Federal employees and retirees might want to keep an eye on the Thrift Savings Plan over the coming year.
The agency that runs the plan is in the early stages of a massive modernization effort, one that will overhaul the systems that manage and secure the TSP on the back-end.
But the initiative will also bring some new features and benefits to TSP participants as well. The project is known as “Converge” to the employees and contractors who are knee-deep in the technical aspects of it.
But participants will know it as the project that will eventually bring them a new TSP mobile app, a mutual fund window, new security functions and a few more features that most consumers might recognize from the online banking world.
Many of these changes, especially the technical stuff on the back-end, have been in the works for years. But the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board has said participant feedback is informing the direction it’s taking with some of those new features.
In a recent survey of its participants, 57% of those younger than 40 said they wanted a mobile app to access the TSP. About 24% of participants over the age of 40 agreed.
Participants will still be able to access their accounts and communicate with the TSP through their online accounts, email, and the customer service phone line. But starting next summer, they’ll also have access to a new TSP mobile app, as well as a chat function and a virtual assistant powered by artificial intelligence.
“That’s going to be available to our participants 24/7, so whenever they log onto the website they’ll have access to that virtual assistant,” Tanner Nohe, the TSP’s program manager for the project, told the board at its monthly meeting last week. “It’s basically a tutorial of questions that participants might be asking.”
Live TSP customer service reps will run the chat function, and they’ll have the ability to hand off participants to other individuals who can help with more specific questions or concerns over the phone.
The TSP will also add a more features that should make it easier for participants to manage their money and interact with the plan — think more online forms and more electronic signatures.
Participants will also get the ability to digitally scan checks into the TSP, much like the feature that most banking institutions offer.
Nohe said the TSP will also offer a “concierge” service to help participants roll money into the plan, a popular topic that often prompts questions from federal employees and retirees.
Plus, there’s an upcoming mutual fund window, which should open sometime next summer as well, the TSP said. Participants will have access to thousands of funds not usually available to them through the plan’s core five.
The plan is still designing the mutual fund window. But it will offer a search tool so participants can filter through the funds and look through their options based on criteria that are important to them, Nohe said. The plan will also set up a dedicated contact center for participants who have mutual fund window questions.
There will be no limit on trades once participants enter the window, though some specific funds may have their own, Nohe said.
The mutual fund window has a lot of interest from both participants and members of Congress. Look for more information from the TSP in the coming months.
Beyond the mobile app and the mutual fund window, participants will see new security protocols next year as well.
Participants may see more prompts for a one-time password, for example, to make higher-risk transactions online. The plan is adding more fraud detection and prevention tools to the online experience. Participants will be able to use their biometric data, like facial recognition or a fingerprint, to access their TSP accounts, too.
The FRTIB has said participants will start seeing these changes sometime next summer. In the meantime, the TSP will start communicating with its participants next year to prepare them for the changes.
And yes, participants will actively have to prepare.
Most importantly, participants will have to set up new log-in credentials to access their online accounts. That means they’ll have to set up a new username, password and multi-factor authentication to get into their accounts.
Those who have multiple TSP accounts, say a military and a civilian retirement account, will only need to create one new credential to access everything, Nohe said.
Ahead of the big launch, there will be a brief blackout window where participants may be unable, temporarily, to access their accounts or make certain transactions for a short period of time.
Again, the TSP is still working out all the specifics. But in the meantime, keep an eye out for more information from the plan itself starting next January or February. And of course, we’ll do our best to keep you informed here of what you need to know.
Nearly Useless Factoid
By Amelia Brust
The idea that humans typically only use about 10% of their brains is a myth but a pervasive one. In reality, most of the brain is continuously active with the majority of its energy consumed for higher cognitive functions. The rest of its energy powers unconscious activities, such as heart rate, or conscious ones, such as driving a car. These regions of the brain may not always be firing simultaneously, however, as like any muscle the brain has rest periods. The myth is commonly traced back to American psychologist and author William James’ 1907 book “The Energies of Men,” which said, “We are making use of only a small part of our possible mental and physical resources.”
Source: Scientific American