Yale School of Management



TIAA, a Fortune 100 financial services organization, made dramatic changes in 2016. The organization changed its name from the admittedly clunky "TIAA-CREF" back to its original, simpler name, "TIAA." It widened its products beyond retirement options to a full range of financial investment options. It expanded its advertising in print, on television, and online advertisements. It updated and began more thoughtful use of social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter.

TIAA continued to serve the financial needs of people in academic, government, medical, cultural, and other nonprofit fields. In its refocus in 2016, it predicated its brand on three simple pillars:

  •  We are on your (the customer’s) side.
  •  We will be simple, smart, and authentic.
  •  We are an engaged ally, understanding and here for our customers whether they have $5 or $5 million.

With all the changes, Connie Weaver, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, noted that TIAA was moving from defining who it was and what it does, to testing its offers and its value proposition to determine how customers and prospects react.

One continuing challenge for TIAA was engaging workers under 35, understanding where they were in their lives and finding messages that would encourage them to plan their financial futures, including saving for their retirement years. Once these younger workers started thinking about securing their futures, Weaver hoped to convince them that TIAA could be their allies as they dealt with the immediate issues in their lives and beginning to plan for long-term wellbeing. In 2016, with its new branding in place and its mission clear, the organization was looking to create messages and methods to reach these employees as they moved into their financial future. By defining and addressing the barriers that often prevented this growing segment of the workforce from thinking long term, TIAA could help them balance their current life demands with the long-term planning they needed to do for retirement.

The organization had a long and distinguished history. Always known for its solid financial management, TIAA’s conservative investment philosophy had allowed it to weather financial turmoil better than some of its competitors. TIAA had emerged from the most recent financial panic as one of the few financial service companies able to maintain top ratings for its products. 

Weaver and others at TIAA realized that the longer-term growth of the organization required attracting additional customers. One target was new employees at the institutions it served, particularly those under 35. In a major shift from its near-monopoly status in decades past, TIAA in the twenty-first century found itself as only one of several retirement providers offered to employees. Market research had revealed that many employees of these institutions, particularly younger ones, were not as aware of TIAA as they were of other options. The company was competing against industry giants such as Fidelity, which had much larger and broader marketing footprints.

Upon deciding to focus on younger customers, Weaver’s challenge was to identify the best way to position the company to increase overall awareness among millennials. How could TIAA then let these individuals know that TIAA could best serve their retirement planning, and other financial needs? What messages and channels would be most effective? How could TIAA reach the men and women who were beginning jobs at the institutions TIAA served?

In addition, Weaver had to find ways to educate customers about the advantages of TIAA's offerings. What was the best way to build on TIAA's not-for-profit heritage, the objective advice, the deep commitment to investors' financial well-being? And what voice was most likely to reach the under-35 customers, whose immediate financial needs often made retirement seem a far-distant concern?

Raw, online
Case Access:
Teaching Note:
Suggested Citation:

Jean Rosenthal, Jaan Elias, Ahmed Khwaja, Vineet Kumar, and K. Sudhir, “TIAA-2016,”  Yale SOM Case 16-017, October 31, 2016

  • Financial services
  • Marketing
  • millennials
  • United States
  • Competitor/Strategy
  • Customer/Marketing
  • Employee/HR
  • Investor/Finance