Financial services giant USAA completed a successful test this week that found it exploring ways to add bitcoin support to its traditional financial monitoring resource.
The trial saw USAA providing its members with the ability to check Coinbase balances directly from their web and mobile accounts, alongside more traditional value monitoring services that track assets such as real estate or automobile investments. Introduced in November, the project is now available to all USAA members.
Speaking to CoinDesk, USAA project lead Darrius Jones indicated that users gave a ‘clear yes’ to the trial, a sign that prompted the company to move quickly in making the service available more widely to its members – many of whom, USAA has said, are bitcoin users.
Jones told CoinDesk:
"There’s always a gap between feedback and reality. Sometimes highly vocal members who are dogmatic about a capability may or may not represent entirety of the membership. But was this something people wanted."
Jones said the trial saw impressive growth in sign-ups due to what he described as strong word-of-mouth promotion. Roughly 50% of those who signed up, he noted, were notified about the bitcoin option after hearing about it through emails, tweets and social media.
"The pilot expanded by 50% just by word of mouth,” he remarked.
Overall, Jones sought to describe the project as one of the fastest completed by USAA, indicating that it took his team just 90 days to introduce the option, respond to user feedback and then release it to its wider membership.
Founded by members of the US military, USAA boasts a strong customer base of military members and their families. The company's work with bitcoin extends beyond the account monitoring option, having taken part in Coinbase's $75m Series C investment round, which closed in January 2015.
Risk and reward
Jones said that the balance check option may not seem sophisticated, but that it was the end result of careful consideration on how the firm could best offer a bitcoin service given that the technology suffers from a lack of regulatory clarity.
"We chose to focus on a view-only option because that’s the guidance, that’s been the clearest that we can see. We’ve chosen to stay away from transactions and that potential risk," he said.
Jones said that given the uncertainty surrounding how the technology could come to be used by consumers, this was perhaps the best way for USAA to proceed. For example, he noted that it’s not clear whether users will want to monitor bitcoin as an investment, as they might a house or car, or whether it will come to be a payment method.
Still, Jones sought to stress that USAA sees bitcoin as part of a larger drive toward digital financial management, and that the Coinbase integration was, at the end of the day, “just another account technology” that allowed it to meet the needs of members.
"We are a member first organization, we try to take that into our development process."
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