By Allyson Reynolds Dixon
Killeen Daily Herald
Both times Joe Robles Jr. has come to the Killeen area, he's been met with a type of welcoming party.
The first was when he was sent 20 years ago from the Pentagon to Fort Hood to prepare for Operation Desert Shield.
The second came Friday, when he stood before about 50 people and media in front of the new USAA Financial Center on Central Texas Expressway.
Neither welcoming party was meant just for Robles, president and CEO of USAA. But both were related to a cause very dear to him - the U.S. military.
Robles, a retired major general with the Army, was in Killeen for the grand opening of the financial center, 2309 E. Central Texas Expressway, Suite 500, in Killeen.
As he prepared to tour the center with about 50 people, Robles recalled his arrival at Fort Hood. Two television reporters were at the gates, he said.
"I said 'I know they're not here for me,'" he said with a chuckle. And then he learned he was to help lead the 1st Cavalry Division in Iraq.
Addressing a group Friday that included quite a few soldiers, Robles made one thing clear: He and USAA are here for them.
"Our members have asked us repeatedly for face-to-face involvement," Robles said in an interview before the event. While USAA has received recognition for its customer service via Internet and phone, the company wanted to do more, he said.
The result is the financial center, just the second such for USAA. The other is in San Antonio.
The financial center includes two indoor ATMs and one outdoor, Internet stations for business transactions, a chance to sit down with someone for financial and retirement planning and insurance counseling. The center also has four private rooms where members may speak privately, but
face-to-face via telephone, with a USAA employee in San Antonio or Phoenix.
Sherita Johnson, who manages the Killeen center, said probably the best part for customers is the ability to make cash or check deposits at the ATMs. Previously, members had to drive to San Antonio or mail in their deposits. Now, she said, the money deposited is available to them sooner.
The goal, Robles said, is to make sure that USAA members - which primarily are military or family members of active or retired military - are served as well as they serve their country. The company received the No. 1 ranking for customer service by MSN Money last year and was able to return $1.2 billion to members through distributions, dividends, bank rebates and awards, according to USAA's annual report.
One reason the company has managed to do well in tough economic times is that it provides integrated financial services, not just banking services, Robles said. But, he added, the two main reasons USAA has remained successful are its members and its employees.
"We have the best customers in the world," said Robles, former director of the Army budget and commanding general of the 1st Infantry Division. "They are very honorable, trustworthy. Yes, they may get into trouble, but for the most part, if they get into trouble, they tell us, and we help them."
Robles used car payments as an example of that help. If a member of the military is about to deploy and won't be driving his or her vehicle as much, USAA works with them on making lower payments, he said.
"The military, there's always a financial challenge," he said. "They don't get paid that much. When I was in ... guys were always short on money. One of the things we can do is advise and counsel them on their budget, look at their credit history."
The reason USAA can provide that, he said, is because of "too-die-for employees. They go the extra miles to take care of our members."
The grand opening included the singing of the national anthem and "America the Beautiful" by Sgt. 1st Class Sherise Bell and a ribbon cutting sponsored by the Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce. In addition to the soldiers, USAA officials and local dignitaries also were on hand.
Contact Allyson Reynolds Dixon at email@example.com or (254) 501-7469.