The past several years have been challenging ones for the State Universities Retirement System (SURS) and its members. Legislation, fluctuations in funding and changes to insurance have led to increased complexity of the System and workload for staff. Through it all, SURS has continued to be a trusted source of information and services to its 65 employers and more than 223,000 members.
Survey results consistently show that SURS commitment to provide our members with exceptional service and timely benefits is meeting or exceeding expectations. Since July 2012, SURS Counselors have received an overall satisfactory rating of 97.14%. The rating for the SURS Call Center was 90.41%.
Pension reform and changes to annuitants' insurance weighed heavy on members minds this year, and SURS has been there to assist them every step of the way.
A recent temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction has stopped implementation of Public Act 98-599, the most comprehensive and sweeping pension reform in the history of SURS. Prior to that, however, SURS had to proceed as if it would be implemented in a very short time period.
Immediately after passage of P.A. 98-599, SURS staff ramped up efforts to inform employers and members of how the changes would affect them. These efforts included additional member counseling services, website enhancements, call center expansion, and increased employer and legislative outreach.
On Nov. 12, 2013, more than 24,000 SURS annuitants began the process of selecting a Medicare Advantage provider. Our staff, however, had been preparing for several months for the influx of calls, member visits and forms. An "increase-in-traffic" plan of action started the first day of enrollment and continued through Dec. 13, the final day of enrollment. During that time, the SURS call center handled 17,862 calls, an increase of 82.7% over the same time last year, and the insurance team processed 22,000 enrollment forms. Also, more than 3,250 members visited our office in Champaign during that period, an increase of 415% from a year ago.
For our staff, it was rewarding to be able to serve our members by answering their questions and making sure their forms were properly completed. Members said they felt much more at ease after speaking to a SURS Member Service Representative.
SURS retirement counselors play a vital role in educating members about benefits through private appointments, presentations, campus visits and other outreach initiatives.
Members within four years of retirement can schedule counseling appointments that are 30 minutes long and are specific to the member´s personal SURS history. Some of the topics discussed include retirement amounts, death and survivor benefits and insurance.
By the end of Fiscal Year 2014, counselors will have met with approximately 5,200 members for private retirement counseling appointments and an additional 800 members through 40 group counseling sessions. This is an increase of 57% from the previous year. Counselors also complete written estimates for members who request them in lieu of having a counseling appointment. More than 1,250 written estimates will be completed this fiscal year.
In the last 12 months, SURS counselors made 132 campus visits to give pension reform presentations and meet with individual members for counseling sessions. Nearly 10,200 members attended one of the 98 presentations. An additional 3,400 members watched one of the 17 webinars SURS counselors held.
In July 2012, the SURS Naperville branch opened at the Northern Illinois University Outreach Center. Two counselors are available to meet with members for counseling appointments at this location. Retirement education seminars are also held on site.
SURS Call Center has 15 member service representatives available Monday through Friday who can be trusted to assist you with problems, answer questions, and provide needed forms and applications. They have been trained in all aspects of the System from benefits and insurance to which form to fill out when you move or remarry. If they don't readily have the answer to your question, they know exactly where to go to find the information you need.
Member Service and Outreach
SURS member service and outreach efforts are forever evolving to meet the changing needs of its members. Recent additions include:
- Group Counseling
To meet the demand for counseling sessions after pension reform legislation passed, SURS added group retirement counseling sessions. Counselors speak to 20 members and their spouses at a time during two-hour meetings at the Champaign office. Members have found these sessions very helpful, with an overall satisfaction rating of 98.44%.
- Plan Choice Webinars
The Member Outreach department implemented monthly webinars to provide helpful information to new participants concerning their plan choice decision.
- Annuitant Seminars
SURS now offers half-day seminars for our members already receiving a benefit. These meetings cover the death benefits process, an introduction to what's available on the SURS website and an enjoyable session conducted by the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension.
- Language Interpreter Service through SURS Call Center
This service provides immediate access to more than 150 language operators, increasing SURS ability to serve a diverse membership.
- Electronic Funds Transfer
To improve customer service, Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT) was implemented for benefit check writing and direct debit of annuitant insurance withholdings.
- Website Redesign
The SURS website – www.surs.org – was redesigned to improve navigation and functionality.
- Information Security
New safeguards were added to the Member Website to provide further protection of member information. This was done in preparation for new self-service electronic forms.
- Electronic signatures
SURS added the convenience of electronic signatures and submissions for many forms.
- Life Events
In this new feature on the SURS website, information is broken down into events that might occur as members progress through life, such as starting work for a SURS employer, family changes, preparing for retirement, turning 65, returning to work after retirement, survivor benefits and other helpful sections.
- Video Tutorials
A variety of videos and tutorials were added to the website. Some examples are:
- Plan Choice Video — helps members choose between Traditional, Portable or Self-Managed plans.
- Member Website Video — demonstrates how to log on and navigate the Member Website for a Traditional plan participant.
- Things You Need to Know Before You Retire — provides important information members should know before starting the retirement process.
- Benefit Estimator Tutorial — shows how an active member's Benefit Estimator works on the SURS Member Website. The Benefit Estimator is a tool for you to use to estimate your own retirement benefits
As pension reform winds its way through the courts, know that SURS will continue to be the trusted source of information and guidance you've come to expect. Any time you have a question, visit www.surs.org or dial up our call center at 217-378-8800 or 800-275-7877. If you are nearing retirement, don't hesitate to schedule an appointment with one of our highly educated counselors.