One year has passed since The American Legion and USAA joined forces to connect the nation's largest veterans service organization with a financial provider that understands the military culture like no other.
When the relationship dawned, USAA CEO Joe Robles spoke of shared values and the way both The American Legion and USAA are guided by core values that mirror those of the U.S. military. "We are uniquely positioned to handle the needs of Legion members," Robles said.
Now that the relationship has reached its first anniversary, Kevin Bergner, executive vice president and chief administrative officer for USAA, confirms that shared values have fueled the ongoing success of the relationship. American Legion programs benefit when certain products are purchased via the dedicated Legion–USAA website or the special toll-free number, and every time an American Legion USAA credit card is obtained and used to make an eligible purchase. The relationship also makes a complete suite of personal finance services available to Legionnaires and their families.
Bergner, a member of American Legion Post 2 in San Antonio, reflected on the relationship and why it's working so well.
The American Legion: How does USAA feel this new relationship with The American Legion is going so far?
Bergner: We could not be happier. What struck me when I attended the 93rd National Convention of The American Legion in Minneapolis last August is the alignment we share. As I listened to all the different participants, I couldn't help but be struck by the commitment they expressed to our country, to veterans and the military community and their families. That is a wonderful alignment. Between USAA and The American Legion, you couldn't ask for a better fit.
The American Legion: Can you offer some specifics about the alignment of values?
Bergner: At USAA, everything we do is grounded in our core values of service, loyalty, honesty and integrity, and you just need to read The American Legion constitution's preamble to see similarities in beliefs.
Both organizations are also multigenerational. My dad was a USAA member, I am a 32-year member and my son is a five-year member. My dad's friends prefer to deal with USAA on the phone or face to face at one of our financial centers. My son will hold up his iPhone after checking his USAA accounts and say, "This is the best bank ever." We serve military families through all stages of life and the channel of their choice.
The American Legion: So far, the number of new USAA members who joined through the dedicated American Legion website (usaa.com/legion) or by calling toll-free 1-877-699-2654 has exceeded expectations. From a business perspective, can you describe how it has gone?
Bergner: It's a strong relationship. We did quite a bit to prepare for it, and we have learned some new things along the way as well. Our phones are busy, and our member- service representatives are learning more about American Legion members — how we can better serve them. We are adapting to those specific requirements.
As I said before, we are finding out it's a really good fit. USAA's customer service and member focus is really appreciated by American Legion members. They want excellence in customer service, which is our hallmark, and we really enjoy having Legionnaires with us because they are such a patriotic and values-oriented group of people.
The American Legion: Has it been challenging to persuade Legionnaires, who may have been doing business with the same insurance companies or banks for years, to consider joining USAA?
Bergner: Part of our job is to be cost competitive. We realize that in many cases, Legionnaires have been with other companies for a long time, so it is very important for us to show how cost competitive we can be.
One of the other things we are seeing is Legionnaires who perceive their relationship with USAA as a legacy. They want to share the benefits of USAA membership eligibility with their children. We have had conversations with members of The American Legion who have purchased an insurance product and then immediately had their children take advantage of their legacy membership eligibility. We see a lot of that taking place.
The American Legion: What are some of the common questions Legionnaires are asking when they call USAA?
Bergner: Well, one thing they want to know is what does USAA stand for. It's United Services Automobile Association. We were founded by military members to provide auto insurance to military members. That was three years after The American Legion was founded. We've been helping military families work toward financial security ever since.
The American Legion: How concerned are Legionnaires about financial security and protection?
Bergner: We hear that from a lot of members these days. It is an appropriate question and concern, given the economic circumstances our country is in, and given the uncertain prospects of how and when we will see some improvement. We are encouraging all of our members — and especially those coming to us initially for advice — to talk to our financial professionals because we have
the capability to help guide them along a path that's appropriate for their individual needs. We can put them in touch with financial professionals who can understand what their specific requirements are, and how we can address them. And remember, we are an organization of salaried professionals, here to serve our members.
The American Legion: Given that USAA does not have a physical presence in every city or town, and that a great deal of business is done by phone or online, what are you doing to make members comfortable?
Bergner: There is an uncertainty among some members about online security. We do have a commitment across the board at USAA to make our technology secure, simple and safe because that's what our members expect. We redesigned and reformatted usaa.com in June with that in mind, and we're adapting site security for mobile use with smartphones and tablet computers to make it easier to do business with USAA from anywhere.
The American Legion: How do you see the USAA–Legion relationship evolving in the coming year?
Bergner: We expect it to grow even stronger. Hopefully more Legion members will give USAA the opportunity to serve more of their financial needs. I believe Legionnaires will find that USAA provides world-class products and services at a very competitive price — whether it's for auto, home or life insurance, investments or banking. Even more important is that USAA does not work for stockholders — we have no mission but to serve military families.
The American Legion: Is there any concern that USAA could grow too big too fast?
Bergner: We are at about 8.5 million members today. Our CEO, Joe Robles, has given all of us a very clear mandate and challenge: Service and quality have to be sustained at the level our members are accustomed to. We are very attuned to the balance that has to be maintained there, so that service and quality to our customers is unwavering as we make ourselves available to more members.