Banking

USAA: Building Financial Services For Those Who Serve

Memorial Day, for most, is a day filled with fun. Kids and their parents get a day off, families hit the road to beaches or amusement parks and BBQs (and Beet-B-Qs) will break out in backyards everywhere.

But Memorial Day, apart from the fun in the sun, is a holiday conceived to celebrate both sacrifice and service. Specifically, to celebrate those who have fallen in battle and have given, as Lincoln said in the Gettysburg address, “the last full measure of devotion” to their country.

More broadly, it is a day to appreciate those who have served – and who still serve – in the armed forces today.

It’s not an easy life, Scott Lippert, general manager of shared services for USAA Bank, told PYMNTS in a recent conversation.

It is, however, a life that Lippert knows well.

His early career was spent as a submarine officer, making him the third generation of his family to serve in the U.S. Navy. His father served for 38 years, retiring with the rank of Vice Admiral.

According to Lippert, the challenges for military service members are myriad and incredibly complicated, which is why USAA’s mission is very simple: “We feel compelled to make sure that all the products and services we offer meet the unique needs of service members and veterans.”

Building a Better Bank for Service Members

The main challenge in building those products, Lippert told PYMNTS, is that service life is quite different than civilian life in ways that can be very hard to imagine from the outside.

Military members, he noted by way of example, are very much the original mobile banking customers, as they are literally always on the move.

“I remember when I was on a submarine and we would pull into port, I would really only have a couple of days before we were off again,” he recalled. “I didn’t really have a lot of time for lengthy conversations with a banker.”

And that, Lippert noted, is standard operating procedure for veterans: They are more mobile than most, and need to get their guidance expediently from a trustworthy person who is acting with their best interests at heart.

Lippert noted that one out of four USAA employees is either a veteran themselves or is the relative of an active duty member – and that alone makes a major difference in soldiers’ experiences in dealing with the bank. Especially when that is combined with USAA’s commitment to making those employees accessible to members whenever they are needed.

In addition, Lippert pointed out, the military doesn’t run on a 9-to-5 banker’s schedule.

“We look to build simple experiences, products and services, and then make it possible for members to use our services at different hours of the day and night,” Lippert said. “When they pick up the phone to call the bank, they need someone who absolutely understands what it means to respond quickly and efficiently, regardless of when they make that call.”

The Services Needed

When building services for soldiers, Lippert said there are really two consideration to keep in mind: Military personnel often need slightly tailored versions of familiar products, as well as those that are entirely unique to their circumstances.

Mortgages are a good case in point, Lippert noted, because an active duty military member needs an underwriting process that is a lot faster than what is considered the norm in a civilian market.

“We see our members move so much – they will come off a deployment and need to be in their next assignment within a few days or weeks,” he said.

Although the windows of time are narrow, the need is real. Mortgages can be expensive and complicated for any consumer – but for soldiers, a drawn-out, opaque or expensive process can be particularly painful. That’s why it’s an area that USAA has invested in improving.

USAA mortgages come with few fees, Lippert noted, and they also close faster than almost anything else in the industry. According to Lippert, they are able to meet service members’ desired closing date about 89 percent of the time.

This formula – tailored products delivered quickly – extends across a variety of products USAA offers to those who actively serve.

“We need to be ready to help members make changes to their insurance coverage,” Lippert said, citing another example. “Service members don’t want to cancel their car insurance, but they also don’t want to pay a full rate on a car that isn’t going to be driven for half a year.”

And in the event of a government shutdown, USAA offers interest-free loans so that active duty service members can get through those difficult financial times without additional expense.

Lippert also said that USAA carefully considers the use of technology to support their products. The flashiest, shiniest digital banking experience isn’t always the best solution for someone who is actively deployed, he noted.

“If you are on a submarine or aircraft carrier in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, odds are you don’t have regular access to super-high bandwidth or high-speed internet,” he said. “We provide a low-bandwidth version of our site that eliminates the heavy graphics, so our members can conduct normal digital banking routines in an efficient manner.”

A Family Affair

When designing financial services for soldiers and veterans, USAA goes beyond the needs of those who are deployed. Quite often, Lippert said, they must consider the needs of the families those service members leave behind while they are deployed, since they act as the account holder’s proxy.

“Someone deployed on a submarine can’t pick up a phone call from a family member asking a question about a banking service,” Lippert explained.

Part of meeting that challenge lies in the account set-up process itself. At that point, Lippert said, it is very important that the products serving a customer have the right ownership established, and that there is a clear decision about who the bank can and should talk to when the account owner cannot be reached.

It’s not easy serving soldiers, Lippert noted, but the challenge is worth meeting – because it’s certainly not easy to be a soldier.

“I think when people have a little downtime today, they should reflect on that,” he noted. “It’s natural to think about service members on Memorial Day and Veterans Day. But today, I think about the soldiers, sailors and airmen who are not enjoying the same comforts of family and friends gathering together.”

Our thanks to USAA for all they do to serve the financial needs of those who serve, and have served, our country and helped to keep the world safe.

For anyone who would like to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice this Memorial Day, USAA has created a virtual poppy wall  where users can dedicate a poppy in memory of a fallen service member and/or veteran who has passed.

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