TIAA-CREF, a financial services institution that has serviced the academic, research, medical, cultural and government fields for nearly 100 years, rebranded itself last month, renaming itself TIAA and launching a redesigned website, TIAA.org.

“Anytime you take a step like this, you do it very deliberately, very thoughtfully and centered in insight and research,” says Connie Weaver, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at TIAA. “This is about ensuring we are relevant and remain relevant.”

The company was originally founded as Teachers Annuity Insurance of America by Andrew Carnegie as a way to help educators save for retirement. It was an annuity option for educators who didn’t have access to a pension or other type of retirement plan.

The CREF part, or College Retirement Equity Fund, was added in 1953 to represent the two products the company offered to workers.

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“This is about ensuring we are relevant and remain relevant.”

“Those two products are still the rock bed of who we are. They are at the core of many people’s retirements, but the company is so much broader,” says Weaver. Along with annuities, it also offers investing, banking insurance, advice and retirement plans.

“When we stepped back and looked at what customers want and looked at the breadth of products and services we provide today, it is far beyond what Andrew Carnegie conceived 100 years ago,” she says. “So how do you articulate that?”

Five generations of individuals work with TIAA so the big question on Weaver’s mind was how should they continue to be relevant to these different generations of people with different financial needs.

Inertia still rules most people when it comes to making financial decisions, so TIAA wanted to “meet the customer where they were [with] a philosophy to be radically simple,” she says.

When the company began looking into its brand and the equity that came with it, it realized that its customers valued and trusted TIAA-CREF’s reputation.

“Most people held all the value in the first name. I joked with people that if our name was CREF-TIAA, we would be CREF today. All of our equity was in our first name. We didn’t lose anything. We simplified our name,” she says.

Connie Weaver
Connie Weaver

It isn’t just about a name change, though. Weaver explains that just shortening the name was a complete game changer. It meant that the entire TIAA experience would be radically simple, more personal and in plain English.

The TIAA website has been simplified, with everything laid out in tiles with bites of interactive information.

“It is done with the individual in mind,” says Weaver. It uses real stories of real people to accentuate certain points and it is “done in a way to take the anxiety out of making financial decisions and with a full engagement, the ability to engage and personalize along the way.”

The company took 2,500 pages of dense jargon and condensed it to 750 pages of information, all presented in a simple manner. It also is mobile friendly.

Each piece of the website was designed after running samples by real customers.

“This is as driven by customer reaction as anything I have participated in building,” Weaver says. “It is not just about what people think and what it says and what they do. It is how it makes people feel.”

Many of TIAA’s clients are women since the organization targets the non-profit community, including educators. It started a program a few years ago that offered solutions to women, delivered by women. Many women are comfortable being the head of household at home and managing their day-to-day finances but they are very uncomfortable with investing, she says.

TIAA has attempted to guide women, through workshops, to help them feel comfortable making financial decisions that affect their future selves, like rebalancing their retirement portfolios or increasing their savings level. More than 70% of those who went through the TIAA workshops took some type of investment action.

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