Customer service and experience make or break organizations in the business world today. When Jeffrey Medeiros arrived at USAA Bank in 2016, he quickly realized it was a company that went above and beyond to deliver service excellence. That’s when he accepted the financial services innovator’s unique mission: to facilitate the financial security of its members, associates, and their families through highly competitive financial products and services.
“Today, USAA has more than twelve million members, and their best interests are ingrained in everything we do,” says Medeiros, senior vice president, general counsel, and corporate secretary at USAA Bank. “The first priority is always how we facilitate their financial security and provide the best products for them. Equally important is the success of our employees and providing a workplace environment that is both positive and supportive. Those two things must go hand in hand.” In recent years, several organizations such as Forbes, Fortune, and the Council for Corporate Responsibility have repeatedly recognized the Texas-based company for its values by designating it as a best place to work.
That dedication is apparent even in how the award-winning company runs its legal function and how it approaches facilitating the business’s strategic goals. Medeiros says that the company’s mission “is certainly a very easy and very motivating one to get behind. Everyone in the company recognizes that singular mission, so using that as the driving force makes it easier for a true partnership between legal and business partners.”
When it comes to staying connected to its membership, Medeiros explains, USAA leverages its long-standing and deep understanding of the military experience as well as industry-leading technology to help fulfill its mission. USAA’s military affairs team, for example, is charged with keeping pace with military families’ evolving needs and is extremely active as an advocate in the military community, building relationships and strengthening ties through ongoing engagements and sponsorships.
Even closer to home, nearly 25 percent of the bank’s employees are former military members or their spouses, and they are a rich source of information and innovation. In 2017, they submitted more than nine thousand ideas for new products and services to USAA Labs, which assesses suggestions from members and employees and develops the most promising ones. “The fact that our bank is virtually branchless and our members use the bank primarily through digital technologies is a reflection of that kind of innovation on behalf of members,” Medeiros says.
In fact, 80 percent of USAA’s members access services through its digital apps—which means the legal department helps the bank navigate technology issues as well as banking issues. The team is involved in the development of all USAA banking apps, which present challenges such as how to maintain regulatory compliance for digital disclosures and digital signatures. As a result, the company’s lawyers—many of whom are recruited from tech giants such as Google and Microsoft—must be experts in banking law and technology.
“Our lawyers are integral participants on every committee throughout the organization,” Medeiros says. “The goal is to not only ensure regulatory and governance compliance of all new products and services but to ensure our lawyers are providing high-quality business advice in order to reach our strategic goals in the most efficient and compliant way possible.”
Medeiros also acts as the company secretary for USAA’s banking operations and regularly interfaces with the company’s two bank boards. He is responsible for identifying and distilling key management, strategy, and governance issues into coherent, manageable content that allows board members to effectively fulfill their responsibilities. “That is always a challenge with financial services companies because the interaction with the board is so important,” Medeiros says. “You don’t want to leave out crucial information but you also don’t want to inundate boards with massive amounts of material. Our priority with respect to our boards is to provide the right information at the right time so that the board can discharge its responsibilities to ensure the banks are always operating in a safe and sound manner, within appropriate risk parameters and consistently with its stated strategy.”
Medeiros ensures that information is always accessible to board members, who each have their own areas of expertise, and he puts great effort into developing trusting relationships so that challenges from board members can be handled constructively.
When it comes to leading a large legal function, Medeiros says, “servant leadership is the most important component. I am there to serve my team and create an environment where they can be as successful as they possibly can.” He tries to foster an environment where his people learn, grow, and thrive. “Creating a function where people feel free to think and act autonomously while serving our members and our business is our goal. We encourage speaking up and challenging authority and the status quo. Counterarguments are always welcome, encouraged, listened to, and, importantly, never attacked or filled with ramifications for disagreements. I had mentors who encouraged challenges and listened to those challenges that usually went well beyond pure legal advice. There was no guarantee they’d accept my position, but they welcomed my input for the good of the business. That’s what I try to do here.”
After two years, Medeiros still considers it a privilege to be working at USAA. “At other companies, leadership and strategies change,” he says. “At USAA, even if leadership may change, we’re always clear about our strategy and our mission. We provide the best possible products and services to serve military members and their families, and that makes it a great place to get up to go to work every day.”