Chief Technology and Digital Officer, USAA

Wayne Gretzky’s famous advice about hockey — skate to where the puck is going — also applies to banking.

And that puck is moving fast as the industry increasingly faces competition from tech companies. So says Heather Cox, who left Citigroup to join USAA in October as its first chief technology and digital officer.

She leapt at the chance to help the San Antonio-based company, known as a tech leader, crank up its velocity of innovation. Among the strategic plans Cox has helped lead since coming on board are: getting approval to aggressively grow in areas like engineering and design over the next two-and-a-half years and creating an environment that lets anybody work on USAA’s innovation team.

All employees can pitch their ideas, and potentially receive funding to try them out. By rearranging the company’s structure to break down silos and encouraging everyone to think innovatively, Cox hopes to roll out features before “members” (as USAA calls its customers) even know they need them.

As she sees it, USAA’s top priority is moving to an artificial intelligence-first mentality. While there are many unknowns on how AI will transform banking, Cox is already jazzed about its potential to humanize the digital banking experience, which members love. She envisions a day when the technology understands a member’s state of mind when he is tapping on his mobile phone and, if appropriate, can reroute him to a human or bot that can swiftly handle his request.

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“Our members deserve that kind of engagement,” said Cox.

While brainstorming ways to shake up the status quo, Cox makes time to mentor several USAA employees and serve on the board of LIFT, a nonprofit whose mission is to help families break the cycle of poverty.

Mary Wisniewski

Mary Wisniewski

Mary is deputy editor of BankThink. She also writes on a variety of subjects as part of American Banker's bank tech team.