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
"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
One For All
This member-centric approach is what spurs USAA -- a favorite
Best Online Brokers
survey -- to keep expanding and improving its online brokerage
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
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
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.
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