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  • Writer's pictureJohn San Filippo

CU Build: Changing Credit Unions and Changing Lives

By John San Filippo


On July 26, 2024, folks from credit unions around the country, as well as from several third-party vendors, will converge on Salt Lake City for the fourth annual CU Build, which this year has officially been rebranded as CU Build, powered by Jack Henry. The brainchild of Brad Hickey, manager of application development at American Airlines Credit Union, the event is a hackathon designed for users of Jack Henry’s Symitar core processing platform, as well as vendors that participate in Jack Henry’s Vendor Integration Program (VIP). Finopotamus, which will also be onsite, had the opportunity to speak with several members of the CU Build team:


  • Brad Hickey, chair of the event

  • Brian Sloan, CIO of Pioneer Appalachia Federal Credit Union and vice chair of the event

  • Alex Christenson, VIP manager at Jack Henry and primary Jack Henry liaison for the event

  • Mike Blumenthal, CEO of Technology Happens and responsible for participant engagement


How It All Began

Brad Hickey

“CU Build started as just an idea based on a hackathon that I had attended with American Airlines known as ‘Hack Wars,’” Hickey told Finopotamus. “I had such a transformative experience there that I began to kind of socialize it with my credit union friends. The more I talked about it, the more people said, ‘We need to do this.’”

To gauge interest from the vendor community, Hickey turned to his longtime friend Mike Blumenthal, who saw the potential for such an event and immediately offered his support and encouragement. The idea was also met with great enthusiasm by Jack Henry. The Symitar user community, he said, also embraced the idea.

Sloan had tried something similar before, but it never got off the ground. “So, when Brad came out and said, ‘Hey, you know, we're doing this cooperative event,’ I was 100% on board,” he shared. 

Brian Sloan

Blumenthal added that Jack Henry’s early support was critical to success. “In the beginning and wanting to do this as a grassroots effort to build it up from there, not only did Jack Henry support us; we are now considered powered by Jack Henry. During all their calls, the CRMs (client relationship managers) are mentioning us to their clients.”

Due to COVID-19, the first CU Build, which was already being planned when the pandemic hit, was conducted as a virtual event. All subsequent CU Builds have been held in person.

How It Works

“The way the teams are formed, we seek to balance on the few things like experience and skill set,” said Hickey. “We don't want people from the same credit union on the same team. We try to make sure there's not too many vendors on one team and different things like that, but from there it's random.” This year there will be eight or nine teams of six people each, he noted.

Alex Christenson

“There are people coming from credit unions, from vendors, from Jack Henry that are not developers,” added Christenson. “The beauty of CU Build is that because you are doing kind of a full-throated approach at creating a solution, there are roles for design, there are roles for people to work on the PowerPoint, there are roles for people to present.”

Although the teams are formed ahead of time and allowed to plan, no coding can be started prior to the event kickoff Friday afternoon. “They grab a sandwich, and they get at it,” said Hickey. “They start coding and that continues all the way to Saturday at midnight.”

Each team presents its solution to a panel of judges Sunday morning. “You're going to be doing a Shark Tank type pitch to the judges based on the rubric that's defined,” said Blumenthal. “They've already had the rubric in their hands a month ahead of time, so they understand what the judges are going to score on.”


More than Code

Mike Blumenthal

To close the discussion, Finopotamus asked each interviewee to complete a statement based on their role in CU Build.

Hickey: “I came up with the idea for CU Build because …”

“… the industry needed it and also because we wanted to uplift our people within the industry. I don't think you really understand it until you're at CU Build. On the surface, it seems like a build-a-thon where we're building solutions, but at its core it's an event where we come together and we help each other build up people. We're building up people. We're building leaders in the industry.”


Sloan: “When I heard about CU Build, I knew I had to get involved because …”


“… it was something that I think the industry needed to foster innovation and communication between the credit unions and the vendors and Jack Henry as a whole. Our credit union is very involved with Jack Henry from the standpoint of beta testing, alpha testing, pilot testing, etc. Seeing [CU Build participants] play with all of these solutions and push them to their limits just to see what they can do with it; I mean that was just a no brainer.”


Christenson: “CU Build is important to Jack Henry because …”


“… I think that it does two things that we really like to help foster. It helps tell the story of open integration for Jack Henry. I think that's something that's strategically we're very passionate about – being able to open up as many connections as we can to the core. A build-a-thon like this allows us to create an environment where that can be accomplished both from the customer standpoint as well as the vendor standpoint. But I think more importantly is that it's telling the story of the credit union movement, and it does that through some of the ideas that we see behind these solutions. What you'll find is during the pitches, when they start talking about their solution, is that the inspiration for the solution itself is when they think about their sister or their aunt, or their grandma, or people who need more financial literacy, or people who might be financially underserved.”

Blumenthal: “As a as a vendor, CU Build is important to me because …”

“… I have a personal mission. Technology Happens has a a mission and a statement that we always say and they both encompass what CU Build does. At Technology Happens, we help credit unions thrive and I can't think of a better way to help credit unions thrive than helping them do this.  My personal life, which also encompasses helping credit unions thrive and the mission of fostering innovation. With CU Build, my personal why is I'm a catalyst for people to achieve beyond so that we made the lives of transformation.”


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