San Antonio, Texas-based USAA to open financial center near Columbus Park Crossing

Insurance, banking company caters only to the military population

tadams@ledger-enquirer.comJune 26, 2013 

USAA, an insurance and banking company dating to 1922 and headquartered in San Antonio, is poised to splash into the Columbus market in early January.

Construction is now under way on a 5,000-square foot “financial center” at 6501 Veterans Parkway. That’s at the intersection of Whittlesey Road and just across from Columbus Park Crossing.

“With almost 30,000 active duty troops and well over 50,000 veterans, Columbus has always been attractive to us as a place where we can make a big impact on serving our core market, which is the military community and their family,” said Peter McKenna, retail channel development director for USAA.

The company — which traditionally has done business by mail, telephone or the Internet — began opening brick-and-mortar locations in 2009. It already has 19 financial centers in the U.S., all near military installations.

The Columbus location is one of three now being built by the firm, known by its full name as United Services Automobile Association. The others are in Junction City, Kan., near Fort Riley, and in El Paso, Texas, near Fort Bliss.

McKenna said USAA, perhaps best known for its auto and home insurance products, will enter Columbus also looking to take a bite out of the city’s banking market. The new center will have 8 to 10 employees on site, although customers will use four ATM machines — two inside and two via drive-thru lanes — to deposit checks and withdraw cash. Use of competitor ATMs will be reimbursed up to $15 per month.

Video teleconferencing offices also will be available to connect customers with service representatives in other areas of the U.S. as they inquire about products and services.

“If they need a mortgage or home equity loan, if they need to place a first-notice of loss for a claim, we’ll be able to provide those services through a video teleconference capability at our financial centers,” he said.

There also will be help with brokerage accounts, mutual funds and retirements, with those separating from the military able to receive advice at the center, McKenna said.

The USAA center is being built on property formerly home to a small office complex that was torn down after widening of Whittlesey Road began. It is a highly visible location, with a 2012 Georgia Department of Transportation traffic count showing roughly 30,000 vehicles passing by daily on Veterans Parkway.

“We were striving for a location that would be optimal for where our members live and where our members shop. And, as you know, that area of town is like the ground zero for retail,” McKenna said. “It also is convenient to the military base itself. Being a very short drive up 185 at highway speeds, it’s within 14 minutes of the front gate of Fort Benning.”

McKenna said USAA at this point doesn’t know if Columbus can support more than one financial center, including one closer to Fort Benning. San Antonio has three locations, while Fayetteville, N.C., near Fort Bragg, and Killeen., Texas, near Fort Hood, each have two centers. Those last two military communities each are home to roughly 50,000 active-duty soldiers.

“If we’re blessed with an overwhelming response and we need to, we’ll look for what the next best location in town would be,” he said. One thing is clear, however. It’s the local military population that USAA is here to serve. McKenna said those who are active duty or retired military, as well as honorably discharged veterans, along with their families, are the target market.

“That is our membership requirement,” he said. “We are not open to anyone. We are focused on the military and their community.”

USAA Bank, founded in 1983 and a subsidiary of USAA the holding company, handles about $51 billion in deposits overall, serving 6.5 million members. Including its insurance and investment arms, it serves about 9.6 million customers.

On Tuesday, the Tempkin Group, a “customer experience” research and consulting firm, rated USAA the most trusted company in the country, with its insurance banking businesses topping the Tempkin Trust Ratings list, which covers nearly 250 firms. Publix, Amazon.com, Sam’s Club and Trader Joe’s were also in the Top 10.

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