The University Record, October 9, 2000

TIAA-CREF brings help to campus

By Monica Finch
Human Resources/Affirmative Action

Bernadette Davis and Todd Kephart have become familiar faces on campus. They work as a team, providing one-on-one counseling and group workshops conveying an important message: Start early when it comes to contributing to your retirement account.

Davis and Kephart represent TIAA-CREF, a company with which you may invest your U-M retirement funds. “U-M faculty and staff should participate in their plan because it’s so rich,” Davis says. “You don’t find many plans that offer a 2-to-1 match that’s 100 percent vested.”

Andrew Carnegie founded TIAA in 1918 to provide secure retirement income for college professors. U-M was the first university to sign on. The CREF organization was founded in 1952 to allow equity investments. Today the company manages more than $290 billion in assets. In the Fortune 500, the company ranks 19th. TIAA is one of only three American companies to earn the AAA rating from all four major analysts in the independent insurance industry. The company also is the world’s largest retirement system for higher education.

Kephart is a senior individual consultant who holds the certified financial planner (CFP) designation. He earned his accounting degree from Lehigh University. At one time he thought of becoming an English teacher. Although his career has taken a different course, Kephart is today very much an educator. After all, “I am explaining [financial] concepts,” he says.

Kephart joined the company five years ago. Since 1998 he’s been enrolled in U-M’s evening M.B.A. program. As a graduate student with a career that brings him on campus often, he says he has a lot of pride in the institution. “It’s nice to go to school and also to work with the people here.”

Davis joined TIAA-CREF in June 1997. She has worked in the retirement plans industry since 1984 after earning an undergraduate degree in business management from Eastern Michigan University. Currently she is pursuing her CFP professional designation.

Both enjoy meeting individually with faculty and staff. “I meet with eight or nine people a day on campus at Wolverine Tower or the North Ingalls Building,” Kephart says. “We try to make it as easy as we can and be available.” The sessions average 45 minutes.

The diversity of people and their unique circumstances keeps the work interesting. The people Kephart and Davis meet work in every area of the University. “I meet with academics, groundskeepers, hospitals staff, doctors and nurses, a wide variety of professions with a range in salaries,” Kephart says. The people he meets are extremely bright, he says, but sometimes “they may not be financially astute.” This is when he steps into the role of teacher.

Typically, Davis and Kephart are on campus presenting seven group workshops a month. The core meeting topics for the group workshops are Getting Started (for newer employees), Choosing Your Asset Allocation (which is determined by a person’s time horizon and risk tolerance), Retirement Distribution Flexibilities (here case studies are used) and Preserving Your Accumulations.

Besides 90-minute campus-wide presentations, brown-bag lunches also can be scheduled. These are arranged when a department or a division asks to have a representative come in and speak to the staff.

Both Davis and Kephart try to make their presentations down-to-earth and interesting. “U-M people are relaxed and friendly,” Kephart says. He especially enjoys it when a professor compliments him on his teaching style.

“I constantly have my ear to the ground,” Davis says. “I’m very communicative, very open. I take seriously the things that I hear from employees in terms of what we do well and, especially, what we could do better. I look at what TIAA-CREF does through the eyes of U-M employees,” she says. “It’s a ton of fun. That is my work. I am always listening and asking how can we benefit the most people and get the most out of our resources.”

Davis and Kephart agree that the most important message is, “It is crucial to get started early.”

“People are dedicated to their careers at the U-M, and sometimes they don’t pay attention to their financial situations until they’re in their 40s or 50s,” Kephart says. The more experienced employees act as ambassadors to younger colleagues by urging them to start planning early. “They have more influence than if we tell them,” he says. “When someone from your own department tells you, that is powerful advice.” Likewise, Davis notes, the person who starts early is going to have more money. “There is almost no way to make up for lost time.”

Davis thrives on her busy schedule, from which she derives personal and professional satisfaction. “There is nothing better than at the end of the day to know that I have contributed something important to the lives of the people I saw,” she says. For example, a U-M employee recently told Davis that she was losing sleep over her unresolved retirement plans. Shortly after meeting with Davis, she called to report that she no longer worries about it. “I love that. It’s totally wonderful!”

Davis and Kephart say their biggest challenge is finding ways to reach more people. When they consider the University’s more than 30,000 employees, they ask how many of them do we know? How many more can we meet? In rising to this challenge, they want to take advantage of technology.

To that end, Davis and Kephart encourage clients to use their PINs to access their accounts online. They also are intrigued by the idea of using the U-M cable television system or some type of satellite hook-up to reach more people with presentations. For example, Davis says, “I know the U-M has a biology lab in the UP with about 30 employees!” She wants to be able to reach them as well.

In addition, educational videos could be made available to clients to take home and view at their leisure, which could be followed up by requests for more information or an appointment. “If there is any way to give access to more people other than physically meeting with them between 8 and 5, Monday through Friday, I want to explore it,” she says.

Davis also offers three pieces of financial advice:

1. Take all free money! In other words, take advantage of matching contributions.

2. Maximize tax deferral.

3. Create additional tax-free or tax-deferred income. “You’re better off starting early [saving for retirement] and quitting in the middle, than starting in the middle and running the distance through the end,” she advises.

Along with retirement and investment services, the company offers IRAs, Keoghs, mutual funds and personal annuities, among other products.

TIAA-CREF’s Detroit Regional Office can be reached at (800) 842-2044. TIAA-CREF is on the Web at www.tiaa-cref.org.


TIAA-CREF on the Web

The TIAA-CREF Web site offers in-depth information on retirement plans, IRAs, mutual funds,

Keoghs, personal annuities, long-term care, trust services, and saving for college, among its many services and products.

The page has PIN-accessible links to clients’ accounts, a site where clients can update information on their accounts (change of address, etc.), and a schedule listing meetings and counseling opportunities.

From the online bookstore, clients or prospective clients may order free booklets on retirement saving options and related topics. These materials also may be viewed electronically.

The company’s performance history is readily available. Prospective customers may print out applications or complete one online. One feature allows individuals to “Explore Allocation Alternatives.” This is an online calculator that makes portfolio recommendations tailored to the individual’s goals and tolerance for risk.

The “Internet Institution of the Month” profiles one of the member institutions. The write-up includes a short history of the school and its current affiliations and programs of distinction. Also noted is when the school began its affiliation with TIAA-CREF and the local office that serves it. U-M was profiled in March 2000.