Life Learning and Experiential Knowledge in Administrative Management
In 1991, I accepted a position as a customer service specialist with Teachers Insurance and Annuity Associated, College Retirement Equity Funds (TIAA-CREF) in New York, New York which I still maintain today. In a day and age characterized by "job hopping" in search of greener pastures, some observers might be shocked to find that I have been with the same company for almost 15 years now, with no plans for change. There are some compelling reasons for staying with the same employer for so long, in fact making it a career path rather than a stepping stone along the way. TIAA-CREF is one the leading national financial services organizations in the country and is widely regarded as the premier pension system for people in education and research.
This company is one the leaders in its industry and is the largest in the nation in several categories. The company is well-established and TIAA-CREF has provided annuity and insurance products, and benefit and financial education services to employees of nonprofit education and research institutions for more than 80 years. In addition, the TIAA-CREF group of companies provides a broad range of products and services to meet a variety of financial goals, including mutual funds; IRAs and Keogh Plans; after-tax personal annuities; life, and long-term care insurance; personal and institutional trust services; advisor services; and state tuition financing plans.
Today, the company's net assets exceed $273 billion, and we are responsible for investing the money of some two million college professors, researchers, as well as the employees of more than 9,000 nonprofit organizations. From the company's New York headquarters, TIAA-CREF's representatives manage portfolios whose worth is greater than the combined market capitalizations of General Motors, Ford, and Daimler-Chrysler.
The company also provides all of its employees with a comfortable and diverse working environment, as well as the opportunity to build a career where individual achievements are recognized and rewarded. TIAA-CREF customer service specialists enjoy competitive compensation packages including participation in a variable pay plan, comprehensive benefits, and an opportunity for career growth TIAA-CREF is among the nation's largest institutional real estate investors, and is one of just a few life insurance companies to receive the highest possible ratings (Triple A) from all four major independent rating agencies:
1) Moody's Investors Service,
2) A.M. Best,
3) Standard & Poor's, and
TIAA-CREF Tuition Financing, Inc. also provides the opportunity for company customer service representatives to accumulate funds toward our education under the state education savings plans (529s); in fact, TIAA-CREF manages more of these accounts than any other company in the United States today. Furthermore, the company recently helped launch the Independent 529 Plan, the nation's first prepaid tuition program for private universities, and received a BusinessWeek award for "Best Products of 2003." Fortune has consistently ranked TIAA-CREF among the 50 best big companies for minority employees and Working Mother Magazine has also rated TIAA-CREF as one of the 100 Best Companies for Working Mothers today.
In addition, under the company's Treasury Tax and Loan Deposit Administrative Program, TIAA/CREF deposits about $125 million in federal tax withholdings from its employees' payroll and its retirement system annuities into an account at Drexel National Bank; Drexel is a subsidiary of Indecorp Inc., the country's largest African-American multi-bank holding company. The company then distributes the funds to several minority-owned banks. Fully 10% of the earnings from these deposits are applied toward the National Bankers Association (NBA) Scholarship Fund, which then funds the education of personnel at NBA member financial institutions
The New York Office of the company where I work is situated in midtown Manhattan and serves as the main headquarters for TIAA-CREF. This modern and extensive complex is comprised of three main buildings that accommodate approximately 3,500 employees; the complex also houses TIAA-CREF's corporate offices including its eastern service center, and the New York State Local Office. Furthermore, the New York Office provides support to its service centers in Denver and Charlotte, as well as to its 25 other offices nationwide.
TIAA-CREF local offices are staffed primarily by individual and institutional consultants. Individual consultants help participants directly, providing both group and one-to-one counseling on retirement, Social Security, tax laws, estate planning and other topics. Institutional consultants work principally with college and university officials, especially benefit plan administrators, to design, install and maintain TIAA-CREF-funded retirement plans, and tax-deferred annuity programs.
The company also provides information on laws and regulations governing benefit plans and conducts staff seminars that are customized to meet the needs of a variety of institutional planning needs.
As a customer service specialist for TIAA-CREF, my responsibilities have included all of the following:
Ensuring quality and accuracy of work by maintaining accuracy rate above 97%;
Providing ongoing oversight throughout all phases of the settlement process, contributing to customer satisfaction and team performance objectives while reducing service concerns for the customers.
Monitoring service requests and competing transactions within 3 days.
Ensuring that all relevant transaction rules are satisfied according to regulatory and corporate standards.
Managing the payment process and amount by preparing and approving payment warrants and ensuring that appropriate payment and tax information is provided to various online reporting systems.
The company's value-added client service process is designed to ensure that customer service specialists provide clientele with timely and accurate advice concerning their investment needs; as a result, my responsibilities have also included:
Accurately assessing customer needs.
Discussing customer goals and develop an understanding of individual risk tolerance.
Recommending a customized asset allocation based on broad diversification.
Reviewing needs, markets, performance and policies on an ongoing basis.
Company policy requires that customer service representatives who identify customers with $500,000 or more in investable assets should encourage them to take advantage of TIAA-CREF services if they require:
Customized personal portfolio management.
Customized portfolio for substantial IRA rollovers.
Need substantial and complex estate planning needs.
Want to use a trust for charitable giving and other philanthropic purposes.
Want to consolidate investments under one portfolio management umbrella prior to retirement.
The company also boasts a wide range of state-of-the-art IT and office equipment to support these services. In this regard, during my tenure with TIAA-CREF, I have been trained to use, or have independently learned how to use all of the various intranets, online and stand-alone estate planning programs, customer databases and so forth.
These tools have become increasingly sophisticated in the past several years, and the company's innovative approach to delivering customer services has helped to ensure that there is a seamless and integrated delivery of its services. This is not to say, though, that these innovations have been without their problems -- far from it. Each new incarnation of a customer service application has been fraught with problems that have demanded timely feedback from all customer service representatives to resolve them; each of these testing applications has been conducted with we handled our normal workload as well, making such transitions potentially stressful situations instead of the opportunities for improvement they actually represented. The careful use of humor, a calm voice and an emphasis on slowing the pace of things down sufficiently until everyone could communicate have proven to be valuable tools in these situations.
Like a number of other financial services providers today, TIAA/CREF provides its customers with a variety of marketing and promotional materials, including a quarterly periodical; in many instances, customers contact customer service representatives concerning how best to apply this new guidance to their own situations. As a result, customer service representatives are required to be knowledgeable about these promotional materials as well as the tools and literature that are maintained online.
In this regard, the company provides all of its customers (as well as the general public) with a number of online estate planning tools, and many customers seek assistance on how best to apply these to their individual needs. Many of my suggestions based on the frequency of such inquiries for incorporating additional "frequently added questions" to the company's literature have been adopted for this application.
In sum, I am a conscientious business professional with a proven track record in customer service. These skills have been refined over the years and my conflict resolution, morale-building and interpersonal skills have improved in the following ways:
Consistent Quality Customer Service. From an empathetic perspective, I found that I am increasingly able to adopt a customer's viewpoint in all internal and external dealings; to this end, I am able to recognize a customer's needs and provide accurate and timely guidance. I am also prompt in returning telephone calls and answering e- and "snail" mail, and I consistently employ an assertive approach to resolving situations that have the potential for a dissatisfied customer. It is easy to overlook the importance of a friendly voice at the other end of a telephone line at the end of a business day, but each of these transactions has important implications for the customer as well as the company and it is essential that each transaction…