True Tales From The Inside: "I Used To Do Collections For USAA"

Yesterday’s post “USAA Lets You Remotely Deposit Checks” provoked a reader comment from a former USAA collections agent so interesting that we gave it its own post.

ValEl worked for USAA in collections in San Antonio, TX, for two years before being fired for no apparent reason, he says.

His 1,445 word-long comment covers a lot of ground, from USAA’s susceptibility to check-kiting to celebrity abuse of call center employees. Interestingly, he says, the Bush family banks with USAA.

His incisive look into what goes on the other end of the phone in the financial services company famed for its superlative customer service, inside…

ValEl writes:

I worked at USAA federal savings bank for 2 years from 2002 to 2004. I was fired for not making the grade. The lady in HR was nice and supplied me with tissues and a security guard escort to the parking garage. That day I drove to the park where I took my first girlfriend and sat at the park bench for a while. That day it was dark and cloudy and miserable. I don’t hate USAA for firing me. They couldn’t give me a specific reason. I didn’t grab a female co-workers bum or send a chain email via the internet. I was always on time…had over 125 hours of vacation and sick time available because I never called in even when I should have. My breaks were always down to the second because I had a stop watch and would be back “online” at my desk within 14 min. and 59 seconds.

That day going home and having to tell my father that I was let go was the hardest for me. My parents were so proud that I got a job with USAA which had gained an almost “el dorado”-type of status around the san antonio community. I worked my ass off but in the end I think it was my fault. Every day we had “members” (not “customers” in the traditional sense) who would call in and expect world class customer service yet there were those who would be abusive and downright vindictive. NSF fees? “Sorry sir but there’s no money left in your account”. The next day after calling to several execs and higher ups the NSF fees would be reversed. USAA would give a 500 “Buffer” on debit cards and once this factoid got out it was exploited like a bearded lady in a traveling circus. People would (swear to god) overdraw their accounts up to 300.00 and face ALL those penalties up to 500.00. To them it was a fact of life. I would review these accounts and not see anything legit. Just a lot of charges at Wal-mart and Starbucks. Ridiculous. But when USAA pulled the “buffer” people would call in frantic because they had 100.00 but would try to buy something for 105.00 and be declined. Screaming and crying would ensue. Threats on our jobs if we didn’t let the charge go thru. A quick xfer to the supervisor would allow them to buy those DVDs and CDs.

Towards the end it got worse. I’m a consumerist at heart. I think and believe that Consumerist found ME and not the other way around. I believe in fairness and doing what is right even if it’s not going to satisfy EVERYONE. My workplace became a call center. Period. We were told to mind our business and never ask questions. If you went to a Spurs game you were expected to cover your USAA logo on your golf shirt if you drank a beer. You were expected to not talk to the media. When they began hiring workers from India and the news vans would track them migrating up and down Fredericksburg road you were expected to not even THINK about giving a comment. When the layoffs occurred and people working for 20 years were released you DAMN sure were expected to avoid the media.

My downfall was the password feature.

I’ll bring this to a close soon. If ben and co. boot me from the site then so be it. USAA was and is the easiest bank to defraud. Check kiting was the norm due to our geographic location and lack of outside regional branches. It’s all here in San Antonio. A con artist would open an account online and mail in a deposit check and have the debit card fedexed. Drain the account….disappear. USAA was losing over half a million dollars a month because of this. USAA tried their best to curb this but it was hard. My absolute irritation was the password feature mentioned above. Example: Sarah Smith from Halifax calls in. She gives me her member number. I verify her last four of SSN and DOB. I give the last charges on her checking account. Sarah wants a “password”. USAA demanded at one time to have the request in writing. The bush family has accounts there. A former Spurs basketball player has multiple accounts there. These are celebrities that demand more security. But then again they have people to do this for them. Sarah Smith would normally have to * mail * in a notarized letter explaining the need for a password and her password request. But alas, USAA wants to make everyone happy so they eliminate this and allow members to verbally TELL us the password they wanted. We would enter it and when Sarah Smith called back she would’nt have to go thru all the “trouble” of giving us her member number AND verify info. She could just call in and say her member number and “blueberry” as her password. I would ask management what if I don’t think its Sarah Smith on the other line. Answer: Don’t worry about it. If Sarah Smith forgets her password then that’s alright. Just give us your DOB and SSN. Okay, now you want “apple” as your password now? Done. This was so RIPE for cracking and you would think they would see this but they didn’t. In the end I became frustrated. I can play devil’s advocate really well and could and would see the folly of letting this happen. People would call in and get mad when I asked for their password and they forgot it. We would ask them to call back but they persisted…so we would verify other info and give them all account information. If they called and hated verifying the last four of SSN I would suggest putting a note on their file to alert the other reps to ask for special info like their child’s birthdate or middle name….stuff not found by dumpster diving. I would place this on the file only to have another lazy rep tell them it wasn’t necessary and to put a password instead. It was insanity and just plain wrong. I didn’t mind the old timers and elderly military wives. They earned respect and they got it from me in abundance. But alas, USAA wanted the young gen-x’ers and would bend and curve to their demands. If I offered to send a check register for free….I was being “rude”. People didn’t know how to monitor their accounts and keep an eye on the bottom line. If we didn’t KNOW how much their Pending direct deposit was going to be then we are being “difficult”. In fact, that feature was a closely guarded secret and USAA had mandatory policies in place to NEVER release this information to the public because we weren’t liable for the information given. One rep gave this information out and that member would tell another. One rep would try to be extra nice and reveal this “cool” secret. The proverbial feline was out of the bag and running wild. What if the “pending” amount is different from the actual deposit? This would be a HUGE time waster and tie up the phone lines as people would actually *question* us when we told them that the pending deposit was, say, 1099.98 and different from last week when it was 1110.96. “Are your computers down?” or “are you new?…can I speak with someone who knows?” was a common inquiry when we couldn’t answer their question. Verbal abuse was commonplace. I can actually name several members who became so infamous for their daily call-in verbal ramblings and insults that to get slammed by them was almost an invitation.

Because they had money USAA never shut them down.

In the end, there was soul searching. Over the year I gained a love that was lost. I lost weight. I tried being a salesman. I got a new job. I am grateful to people like Ben Popken who constantly question authority and won’t accept quick and dishonest results. I’m always on the lookout for injustices and hate seeing them unresolved. All of us here are *expected* to never let large companies jerk us around. We are expected to do the right thing. USAA never did the right thing by me and for that I am eternally grateful. I was fired for being different. Period. The “Logan’s Run” type environment never suited my ethics. Being a part of the corporate culture so meticulously maintained by the soil of USAA was and never will be my bag, baby. And it never will be.