New from the USAA Social Exchange 2014 Conference



Yeah, I know, it’s been over a month since the USAA blogger conference and I’m just now getting around to writing about it. You can read the first post of answers to reader questions for USAA at this link, and the second set of reader answers is here. Now we’ll (finally) talk about the conference itself, with their new initiatives and programs.

Logo of USAA eagle symbol |

Going above.

As I wrote in the earlier posts, this was my third USAA conference and the best one yet. (You can read about the 2012 USAA blogger conference here and the 2011 USAA blogger conference here, or browse the other links at the end of this post.) This year’s schedule started in the hotel lobby as we checked in on Tuesday afternoon, continued with the welcoming dinner that night, and ran for 13 hours on both Wednesday and Thursday. Of course as soon as we attendees finished the days with the USAA staff at 9 PM, we reconvened in the hotel lobby for a few more hours. I was exhausted by Thursday night, but a lot of networking got done– and a lot of new projects got started.

First the usual FTC disclaimer: I’ve been a USAA member for over 33 years, and I’ve had a business relationship with them for the last three years. I’m financially independent and all of my writing revenue goes to military-friendly charities, but the blog earns income from USAA advertising and affiliate commissions. You should consider having a business relationship with USAA too, and please let me know if you have questions or problems with the company or its program.

At first I drafted this post in chronological order, but I’ve reorganized it to put related services and programs together. Most of the numbers were provided by USAA’s staff or dug up from their website, and I’ve linked to the source for the rest.


Member Community

Although USAA’s membership has passed the 10 million level, much of the conference focused on the expansion of existing programs for the current membership. Wendi Strong, Chief Communications Officer, emphasized member care from the day they join the military or with a military family. This continues through leaving the service, to retirement, and during all the rest of life’s transitions.

It’s started with the relaunch of USAA’s Member Community. The forum has over 400,000 unique visits per month and 40% of the readers are using mobile devices. The Member Community has over 6000 posts and the announcement of Apple Pay (see more below) is by far the most popular current article.

Including the Member Community, there were over 460 million mobile visits to USAA’s website in 2013 alone. That’s up more than a third since 2012. USAA expects rapid mobile growth over the next year– perhaps to as much as 60% of the visitors– so the site is optimized for mobile use.

Their social media team now measures member growth, conversations, sentiment, and conversion (signups or services) across the site. Different criteria for each category track various programs and traffic. USAA is adding more effort to its social media outreach, and they’re seeking better ways to crowdsource their beta-testing and feedback. The company has over 98% annual member retention, and social media is one way to maintain the communication to help members make that decision.

I’ve been a guest poster on the Member Community for the last three years, and I’ve also reviewed a number of USAA programs on this blog. Bloggers don’t always get a big response to their posts, so I was pleasantly surprised to hear some great feedback about an earlier article. Six months ago I interviewed two executives about the new back-office outsourcing of the USAA brokerage. Some account owners had been frustrated about the switch, and my explanation of the outsourcing actually reversed member skepticism. This month I’ve put up a post about working after the military, and I’ve been even more pleasantly surprised by the shares and retweets of that post. If you have a question about a USAA program or service, see if you can find the answer on the Member Community– or ask me, and I’ll find out.


Apple Pay

One of the most interesting presentations came from John Brady, their Chief Architect in USAA’s Information Technology department. He proudly describes himself as a “payments geek”, and he was even happier to announce that USAA implemented their Apple Pay system over a month ago. Every IT engineer in the world knows (from bitter experience) to never attempt a live demonstration in front of an audience, but during his talk he had the guts confidence to enter his debit card into Apple Pay’s system while we watched. It took less than three minutes to go through the process and get approval. Then he did a demo of a point-of-sale terminal. He put his thumb on the fingerprint circle of his iPhone6, tapped the phone at the POS terminal, and the NFC technology did the rest. The interesting thing about the data transfer is that only a single-use token is stored on the phone, not the actual card number. USAA’s version of Apple Pay works with their MasterCard and Visa credit and debit cards. (American Express is “coming soon”.) Today it’s a “cool” way to pay but the process will get more traction as more people use their smartphones.

Members have already deposited over $30 billion with the mobile app in over 55 million transactions, and Apple Pay may soon rack up similar numbers in purchases. Google’s Wallet for Android also works with USAA credit cards, but it stores the transaction’s actual card numbers (not a data token) in Google Cloud. In the next few years I’m looking forward to completely replacing my wallet (including my military ID, driver’s license, and library card), even if it has to be with an iPhone.


Home Circle

Lisa Dyer (USAA’s Director of Marketing) gave an interesting presentation on the new & improved Home Circle. It was started nearly five years ago as a way for members to buy and sell their home, along with referrals to USAA’s insurance business and affiliated realtors. Approximately a quarter of USAA’s members move each year, and it’s a stressful event that needs centralized information on neighborhoods and housing. Home Circle is even more tightly integrated into the mobile app, so if you have bandwidth during your home search then you can look up the information as you drive around. You can even update your personal moving checklist on the app. To help you decide on a price range, you can look up your housing allowance. USAA is also gradually rolling out a feature to compare off-base housing to base housing. About half of the database is populated now, with Fort Campbell and Fort Hood being added next.

Home Circle’s “home value” feature now allows members to monitor up to 10 home addresses instead of just one. In addition to insurance quotes, members can also search for contractors or even list their rentals.

I’ve mentioned Home Circle in posts from other USAA conferences, and the database is getting better. Last month when I requested a quote on home insurance, the application filled out most of its details from Hawaii’s GIS property records as soon as I provided the address. (It took about five minutes to get a detailed quote.) Home Circle also licenses a CoreLogic property database to help homeowners monitor their property value and check neighborhood comps. While Zillow and Trulia market to retail customers, CoreLogic’s data is marketed to mortgage lenders who use more conservative assessments.


Auto Circle

This service is growing as it’s discovered by more members. We learned that over three million vehicles are added to USAA policies every year, and 6% are coming through USAA’s auto buying service with discounted loans. Members are keeping their cars or trucks for an average of 6.5 years (considerably longer in my case) and then selling/buying again through Auto Circle. It has the most choices in large metropolitan areas (with lots of USAA members) but the buying service is even expanding overseas.


Property and casualty insurance

Photo of Precision Hawk drone on floor|

Hand launched, loaded with cameras

USAA processed over five million auto and property claims in 2013 (including over 100,000 catastrophes). Providing insurance might be as “simple” as tapping into state property databases to create an insurance quote, or as complicated as developing software to scan the insurance forms of other companies to automatically compare quotes. However claims processing gets much more complex and cumbersome after a disaster, so innovation is essential to quickly assessing (and paying) with minimal expenses. The USAA app includes an accident reconstruction module to help members document claims on their own, and P&C Innovation also develops tools to help claims adjuster do their jobs more quickly.

At this conference we learned that USAA is testing the Precision Hawk drone for aerial damage surveys of natural disasters or storm areas. They worked with university research teams and the FAA’s test sites to overfly a mudslide area with multiple 2D cameras to develop a 3D representation of the damage’s coordinates and depth. After a brush fire or a hurricane, it’ll be much faster to use drones to survey damaged homes and document the claims.


Family resiliency programs

Part of USAA’s brand promise is the slogan: “Going Above For Those Who Have Gone Beyond”. Their corporate strategy behind that is helping with military family resiliency. Divisions at USAA focus on member transitions, financial literacy, caring for wounded warriors & caregivers, and hiring veterans and military spouses. Another division focuses just on military family supplier diversity. They educate other companies about veterans, help promote businesses started by military families, and encourage other businesses to market to military families. They even try to supply USAA’s needs from military-friendly businesses– especially if those businesses will hire more vets.


Your military transition

I last spoke to Eric Engquist two years ago. He’s the Assistant Vice President for Military Transitions, and the program is now bigger than ever.

It started when USAA realized that members were dropping their vehicle insurance after they left the military. Some thought they were no longer eligible, and others were selling their cars and trucks to save money. USAA was losing the opportunity to insure military veterans’ personal property, their homes, and their lives. They weren’t getting a chance to take care of their investments, let alone helping them in their civilian careers.

Mr. Engquist said that every year roughly 168,000 new servicemembers join the military. 211,000 deploy, another 255,000 (and their families) transfer to new duty stations, and 230,000 consider separating. USAA wants to help with each of those transitions by offering tools and services. It ties in with programs like Home Circle and Auto Circle. More importantly, it helps members launch their careers to have the income to purchase these products.

Transition tools start with a skills-assessment survey and a pre-separation checklist. These are used by military spouses as well as servicemembers, because they both influence the family’s spending decisions. In October USAA partnered with RecruitMilitary to help members translate their military skills to civilian occupations and write their résumés. USAA has also added Watson, the IBM supercomputer that competed at Jeopardy. In addition to answering trivia questions, it can now help answer member questions about the transition. USAA staff have spent most of 2014 “teaching” the system about the various programs and issues with the transition, so now Watson is able to direct servicemembers and military spouses toward the right options.

USAA’s “supplier diversity” program has already worked with multiple corporations that are trying to figure out how to sell their products to military families. Of course a military veteran is the best employee to help with that goal, so the next step is educating these corporations about veterans. USAA has partnered with Hiring Our Heroes to power a roadmap helping corporations understand what veterans can do for them, and they’ve hosted job fairs on military bases around the country. Now they’ve taken it a step further with their annual Best Places for Veterans list. It’s only been online for a month but Eric says that they’ve already seen a large spike in users. Veterans are using all of these tools to figure out where they want to live and work, and they’re also keeping their USAA membership.


Financial readiness

You servicemembers must be mightily tired of hearing about this, but commanders from all the services are regularly telling USAA that they still want help educating all of the ranks about financial issues.

Part of the financial readiness mission is handled by USAA’s Educational Foundation, a non-profit organization that visits ROTC units and commands to explain how to start saving and investing. (They gave presentations to over 45,000 servicemembers last year, including my ROTC daughter.) Susan Owen, the assistant VP of Wealth Planning, says that Millennial members feel financially secure even when they’re just able to pay their bills. They may think they’re doing well, even though they may not have health insurance or retirement investments.

One readiness solution is adding more modules to the mobile app so that new members can do all of their USAA business on their smartphones. (It reduces the expense of member service, too.) In this case, members can now open their new financial accounts on their phone (like a Roth IRA) and transfer money to start building their wealth. USAA is also working on surveys and checklists that will help members assess their financial readiness and learn what steps they should take next. Yes, the Internet already has plenty of financial checklists and worksheets, but this app will help a user through the process and then suggest the next steps. It’s coming in 2015 along with another program from USAA’s Innovation Community for the Enterprise that’s not even ready to talk about yet, but it looks promising in its beta test. I’ll post more about both of them when they’re rolled out.


Hiring veterans

This is getting a tremendous amount of attention from USAA’s senior VP for Military Affairs, John Bird (who’s also a retired submarine admiral). One of the USAA’s biggest achievements of 2014 was powering the rollout of the Employer Roadmap with Hiring Our Heroes. Over 600 corporations have already signed up to learn what veterans can do for them, and over 10,000 servicemembers have attended hiring fairs with those employers. They’re coming to a military base near you, so keep an eye on the opportunity for your own transition plan.

I’ve mentioned mobile applications several times in this post, and that’s created a huge corporate demand for programmers and system designers who can boost mobile’s growth. Texas is helping USAA with a veteran training/hiring program that could go nationwide: VetFIT. The Texas Workforce Commission and a local college are training veterans in Java applications. They intern at USAA and they’re hired when they finish the program. It’s such a success that it’s being funded for 2015, and other state/local governments are watching.

USAA is already a national two-time #1 Military-Friendly Employer, and has ranked in the top ten ever since Victory Media started the rankings a decade ago. They’re #5 on Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” of over 10,000 employees. USAA has hired over 9000 veteran and spouses since 2006, adding 2400 of them in 2013-14. Nearly 200 senior NCOs have been hired as claims managers simply because they already know how to work independently and get things done– USAA teaches them the rest. 24% of their employees are already veterans or military spouses, so they’ve raised their hiring goal to 30%.

If you don’t like the weather at the San Antonio headquarters, they have plenty of other offices across the nation– and they can even offer remote work from your home. 32 military spouses have already completed classes in teaching financial literacy or handling claims as remote work. They’ll take these jobs with them wherever their spouse’s next assignment may be: a truly portable career.

I know one USAA employee (a military retiree) who’s 65 years old and sees no reason to quit. After spending a couple of days watching what he does, I have to agree– he’s still taking care of members, mentoring people, and having fun. If USAA opened a financial service center at Schofield Barracks then I’d be sorely tempted to volunteer a few hours there.

I had a chance to speak with John (hey, I’m a nuke) and he said that one of his challenges is figuring out how to reach USAA’s younger members (hey, he’s a nuke). Generation X and the Millennials have far more future revenue potential than the Boomers (although we’re certainly spending our share today) and USAA needs to show up on the tools they like to use. These members have the same concerns that Boomers started out with, but today’s tech and behavioral psychology are a much bigger part of our lives. Financial readiness means that you have choices in your career and your life (gee, somebody should write a book) and social gamification is much more motivating than lectures or meetings. (It reaches a much wider audience, too.) These younger members are interested in starting their own side-hustle businesses because it’s cheaper today than ever before, and I think that’s finally lit a fire under USAA’s business checking. We’re all still too risk-averse and we don’t always appreciate the value of planning for our futures, but USAA is rolling out the tools to help.


The rest of the conference

Mahalo nui loa hana hou to Stephanie Cameron and Wendy Poling with USAA’s Influencer Engagement and Member Community teams. They know who we are and what we can do, yet they still invited us back for another round of cat-herding. They organized the best conference yet, and they crammed in at least 25% more talk-story time with USAA’s execs and staff.

Over two dozen of us attended this conference, along with plenty more time among USAA staff during breaks and meals. We also attended a Veterans Day ceremony which included a talk from Jake Wood, a founder of Team Rubicon. As usual we found plenty of sidebars to talk about our organizations and our latest projects, and I’ve read several books from the group’s authors. At this point I’d typically write about the people and their organizations, but I’m already at 3100 words here so I’ll save that for another post. In the meantime you can browse this list of USAA conference attendees and their social media info.


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Related articles:
Answers from USAA’s 2014 Social Exchange Conference (the first part of this series)
More Answers from USAA’s 2014 Social Exchange Conference (the other part)
Are You Moving To A USAA Top Military Community?
Hiring Our Heroes: Teaching Employers to Hire Military Veterans and Spouses
New USAA Brokerage Services
Reduce Your Driving Risks After Deployment
USAA And Membership Growth (more details from earlier conferences)
Military Transitions, Home Circle, Auto Circle (my first post on these programs)

WHAT I DO: I help you reach financial independence. For free.

I retired in 2002 after 20 years in the Navy’s submarine force. I wrote “The Military Guide to Financial Independence and Retirement” to share the stories of over 50 other financially independent servicemembers, veterans, and families. All of my writing revenue is donated to military-friendly charities.

  1. Reply
    drplexico December 11, 2014 at 4:10 PM

    Thanks for a nice, thorough summary!

    • Reply
      Doug Nordman December 12, 2014 at 5:39 AM

      Thanks, Flex, I had a good time learning from everybody!

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