One of Maliz Beam's major initiatives since joining TIAA-CREF in 2004 has been building out the advice platform.

The firm, which was established by Andrew Carnegie in 1918 as the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association, wants to move beyond retirement services to help clients big and small manage all of their financial relationships. Over the past 12 months, the company's phone centers and offices have been flooded with calls from clients spooked by the financial crisis. TIAA-CREF offers the same services it did before the crisis, but has been "gearing up capabilities to support a lot of very anxious clients," Beams says.

The firm's offices and call centers are now open late and on weekends, "until the last advice session is done." During periods of extreme market turbulence, such as the fourth quarter of 2008, that could mean until 11:30 or 12:30 at night. But those extra hours have paid off. The number of individuals choosing to increase the share of their financial relationships with TIAA-CREF was up 20 percent through the first half of the year, while client attrition was down 22 percent.

Institutional clients are also looking for more hand holding: A record number increased their share of relationship with TIAA-CREF this year, achieving the firm's full-year operating targets within the first five months of the year. While total assets are down to around $375 billion from $420 billion a year ago, TIAA-CREF has gained market share, and it remains the single-largest private retirement system in the world, distributing over $10 billion to 500,000 individuals annually.

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