Thursday, August 15, 2013


Just to prove to you, dear readers, that Kafkaesque nightmares and Voinivichean surreal hillarity aren't the monopoly of insurance companies like State Farm alone I thought I would share my recent Kafkaesque and Voinivichean tale about TIAA-CREF with you.

TIAA-CREF, as some of you may know, stands for Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association – College Retirement Equities Fund and is, according to "reliable" sources, the leading retirement provider for people who work in the academic, research, medical and cultural fields. I opened a TIAA-CREF account way back in 2000 or so when I worked at SUNY Press with $300. A few months later I was laid off and I haven't made any additional contributions since because I was, uh, laid off and my "career" has never recovered from this wonderful experience. Thank you SUNY Press and up yours. Thirteen years later my little account has grown to a whopping $664.07. See what TIAA-CREF can do with a little investment?

I recently received a missive from the messengers of the Olympians on high at TIAA-CREF telling me that thanks to a new agreement reached with the Research Foundation of SUNY, SUNY Press is an unimportant arm of the Research Foundation, that my paltry account, and any account below $1000 dollars, was no longer worth their time and was adding to their accounting costs--gee I hope I am not helping to bankrupt this Fortune 100 corporation--and that I had thirty days to transfer the monies or they would send me a refund minus the ten percent charges one gets for doing such things if one isn't 59.5 years of age. Don't you just love it, dear readers, that TIAA-CREF is cleansing my account and that I end up paying the price? Now that is what I call choice. Now that is what I call capitalism. They also, by the way, sent me a form indicating I could transfer my monies into one of the various retirement options at Siena College but since I don't work for Siena, well this option is moot. So much for corporate competency and efficiency.

I now work in the SUNY system, of which in good Kafkaesque and Voinivichean fashion the Research Foundation, SUNY, is really not a part, so I think, well OK, I will open a replica of my the account at SUNY Oneonta and start contributing a bit each month toward my retirement. After contacting SUNY Oneonta who sent me to one Peter Crehan Oneonta's TIAA-CREF representative for SUNY Oneonta, proving you really can still reach a real human being in the United States, I still don't know whether can do this. I asked him whether the account he suggested I open, a 403(b) is the same that I have now. I, as you see dear readers, find this stuff about as exciting as watching paint dry. I asked him if I can add $355.93 plus dollars to the account I have now and keep it. I asked him if TIAA-CREF would pay the fees if I took a refund since they are closing my account. I asked about the life insurance lines in the documents they sent me to sign since I don't have a life insurance policy with tyrannical TIAA-CREF. I still don't know the answer to any of these questions. I wonder if the New York State Attorney General's office or the political entities that regulate companies like TIAA-CREF in New York can help me? I doubt it, they are generally in cahoots with big Money--I give you Chuck Schumer, Mr. Overturn Glass-Steagall himself--but lets see.

I tell you all this dear readers so to help you understand that the division between economic corporations and political bureaucracies is a false or demagogic one. Corporations are bureaucracies. They are hierarchically organised with a few god figures at the top who run the business and more and more minions as you go down the pyramid who really run it. They supposedly hire on the basis of merit. And dealing with them is akin to what the protagonists of Franz Kafka's The Trial and Vladimir Voinicich's Ivankiada had to go through. Such is life in the modern world, a world in which bureaucracies, mostly looking out for their own narrow interests and which care little about yours, dominate daily life. Enjoy.

Postscript. It is now six days late and TIAA-CREF has answered all my questions. But dear reader don't jump to conclusions that TIAA-CREF has suddenly become a lovable and efficient bureaucratic teddy bear. The forms that Peter Crehan sent me to rollover my account were missing the most important form so my surreal bureaucratic journey through the labyrinthian castle that is the TIAA-CREF bureaucracy has not yet finished.

One more thing, TIAA-CREF asserts my account was closed not at their insistence but at the insistence of the Research Foundation who didn't want to deal with menial accounts like mine anymore. Regardless of who closed the account I can't imagine it is bankrupting either.

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