USAA CEO Wayne Peacock (foreground).
USAA CEO Wayne Peacock (foreground). Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

While USAA CEO Wayne Peacock told Rotary Club of San Antonio members Wednesday that he would be happy to field strategy-related questions, he really wanted to address the issues of the day: inequality and racial injustice.

“It’s about this whole awakening that is occurring around our country to address problems that I think many of us know have been with us for 400 years – problems many of us felt like got solved 50 years ago and problems many of us know have never been solved,” he said. “But I think there’s a willingness now to have a real conversation about the inequality in America.”

Peacock spoke with Rotary Club members during a videoconference meeting Wednesday about how the company has adapted to the coronavirus pandemic and how it plans to move forward amid uncertainty about public and economic health. While most of the questions posed to Peacock were about USAA’s business strategies, a couple of Rotary Club members asked him to weigh in on social issues. Club member and USAA employee George You asked Peacock what he thought was the best way to approach “sensitive topics” such as inequality.

“I think that we can do the right thing inside of USAA and let our actions speak louder than our words,” Peacock said. “I think we can share what we’re learning, what’s working well, and what’s not working well. And I think we have an opportunity to convene a conversation in this community given the platform we have and who we are as a company.”

Peacock started his term as CEO at USAA in February after his predecessor Stuart Parker retired. He is the first CEO in USAA’s 98-year history without a military background.

Though the company said in May that employees who feel comfortable doing so can start returning to work in person, Peacock told Rotary Club members Wednesday that he is confident that USAA can continue working remotely with no issues.

“Ninety-eight percent of my employees work from home, and we are highly functioning today,” he said. “And I’m prepared for us to stay at home if we have to, and I’m prepared for us to adjust back if we need to. … I am highly confident today that we can run USAA indefinitely from a workforce and technology standpoint, without having to come back to our buildings.”

The bigger question comes with what happens if the economy has to close down again if the coronavirus forces businesses to shut down services once more, Peacock said. USAA is prepared to be the “last man standing,” he said.

“I believe we have incredible liquidity and continue to worry every day, do we have enough, depending on how bad it could actually be,” he said. “What we’re working on, literally every week, is pressure-testing how bad the economy could get, and what impact it would have on USAA if that did happen. And, therefore, what we should be doing that we’re not doing to prepare to be the last man standing because that is our goal.”

He’s considering what society and business will look like if a vaccine is not found quickly as well, Peacock said.

“We’ve got to find a way to best isolate vulnerable members of our community,” he said. “We have to reinforce proper social distancing protocols, and I saw [Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff] has issued some orders about that today. I’m hopeful that there will be treatment so that the mortality rate comes down. … And I think we’re just gonna have to find a way to live through this on an ongoing basis.”

Beyond his role as the leader of a financial institution, Peacock said he’s focused on creating an environment within USAA where everyone feels like they belong, irrespective of their race, sexual orientation, or gender. He wrote on LinkedIn about the limitations to understanding racial injustice he has as a white man earlier in June. His goal of a truly inclusive workplace has not been achieved yet, but he’s working on it, he said.

“We’ve unleashed a really powerful conversation inside of USAA over the last two weeks, where people are really willing to talk about their experience and talk about it with people who are different from them in a way to kind of bring this conversation to the fore,” Peacock said. “And now I’m working on programs to advance what’s in good progress at USAA, to make what I hope will be real progress as we play forward.”

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Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.