Craig Hopkins, B.B.A.’97, serves as senior vice president for IT strategy, architecture, and shared services at USAA, a company which formed in 1922 when 25 Army officers met in San Antonio, Texas, and decided to insure each other’s vehicles. Those founding members of USAA could never have imagined that the organization they created would grow to more than 11 million members today and become a fully integrated financial services organization.
Responsible for defining and delivering technology strategy aligned to business plans; governing technology architecture and standards; building the IT workforce of the future; and leading revolutionary innovation, research and development, Hopkins knows that his role in the company is one in which trust is paramount, both with members and peers. He is responsible for technology operational excellence and readiness at USAA, which means demonstrating to its members, who are military active duty, veterans and family members, that USAA can meet their unique financial needs at any time and from any location. Because they may be stationed or deployed anywhere in the world and onboard ships at sea, the ability to transact business digitally is critical.
"To be agile, we focus on five primary areas of technology strategy: availability, quality, speed, scalability and integration."
“A flexible and modern technology infrastructure tied to efficient and simple business processes helps us build and support industry-leading products and services and enables faster deployment of capabilities to our members and employees,” says Hopkins. “To be agile, we focus on five primary areas of technology strategy: availability, quality, speed, scalability and integration.”
USAA’s culture of innovation is central to how its tools and services evolve. “Now, more than ever, our members expect tailored solutions that are easily completed in the moment—no matter the channel or device,” says Hopkins. “At USAA, a passion for serving our members translates into a laser focus on service, satisfaction, quality and innovation.”
"In the digital age, data is the new currency, and those who protect data build trust and loyalty with their customers greater than any product sale or shiny feature can."
USAA has pioneered efforts in mobile banking, the Auto Circle™, and mobile applications with the goal of making its members’ lives easier. IT employees have access to an innovation lab where they can design and test ideas before moving them to full-scale development. It was in this lab that two USAA offerings—a system for depositing checks using a home PC and a scanner and a tool for depositing checks using an iPhone—were conceived first in the industry.
The company’s innovative culture thrives on the synergy of collaboration and its passionate mission-driven employees. “Our culture encourages invention in business processes, continuous improvements in our products and services, and a focus on the future,” says Hopkins. “By purposely including diverse perspectives and creating an environment of inclusion where all have the opportunity to succeed, our members and our employees win. Great solutions are rarely created by a single person but rather by collaborative groups working together to develop and refine the solution.”
And Hopkins notes, “What separates good organizations from great ones is the dedication and focus of the people who work there. When people are given a noble mission, a focus on service, an environment of invention, and interesting work to do, good things happen.”
The financial security mission at USAA includes providing secure services for its members. With more than a billion digital member contacts per year, safeguarding member data is of the utmost importance. Given sophisticated and persistent global adversaries (fraudsters, organized crime, activists, nation-states), data security is foundational to member financial security, partially because we are a financial services firm, but mostly because of those we serve,” says Hopkins. “Data on our military members and their families is very valuable in the hands of the wrong people. In the digital age, data is the new currency, and those who protect data build trust and loyalty with their customers greater than any product sale or shiny feature can.”
In order to attain an ideal data security environment, USAA focuses on three core areas:
- Protecting member data at rest, in motion and while being processed.
- Choosing controls to ensure that confidentiality, integrity and availability are preserved.
- Adopting a multi-layered and overlapping security architecture which ensures that attacks are repelled as early as possible.
While USAA uses best-in-class security technology, the organization also educates its members to erect their own “human firewall” through tools and personal vigilance, including:
- Using enhanced logon methods to strengthen logon security.
- Signing up for and responding to security and fraud alerts.
- Maintaining good cyber hygiene by keeping computers and mobile devices updated, patched, and protected, running anti-virus and anti-malware software, never clicking on any link in email, never providing personal information to anyone who is unsolicited, and avoiding the use of public Wi-Fi, when possible.
Protecting the data of those who have served is one of the most important ways that USAA serves its members.
Service has many dimensions at USAA. The organization’s motto, the underpinning of the company culture, is “We know what it means to serve.” More than 25 percent of USAA employees have either served in the military or are family of those who are serving or have served. In fact, Hopkins and his wife, Trish, B.S.’87, M.S.’97, have both served—Craig in the U.S. Coast Guard from 1984 to 1988 and Trish in the U.S. Navy Medical Service Corps from 1990 to 2001. “We know what it means to be deployed, to be stationed overseas, and to be away from family and friends that you would normally rely on for all kinds of advice. USAA employees grasp how important it is to build the right products, services, and experiences for those in that situation. Having that understanding is crucial to building trust with the military community."
Serving the military community through hiring veterans is another way that USAA embraces service. “We believe that veterans and military spouses need careers, not just jobs,” says Hopkins. “Their mature leadership, broad experiences and proven agility make them great employees, with great potential for long-term advancement. That is why USAA has committed that 30 percent of all new USAA employees are veterans or military spouses.” For USAA, this is a national fight, as the company actively supports the White House’s Joining Forces initiative as well as businesses that are serious about creating careers for veterans Hopkins also knows that through USAA’s employee commitment, the service impact is unlimited. “Our company has committed to ending veteran homelessness in San Antonio, and eventually in every city where we operate, working with local non-profit agencies and city government. The same purpose that inspires employees to provide the very best for our members translates into a commitment to the local community and the passion and compassion to make a lasting difference.”
Hopkins has been able to share the mission of USAA, the intricacies of his work, his excitement for it, and his personal leadership and life journey with WMU students in recent years. USAA has been a stop on The Texas Tour: A Corporate, Cultural and Service Learning Venture “Deep in the Heart of Texas,” a Lee Honors College summer course, led by assistant professor of management, Dr. Derrick McIver. The students visit several Texas companies, including USAA, participate in service learning projects and learn more about the culture and history of the state. “Craig has been nothing short of spectacular in mentoring our students,” says McIver. “We spend a half day with him at USAA. In that short time, as a true mentor and leader, he provides our students invaluable career and life lessons that undoubtedly change them for the better.”
"We believe that veterans and military spouses need careers, not just jobs."
“My wife Trish and I have had the honor of hosting the students several times now,” says Hopkins. “Dr. McIver brings the students to Texas so they can experience a diverse group of companies operating in a different part of the country. He also wants hem to understand different cultural and geographical norms across companies.”
On the night the students arrive, they have dinner with several WMU alumni from the companies they will visit. “It gives us time to get to know the students a little—what they have done and what they aspire to do,” says Hopkins. “I am always amazed by the talent, excitement and ambition from each student. I love to hear their dreams—sometimes well-defined, other times not (and that’s okay!)—but I hear from each of them how they want to make a difference in the world, in their own way. They are eager to ask questions of the alumni about what we do, but the conversation always seems to turn back to our shared life experiences and discussions about who we are, not what we do.”
And who we are, as students, parents, friends, and leaders in our community is so important, as USAA, its members, and Hopkins and his team clearly understand and demonstrate each day.