.

The $2.3 million initiative, which was approved by board members last month, calls for broad surveys of participants on the services and offerings they desire as well as how the TSP stacks up against other plans.

The results of those surveys will drive real results, said Renee Wilder, the board's director of enterprise planning, in an interview on the Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Emily Kopp.

Based on the feedback the board receives, options under consideration range from extending hours at TSP call centers to offering a mutual-fund window, which would allow participants to move funds out of the TSP and into a private-sector suite of funds.

But that's just a starting point.

"At this point, we don't know what that new experience is going to be," Wilder said. "We're just going to spend the next couple of years doing the work to figure that out."

In addition, the board plans to conduct focus groups and hire data-analysis and modeling experts. Officials plan to spend another $3 million to continue the initiative in fiscal 2015, according to a budget estimate presented at last month's board meeting.

"Coming out of that, we think that we'll be able to answer some really critical questions," Wilder said. "We should be able to help our participants make better and more informed investment decisions and we'll know how our features compare to other plans."

Currently, about 85 percent of federal employees participate in the TSP, which far outstrips the participation rates of most other large defined-contribution retirement plans.

But the board wants to be proactive in making improvements, Wilder said.

"We don't want to have a plan that doesn't meet the needs of our participants," she said. "And there are other options — maybe not other options for our defined contribution dollars, but participants do have other financial services options. And so we want to make sure that we are meeting their expectations and that they don't want to move their money to those other alternatives."

Data key to more customized experience

One area where the TSP lags behind private-sector plans is in collecting data about its users.

Board Executive Director Greg Long acknowledged at a board meeting last month that there are blind spots in the board's data-collection efforts.

"There's an awful lot about participants that we do not know," Long said, such as salary, marital status, years of service, and email and phone numbers — information that most private-sector plans typically collect.

Having that data would allow the TSP to create a more customized experience for its participants.

"Those are absolutely the type of data points that we would like to capture, because then we can help them make decisions that are right for them, that are right for their circumstances and help them define what their retirement goals are," Wilder said. "We'd like to be able to speak more one-to-one as opposed to one-to-many."

The plan calls for better integrating TSP systems with agency payroll providers as well as the Social Security Administration and the Office of Personnel Management.

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