St. Petersburg credit union firm hosts 24-hour tech brainstorming contest

The third "Knockout" competition's teams strive for something new for credit unions.
Mike Kelly is president and CEO of St. Petersburg-based PSCU.
Mike Kelly is president and CEO of St. Petersburg-based PSCU.
Published September 11 2014
Updated September 11 2014

ST. PETERSBURG — What happens when you mesh together a bunch of creative minds in the credit union industry for a 24-hour brainstorming session, with teams competing to find the next transformational idea?

Mike Kelly can't wait to find out.

As president of PSCU, a St. Petersburg-based company that handles customer service and technology issues for hundreds of credit unions nationwide, Kelly on Thursday morning kicked off the company's third annual "Knockout" competition.

"Create something magical. … We are problem solvers and we are relentless. Let's birth those ideas!" he said shortly after 10 a.m. as he unleashed 15 five-member teams at PSCU's Carillon headquarters to dash down ideas on their jumbo, mobile whiteboards. Simultaneously, teams in Phoenix., Allen Park, Mich., and Honolulu launched their sessions, for a total of 150 participants on 34 teams.

"The idea of Knockout is create some energy in what is a mature industry: financial services generally and credit unions specifically," Kelly said. "These are not new concepts."

Brainstorming is wide open. But the undercurrent is clear: Credit unions need to do a better job attracting millennials, in part through cutting-edge technology. No surprise: Among the biggest buzzwords are "mobile" and "security" — and "mobile security."

In the first year, the winning team triggered the creation of a mobile app that lets members report when their cards are lost or stolen. The suggestion came from a group of call center workers, interestingly enough, "since the purpose of the app is to reduce the number of calls to the call center," PSCU creative director Fredda McDonald said.

The 2013 winning entry is being rolled out now: a "switch-kit" for customers to transfer their bank relationships to a credit union online. The "Snap2Switch" process includes snapping and downloading a driver's license photo and other personal information.

Thursday's participants branded themselves with names such as Team Pineapple, Team Eye of the Tiger and Team Bacon (the latter's motto: "Keep calm and eat bacon").

Six judges, including representatives of Visa and PayPal, are tasked with picking two semifinalists from each location by the end of today. From there, the winning concept will be selected after a week of voting from PSCU employees.

PSCU volunteers decked in blue "Sting Like a Geek" shirts roamed the building Thursday morning, looking for teams to help. Food, coffee and Red Bull were at the ready. Cots were set up for power naps — or longer if necessary.

First-time participant Myles Bristowe acknowledged giving little thought to team strategies or how to power through the wee hours. "I do have some trail mix," he said.

After watching the event unfold the past two years, PSCU communications manager Jim Major knows what to expect. "They get a little slap-happy at 2 in the morning," he said.

Cheri Cummings, who woke up at 3 a.m. Thursday for a 4 a.m. call center shift, figured she would be one of those taking a longer power nap overnight.

Her team was striving to choose a main idea first, then quickly analyze whether it's affordable and doable. She didn't appear overconfident, though she might have had reason to be: For the past two years, she was on the winning team.

What's the secret of her success?

Cummings, 28, said her group could relate to the needs of millennials. Plus, she said, it certainly helped to hear member complaints through the call center firsthand and muse about solutions long before Knockout began.

Contact Jeff Harrington at [email protected] or (813) 226-3434. Follow @JeffMHarrington.