USAA Brokerage Customers Get Personalized Support

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Listening to customers is what USAA does best. Its brokerage service division counts 85% military personnel among its members. But its platform is open to anyone who is interested in great customer service, low fees and access to extensive investment research.

"We're a very member-centric organization, so when we're developing products or when we're looking at changing the overall experience with our products, the first and foremost consideration is the member experience and the member impact," said Art Garcia, product management director of USAA Brokerage Services.

One For All

This member-centric approach is what spurs USAA -- a favorite in the Best Online Brokers survey -- to keep expanding and improving its online brokerage service.

The investment side originally started as a mutual fund company in 1983. But as member demand for accounts holding individual securities grew, the San Antonio firm launched a program for customers to invest in stocks .

"It was a very simplistic capital account," said Garcia. "And over the years, it was simply just that. We used it more as an accommodator for trading."

As members' research and trading needs grew, USAA listened and significantly expanded its offering.

"We focused a lot more on external mutual funds over the last few years," said Garcia. "We've almost doubled that number. Additionally, we've had a significant investment in the digital space."

In 2012, USAA unveiled an improved iPhone, Android and iPad investment center. Clients can get quotes, track their portfolio, use interactive charts and view options chains.

"We've really gone after that market, but at the end of the day we continue to position the brokerage platform as more of a relationship platform," Garcia said. "We want to have a vehicle to allow members to implement their investment strategies, whether they are self-directed or whether they are being given advice by one of our licensed investment advisers."

Members also can get advice on banking, insurance and retirement planning. "What I like about their investment services is that none of their brokers are working on a commission," said Ted Taveras, a military veteran, professional pilot and USAA client. "So they make really good recommendations. I actually did really well with my IRA.

"And all the other services that they offer as far as life insurance, my auto insurance, I've got homeowner insurance with them. .. . I trust them. I've been with them many years. Their rates are super competitive and I like doing my banking with them. They are always very pleasant to talk to. It's phenomenal."

USAA charges two rates for self-service investing depending on the tier a member falls into.

In the basic Gold Tier, investors pay $8.95 per trade and 1 penny per share after the first 1,000 shares.

Up There

Investors rise to the Platinum Tier when they have (1) wealth management accounts (2) at least $50,000 in investment assets or (3) make 25 or more trades in a rolling 90-day period. The base rate is $5.95 per trade and half a penny per share after the first 1,000 shares.

If a member desires to combine banking and investing, USAA offers an asset-management account. "That gives you the best of both banking and investment," said Garcia. The minimum investment is $5,000 for such an account.

"Our core for being here is our membership and to facilitate their financial security," he added. "We always start with the member."



The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The NASDAQ OMX Group, Inc.



This article appears in: Personal Finance , Investing Ideas

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