Trabucco said the main advantage to e-messaging is that participants would be able to ask specific questions about their accounts in a secure environment.
“It’s something we don’t currently have and it was brought to our attention by the folks overseas — the uniformed services folks and others — who have told us it would be helpful and more convenient if they had this kind of service.”
Trabucco says participants currently have access to Web-issued notices that contain more general information.
It is only available to those who specifically sign up for it, but it contains all new information posted to the current TSP site.
“We’ll send them a notice that there’s new information and they can go and check it out. That’s proven to be quite popular. We’ve got over 200,000 people who have subscribed to that. So this is really the next step.”
The new e-messaging will be done as part of the overall Web overhaul, which is going to start during the first quarter of 2010, though Trabucco said you could see some preliminary changes sooner than that.
“We’ll be doing a test drive on the new Web site in October, so we’re just leading up to that. It’s not going to be a substitute for our call centers — you’ll still be able to call if you have a question and get a knowledgeable person to provide an answer . . . but the [Web site] is just another means of communication.”
Another advantage of the new Web site will be that the information will hopefully be clearer.
“There’s always the possibility that someone will misunderstand what happens in a phone conversation, and often putting it in writing can make it that much clearer. . . . We want to make sure that we get the information that we need to go in and check on individual questions about accounts, whether it be ‘I took out a loan and those loan payments are not showing up in my account. What’s going on?’ That type of thing. The key was to be able to do it in a secure environment as you’re sending personal information back and forth in the form of a dialogue.”
In addition to e-messaging, Trabucco said there are a number of other aspects of Web 2.0 technologies that need to be looked at.
“Aside from the security and privacy issues, we need to train folks on our end — at our call centers, most likely, to communicate in this new medium. We’ve got good people there who are answering the phones — and they’re good at that — but not everybody who’s good on the phone will have good writing skills.”
Trabucco said, despite the need for new training, e-messaging will hopefully become available when the new Web site is rolled out in 2010.
All information on the site will be password protected and Trabucco added that the TSP Board is working diligently to make sure that the privacy and security of accounts remains intact no matter what.
“That’s why we’ve approached this cautiously. We do have a number of ways that people can get their information. As I said, they can call the call center. They can go to their agency and have their agency communicate with us, if they prefer to do it that way. They can always write, of course, and we do respond to written questions. [The Web site] is just another arrow in our quiver — another way to do it while keeping the information secure, but available to the right person.”