territory, which is a broad geographic
region. By using geocoding, we can pinpoint
your exact location, and say, for example,
“You really are more than three blocks
from the coast, so you’re definitely not at
risk from storm surge.” In this case, we
can write more and better business for our
membership and give them better rates.
That’s a lot of fun as well.
Js: it’s great how being a branchless bank
has given you this scope to innovate.
Gs: We’re really a branchless company.
We’re a full financial services business. We
have banking, we have investments, we
have life insurance. Our big core products
are auto insurance and financial advice.
Everything is done pretty much through a
If you go back 15 or 20 years, to the
origins of USAA, we started out doing
business by mail. Then, when 1-800
numbers came along in the late 1970s,
we had to get our customer service reps
to give instant help over the phone. Now
mobile technology and the Internet have
become so important to our business
model because it’s essentially self-service—not only from home, but from
any where in the world.
There are a couple of other things that
we just rolled out. Let’s say you wanted to
buy a new car. You can either prepare ahead
of time for this, or you could just sho w up at
a dealer. We have Auto Circle. You just visit
that site, configure the car you want, and
it tells you which dealers are in your area
along with prices, and it quotes you then and
there on the phone. You could be in another
dealer’s office, for example, and you could
show them a rival quote! We give you the
ability to finance that car right there and
then, and insure it, all in one location.
Home Circle is cool too. Using your ZIP
code, you can find all the properties for sale
in your area, pull up pictures of houses, along
with all the other information. You could
be right in front of the property as you do
this, add it to your favorites and add your
own pictures and notes. We’re doing a lot of
things a lot easier for our membership, and
that’s what really drives us at USAA: how
can we make the user experience useful and
simple for complex financial applications?
recruit heavily from universities in Texas
and beyond. We have folks from MIT,
Princeton, Carnegie Mellon, and the local
universities: Texas, Texas Tech, every where
you could imagine.
I hire any where between 75 and 125
college graduates every single year. One
of the things we tell these people when
we hire them is that we are hiring you
to be a leader, not a programmer, so to
speak. Yes, you’re going to be doing some
programming, but we want our employees
to be leaders, too, doing senior design
work, software architecture work, and
project management. We work with teams
of consultants and international teams
across the world, so we need these people
to be the senior staff that leads these
Js: You started with a mail-in service, then
a toll-free phone service, so in terms of
existing customers, how have they reacted
toward all the new technology you’re
Js: moving on to the development of this
software, can you tell us a bit about your
Gs: We are a very large IT shop. Our
workforce is extremely important to us. I
Gs: We think in the banking space we are
one of the largest Internet banks out there.
The reason I say that is that we have to be
because we’re branchless. This is also the
reason we’re seen as such an innovator in
mobile banking. Our customers are eating
this up! We count the transactions we do
with our customers, whether that be a phone
call or a balance check online, or an SMS text.
When you add all these up, 88 percent
of all transactions are electronic. It’s
amazing that 8 out of 10 transactions
are electronic. So in terms of existing
customers, Internet banking is a massive
part of how they conduct business with us.
Js: sometimes the older generation can be
difficult to convince that using the internet
and mobile devices is safe and secure
for banking. Do you think there is still a
problem convincing this demographic it’s
Gs: Generally, young people use this
technology more, but most of our older
demographics are using technology, too.
I think your statement is true. One of our
principles is that we give our members
the ability to choose how they do business
with us. We don’t force them to use the
Internet, or SMS, or the phone.
Our members are in large part men
and women who are in the military or who