TIAA-CREF Becomes TIAA, But Not "tee-ah"

TIAA-CREF, a company that everyone I know refer to as TIAA (or tee-ah) has now become TIAA.

But don't call them TIAA (tee-ah), no, that is a bridge to far, they are T.I.A.A. (tee-eye-ay-ay).

Note: "ay" is simply a long "a".

While there are no periods between the letters, you are not supposed to pronounce TIAA as a word, instead you are still supposed to say each letter, so much for simplification.

The CEO, Roger Ferguson says they are "shortening the name, modernizing it and making it more contemporary," but are they? Yesterday it was "tee-eye-ay-ay CREF" and today it's "tee-eye-ay-ay" with the CREF dropped. I have no idea why you have to say each letter, T...I...A....A, but then you can get away with saying CREF (pronounced...cref) without having to say those letters. Well at least you won't have to say "CREF" anymore (though CREF is not disappearing).

Yes, "tee-eye-ay-ay" is shorter than "tee-eye-ay-ay-CREF", but why not just TIAA (tee-ah), wouldn't that in reality be "shortening, modernizing...and..more contemporary"?

Maybe I'm overanalyzing it, but I don't think so. Is TIAA really changing or is it just a facelift?

In their press release TIAA says:

“This is more than a name change; this is a game change,” said Connie Weaver, chief marketing officer at TIAA. “We stepped back and listened to the people we serve, who they are and what they need. We know that everyone defines success on their own terms, and we help them evolve and change that definition over time. Our brand today is about meeting our customers wherever they are on that journey to success, and helping them meet their needs and navigate their financial lives in a simple, clear way, with straight talk instead of jargon or legalese."

Only time can tell if TIAA-CREF changing to TIAA is actually a "game change" or just another in a long line of reorganizations. But...I'm hopeful.

I've had a love-hate relationship with this financial behemoth for some two decades and much of the hate (really just frustration) comes from the very fact that this organization finds it very difficult to change.

I've been disappointed by TIAA many times in the past, but also pleasantly surprised at times. Many advisors dislike TIAA, but normally for reasons that say more about the advisor than TIAA (though sometimes it is TIAA), on the whole I continue to be a pragmatic TIAA (tee-ah) enthusiast. I'll criticize when needed and praise when deserved.

I know many employees at TIAA and the vast majority are great people, many of them are simply outstanding at what they do. TIAA has built some services that no other company will build and they have made some significant back office changes to their recordkeeping systems over the past decade that allow it to compete in an environment that is suddenly very competitive (mainly higher education). TIAA has built a lot of goodwill with participants over the years at colleges, universities and non-profits and those participants tend to be very loyal. TIAA has made very little progress in the public K-12 markets.

If you listen to my podcasts (Teach and Retire Rich podcast with Dan Otter) you'll often hear me sing TIAAs praises. I think they are a great company and a good force in the financial services industry, but that doesn't mean they are perfect. TIAA has work to do and it won't be easy, my hope is that this recent name change is in fact a "game change" for them because they have the resources and the goodwill to effect positive change in participants retirement plans, the question is will they be able to execute.

TIAA is no longer alone in the higher education market, Vanguard and Fidelity (not to mention the less friendly providers) are making tremendous in-roads in this area and winning significant business, no doubt the wake up call leading to these changes. I happen to be a fan of all three companies (though I have my issues with each) and will continue to support positive changes at TIAA as competition is good for the industry (and for participants).

With all that said, if I had any input into the name change at "tee-eye-ay-ay" I would have told them that if they really listened to their participants they would have shortened it to "tee-ah", since that's what participants actually refer to them as. I've never met a TIAA participant who says the letters individually, never. This gives me pause because I hear it, but they didn't...why?

Say it with me, tee-ah, tee-ah, tee-ah...

Scott Dauenhauer, CFP, MPAS, AIF