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  • Writer's pictureJohn San Filippo

MDT E3 2024: The Larry Nichols Interview

By John San Filippo


Member Driven Technologies (MDT), which was named Tech CUSO of the Year by the 2023 Finopotamus Tekkie Awards, held its annual E3 (Engage, Educate, Evolve) user conference May 20-22 in Detroit. President and CEO Larry Nichols spoke with Finopotamus at the conference about MDT’s past, present and future. 

Larry Nichols

More Than Core


From its inception, MDT’s primary business has been providing credit unions with a hosted environment for Jack Henry’s Symitar core processing platform, as well as various ancillary products and services for those core clients. However, according to Nichols, the CUSO is expanding its potential role in a credit union’s overall technology environment.


“What's great that's going on right now is the whole restructuring of moving from just being a core-based platform provider to being a consulting, professional services, ‘navigate you through the jungle of fintechs’ provider,” said Nichols.


“One of our weak points in the beginning was really having a better focus on our clients’ needs. That's really matured over the last two years,” he continued. “We've created focus groups. We solicited input. What can we do better? What are the holes in our service offering? Our strategy is becoming very mature.”


New Faces, New Roles


Key personnel moves have played a critical role in this effort. Among them are the hiring of industry veteran Pete Major as the CUSO’s vice president of fintech solutions and the naming of Dan Schneider as chief project officer, or CPO.


“Pete has augmented our team unbelievably,” said Nichols. “He brings a lot of talent to the table, a lot of discovery and exploration to the table.”


Of Schneider’s new role, Nichols said, “Chief project officer is relatively new in the industry. I think it was Harvard Business Review two years ago that said the CPO is really going to be the offset for the COO in fintech companies because the CPO’s job is to keep us focused on our corporate strategies to make sure they execute, resources are available, teams are built out.”


According to Nichols, this shift in focus is a “different way to look at operations. It's more strategic. It's more prioritization. It's delivering that extra layer of focus that I think fintech needs to move forward.”


Still Jack-Centric


“We're still very tightly coupled to our most senior partner Jack Henry and the evolution they're going through,” said Nichols, when asked about the impact of Jack Henry’s ongoing technology modernization project.


“Matt (Baaki, MDT chief technology officer) sits on all the Jack Henry engineering committees,” he continued. “We have a non-disclosure with Jack Henry. And since we sit on the engineering team, Matt's role for us is to bring back direction and strategies. It's important that we stay aligned, especially in the digital space.”


Jack Henry will be featured prominently at MDT’s upcoming CEO Forum, which will be held in San Diego later this year. The event will open with comments from Shanon McLachlan, who is currently Jack Henry’s president of credit union solutions, but who by then will have assumed the role of COO. “Our goal is to stay in harmony with Jack Henry's direction,” said Nichols. “That's what Matt's job is. And then Matt works with Pete and with Greg (Lanigan, the CUSO’s CIO) a to make sure that we are truly bringing service availability to what our credit unions need, when they need it.”


Servers at Your Service


Unlike a traditional service bureau model, MDT runs a separate server for each instance of the Symitar software, i.e., a separate server for each credit union. “Each credit union actually has three servers,” explained Nichols. “They have the one live server and then we echo in real time to a hot standby server in the same data center. So, if there's a hardware failure, the secondary's there. And then we have a third instance, which is in Montana, if you're east of the Mississippi – vice versa, if you're west of the Mississippi – which is what I call the smoking hole syndrome. The building gets hit by a tornado. A chemical spill, a gas leak, something where we have to shut down or it dies on its own because of a Mother Nature.”


According to Nichols, MDT has no immediate plans to migrate core processing to the cloud because AIX, IBM’s flavor of UNIX and the operating system on which the Symitar software runs, is only available on the IBM Cloud, which, according to Nichols, is cost prohibitive.


Leveraging Extensive Expertise


With its new consulting services, MDT is using its credit union technology expertise to expand the help it’s able to provide credit unions beyond just the products they buy from MDT, Nichols explained. This effort is the responsibility of Tracie Loudermilk, who was recently named vice president of project and consulting solutions.


“One client wanted to put in a new voice-over-IP telephone system,” said Nichols, “but they really didn't have the staff to do the high-level project management. We helped the credit union manage their vendor of choice to keep everything on track and maintain the traffic light system that Jack Henry came up with – which is green, yellow, red – so we could monitor task assignments and completions. It was very successful.”


Moving to Banno


The conference was abuzz with credit unions that have recently converted to or are about to convert to Jack Henry’s Banno digital banking platform. Many of these credit unions are coming off Jack Henry’s legacy NetTeller platform, which will be officially sunsetted at the end of 2025.


According to Nichols, Banno is designed such that it’s possible to build add-on components to the base software. This is a feature that MDT intends to take full advantage of. And while the short-term focus will be on existing MDT clients, Nichols hasn’t ruled out maming its products available to non-MDT Banno users.


In the end, it all comes down to empowering credit unions and helping them thrive, he noted. “A lot of our credit unions might only have only10 or 15 employees, but they still want to do everything a bigger credit union is doing,” observed Nichols. “They just don't want to have to worry about the care and feeding of the technology. That’s where MDT comes in.”


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