The banking business at USAA is relatively young compared with other prominent institutions. Yet since USAA Bank (San Antonio, Texas; $51 billion in assets) was founded in 1983, it has become an industry leader in technology innovation, and also has become the gold standard for customer experience and service. For example, USAA ranked No. 1 for banking, credit cards and insurance services in Forrester Research’s 2013 Customer Experience Index.
The imperative to provide a consistently great experience to its active and retired military members drives everything USAA’s 2,500-employee IT organization does, according to Greg Schwartz, CIO and senior VP. “Our responsibility is to innovate on behalf of our membership,” he says. “We’re all working together with the same goal: make USAA the absolute best experience that we can for our members.”
Adds Schwartz (who was named CIO in 2004 and is the first financial services CIO to be honored as an Elite 8 executive in both the banking and insurance industries), “Everything we do here begins and ends with our members. The customer experience matters.”
Since USAA Bank is a virtual institution with no branches, that experience has to be provided through interaction with the company’s member service representatives, as well as the online and mobile channels. However, what distinguishes USAA from other diversified financial services firms is that those channels are not distinct for banking or insurance. “We believe we have one customer at USAA, whether insurance, banking, or whatever product,” explains Schwartz. Account pages at usaa.com show all the products members have with the company — they aren’t routed to a banking or insurance submenu. ”That’s what we mean by customer experience: How would you want to interact with USAA, not the way a specific line of business might want you to? We’re organized around process, not around lines of business.”
Supporting The ‘One Company’ Experience
Under Schwartz’s leadership, USAA has created a common infrastructure that services its different businesses and runs a mix of internally developed and packaged banking applications, which are integrated to provide the “one company” experience. “One of our core competencies is integration,” Schwartz notes.
With this foundation, USAA is able to embrace innovation in its products, services and channels, according to Schwartz. Recently, much of that innovation has involved the mobile channel, which USAA has led as a pioneer of game-changing services such as mobile remote deposit capture and speech capabilities. But even a forward-looking organization like USAA was surprised at how quickly its members embraced mobile banking, Schwartz says, while acknowledging its benefits for the very mobile military population. “In a little under five years, our mobile traffic has surpassed our dot-com traffic. It is our No. 1 channel of choice for our banking customers.”
USAA’s pioneering approach to mobile comes from a culture where innovation is a shared value and is incorporated into the organization — starting at the top, Schwartz emphasizes. “We have a CEO [Joe Robles] who reminds us that innovation is part of our job,” he says.
The company has created a group specifically responsible for what Schwartz calls “radical innovation.” The group — known as “Rev Dev,” for “revolutionary development” — has its own budget and works with a variety of technology companies, “looking for ways to take advantage of emerging technologies to solve business problems and challenges,” he says. “When we find a good idea and it prototypes well, then we rapidly get it into our product development queue.” One such recent innovation is a way to deposit multiple checks at once via mobile banking.
Another way USAA drives innovation is through its Innovation Communities for the Enterprise, or ICE, an interactive program that allows employees in any part of the business to generate and propose new ideas. “On the IT side we constantly are mining that tool for great ideas,” Schwartz says. Additionally, USAA runs an innovation center lab open to all employees for brainstorming and idea development.
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USAA also launched a coding competition, called Code as ICE, which runs several times a year. It gives cross-functional teams business problems to solve. All the ideas submitted at the most recent competition “have the potential for us to fund and take to production,” Schwartz says. “Our employees are passionate about it, they work [the challenges] on their own time, they love the competition and they love the teamwork and exposure it gives to the business community. It’s all about keeping the entrepreneurial spirit alive here at USAA.”
Schwartz’s commitment to fostering that entrepreneurial spirit typifies his approach to leadership. ”I try to be an inspirational leader, not a problem solver,” he says. “I work with my team setting big hairy audacious goals, really empowering my direct reports and my teammates to exceed those goals.”
CIO and senior VP of information technology services, USAA
IT organization: $1 billion budget, 2,500 employees
Career: Joined USAA in 1983, named to current position in 2004
Education: BS in management information systems, Texas State University; MBA in finance, St. Mary’s University
Hobbies: Boating, golfing, fantasy football (“I’m really good at it!”) and spending time with family
Katherine Burger is Editorial Director of Bank Systems & Technology and Insurance & Technology, members of UBM TechWeb's InformationWeek Financial Services. She assumed leadership of Bank Systems & Technology in 2003 and of Insurance & Technology in 1991. In addition to ... View Full Bio