Tech People in the Know: Larky’s Kurt Schaldenbrand
Updated: Jan 12
In what is a recurring feature, Finopotamus will profile interesting and intriguing tech professionals who are positively impacting the credit union industry.
For this issue, we visited with Larky’s Vice President of Product Kurt Schaldenbrand . The Ann Arbor, Mich.-based company helps financial institutions, including credit unions, grow sales of products and services with tailored push notification campaigns delivered through a mobile banking app.
By W.B. King
Since the early 1980s, Kurt Schaldenbrand has been squarely focused on leveraging computer software to innovate and streamline operations within a given construct.
“I grew up when personal computers were initially introduced and, like many kids back then, found them fascinating. Teaching myself how to program in middle school, I began creating commercial software throughout high school and college,” Schaldenbrand told Finopotamus.
“In addition to coding, I was also working directly with clients, and early on was able to learn the difference between things that are technologically intriguing and others that are truly useful,” said Schaldenbrand who officially began his career as a software developer in 1984.
Earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics from the University of Michigan, he went on to co-found and serve as product designer at RESUMate, an application tracking solution that was used worldwide by recruiters during his 28-year tenure. Before assuming his position at Larky in 2020, he served as director of platform strategy and user experience at Otava (formerly Online Tech).
Redefining Software Developers
In the early days of programming, before the internet, Schaldenbrand said it was a “scrappier” time with most colleagues being self-taught. He noted that content in most computer programming books would be “out of date” by the time the books were published.
“Programmers were treated as geeks, but people took notice of how we could make their daily business lives easier with the programs we could create,” he reflected. “Today, the entire profession is more refined. Software engineers have much better fundamental training as they graduate from college, and they follow methodologies and patterns we would never have imagined.”
The introduction of the software development tool Agile, he explained, significantly impacted how software is built and provides a framework to rapidly incorporate feedback and produce “better products faster” than ever before.
“Previously, we had to ship our software on floppy disks, which needed to be imaged in large quantities. We couldn’t afford to be quite as ‘agile’ with our planning then,” he said.
With the days of floppy disks a distant memory, Schaldenbrand told Finopotamus that Larky advocates and encourages its engineers to implement forward-leaning discovery practices to enhance professional development plans.
“Each quarter, every engineer receives the opportunity to choose a subject they want to research. For some, it’s a new programming methodology, such as pair programming, and for others, it’s a new platform, like Flutter,” he said. “In general, we encourage projects that support our future roadmap items, but it’s not required for every engineer to be aligned with that. Overall, our philosophy is that a dynamic, engaged engineer will create better code for us long-term, and they might envision new approaches that we wouldn't have considered if we had only focused on the immediate roadmap elements.”
Larky’s fully remote U.S.-based team is comprised of talented individuals from a diverse background, including employees who were born in Turkey, India, France and the United States, Schaldenbrand said.
“Our team includes individuals of a variety of ages and generations; we’ve hired individuals directly out of college, as well as others with 30-plus years of industry experience,” he continued. “We value having a team comprised of such unique individuals and believe this contributes to our creative problem-solving capabilities.”
When it comes to guiding and inspiring employees to innovate and create new offerings, Schaldenbrand said Larky provides a “fully transparent view into what we are doing as a company,” as well as performance metrics.
“We give them clear insight into our long-term and short-term goals, as well as any open client issues. By doing so, we create a shared understanding that allows each team member to prioritize their work accordingly,” he said. “For our engineering team, we minimize meetings, and we choose to keep those limited to truly meaningful gatherings that will provide value in our workdays.”
While Larky’s approximately 23 employees work remotely, the company has instituted opportunities for social interactions to encourage team camaraderie.
“These interactions include daily full-company three-minute trivia sessions, as well as our biweekly ‘Dev Jams’ where our engineers can explore topics of their choice, regardless of whether they directly relate to our ongoing work,” he said.
Noting the ever-morphing customer experience model, Schaldenbrand said that leading brands like Apple and Amazon have greatly influenced and conditioned consumer expectations. These platforms, among others, deliver simple end-to-end solutions, but he noted that they “mask the complexity” of integrating multiple underlying transactions.
“Platformication offers the foundation on which that same experience will be delivered in the financial space. Customers now expect to get what they want, when they want it, without having to stop what they are doing to get it,” he continued. “Force your account holder to switch to a different app in order to complete a loan application and they will quickly substitute your app with one that integrates powerful best-of-breed point solutions into a single, cohesive workflow.”
If a credit union, for example, allows third parties to intervene in the banking process, there is a good chance members might defect. Schaldenbrand said a loan transaction should be as easy as ordering a bar of soap online. If it is too complex or taxing, “they aren’t your account holders anymore; they are now loyal customers of the new app that effectively meets their expectations.”
Banks, credit unions and fintechs that don’t “sprint towards implementing platformication,” Schaldenbrand added, “risk falling further behind those who already are.”
In recent years, he said that credit unions have been “increasingly receptive to fintech partnerships.” Credit unions, he explained, are now “seeing abundant examples from their peers of successful partnerships with fintechs.” As a result, more credit unions “seem to be more comfortable” partnering with fintechs, but this wasn’t always the case.
“Credit unions, in prior years, looking to work with fintech were often left in the dark and uncertain as to how to go about working together and ensuring the resources needed were in place during the implementation process,” he said. “Today, vendors, including Larky, leverage toolkits, which keep both the vendor and credit unions in lockstep and on-track for a successful implementation and launch.”
Noting that credit unions are community-focused by nature, Schaldenbrand said they are in turn drawn to tech vendors that “support their ability to promote the financial well-being” of membership. “With the significant acceleration of digital banking today, credit unions face more pressure to maintain a competitive edge and keep up with the times — these fintech partnerships can help them do that.”
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