USAA has opened a “design studio” that will experiment with ways to improve the customer experience, whether through its digital channels or traditional interactions with member service representatives.

The office in Austin, Texas, houses about 120 employees, the company said. Meriah Garrett, who joined USAA in December as chief design officer, will head up the studio.

The workspace is an example of the trend in recent years of banks establishing separate units – often termed "labs" or "sandboxes" – where innovative ideas can be tested and tried.

A USAA employee at the new design studio in Austin, Texas, which houses about 120 employees.
A USAA employee at the new design studio in Austin, Texas, which houses about 120 employees.

USAA, which American Banker named Bank of the Year in 2016 for its customer service and technological innovation, has created 250 separate banking “experiences” and tasked an executive with figuring out how to continually improve each one. The company’s USAA Labs allows members to participate in exclusive pilots and provide input on tech innovations.

“We are a financial services organization, but for 94 years our business has really been member service,” Garrett said in a press release Thursday. “We want to make planning your finances, getting a mortgage, or providing the best insurance coverage as easy and approachable as shopping online or streaming a video.”