For the third year in a row, employees of various credit unions across the country spent 24 straight hours brainstorming the next great financial technology offering.
On Sept. 11, starting at 10 a.m., 150 people in four time zones split up into 34 teams to create a working prototype of a process or solution that solves a real business need or challenge.
"We are a company of ideas and that is our currency," said Mike Kelly, the CEO of PSCU, the credit union services organization that organized the event. "Three years in, we hope to find incredible ideas that get birthed. And we hope that the people leave here with a different attitude and sprit."
Hackathons and similar competitions are catching on at financial services companies. First National Bank of Omaha recently held its second coding contest for outside technologists at its headquarters. Larger banks such as JPMorgan Chase and Barclays have also put on such events. Aside from generating new ideas, they can also help financial institutions attract young, tech-savvy workers who might not otherwise consider banking careers.
Most of the teams at PSCU's event worked through the night at the company's St. Petersburg headquarters. The other teams burned the midnight oil in Hawaii, Arizona and Michigan.
Given the date, the event started on a somber note.
"9/11 is always a sobering day, and that day 13 years ago changed America forever," said Kelly. "We began with a moment of silence for those fallen. We encouraged people to honor that by embracing the moment we have now. Time is our only resource and you don't know when the clock ends."
After a rendition of "God Bless America," the event kicked off with festivities. A boxing coach passed out gloves and taught moves. "It was like line dancing with boxing gloves," said participant Myles Bristowe, who leads the Make Your Money Matter initiative at PSCU.
For those who weren't into boxing, there was a deejay spinning tunes and getting the crowd pumped - many people danced. There was plenty of Monster energy drinks and food. "This was my first KnockOut experience," Bristowe said during the twenty-third hour. "All five on our team did not rest once. We worked straight through."
Bristowe could not divulge his team's idea, but explained that it would be a member-driven social media method of scoring a credit union's or a bank's ability to serve customers well. The team's video presentation also included a website that was developed during the competition.
Six semi-finalists will be selected and their videos uploaded to PSCU's website. The company's 1,600 employees will then vote on the best video with the winner announced by the end of the month.
While technology meetups are usually considered nerdy, Kelly said this event is where the "cool kids" hang out. "Our call to action is that credit unions have a place in the market and have a right to win in this space."
In 2012, the winning entry was a mobile app that allows cardholders to report a card lost or stolen. PSCU adapted this idea and incorporated it into a larger credit card data and account servicing app that is offered on iTunes, Kelly said. "It's in the market and one of the only of its kind from any issuer."
Last year a mobile app that lets consumers switch their bank accounts to a credit union won. PSCU demonstrated the app at this year's KnockOut and expects a launch into the market by year-end 2014.
While the 2014 entrants wait for the winning nod, Bristowe said he was struck not only by the volume of innovative ideas, but from the collaborative spirit.
"I had a real math problem I couldn't figure out. A person from one of the other teams came over and helped me out," said Bristowe. "Later on, I was able to help him. Competition is fierce, but we are really all on the same team."
W.B. King is the technology correspondent for Credit Union Journal, a sister publication of American Banker.