USAA is a financial services company for military personnel and ex-military members based in San Antonio. It has about 7.7 million members, the company says.
“What differentiates us, I believe, is linking it (the application) with the other products,” says Bob Otis, USAA assistant vice president, auto event. “They need the loan, they need the insurance; we've integrated that in a way you won't see with other companies.”
The iPhone app is part of a bigger project called USAA Auto Circle, introduced in August. The mobile app makes some of the features on the Auto Circle site, usaa.com/autocircle, accessible from the customer's phone.
USAA has an earlier generation application that works with other smart phones. So far, the new Auto Circle features are only available for the Apple iPhone. USAA expects to make the program compatible with other phones by next year, a spokesman said.
To create Auto Circle, USAA partnered with Zag.com of Santa Monica, Calif., to provide shopping data and pre-negotiated prices through a network of about 3,000 dealers nationwide. For its part, USAA provides its own auto insurance and auto loans through its own lender, USAA Bank.
The USAA loans are direct to the consumer. That represents competition for indirect loans written through dealerships.
But that doesn't bother Cavender Chevrolet's Minjares.
Even though the dealership doesn't make any money from a customer-direct loan from USAA Bank, he says it's worth the trade-off to get customer referrals from USAA. Besides, the dealership gets service customers down the road.
“From our side, as far as the effect on us,” he says, “we like it.”