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Brad Hickey – Being a credit union professional is a way of life

Brad Hickey is the Manger of Application Development at American Airlines Federal Credit Union and a dear friend that I met through the i3 program. We’ve had many conversations on how to better the industry, get back to our cooperative roots and change the world. Brad is one of the creators of CU Build, a build-a-thon on the Symitar platform, coming up next year. We were honored to grab a bit of his time during this crazy busy time and talk about his time in the industry and CU Build!

What brought you to the CU industry and why do you stay?

Like many people, my first job at a credit union was by chance. I didn’t know that it would wind up being a huge part of what makes me tick. I also didn’t understand that credit unions are very different from corporate America. After spending a couple of years at my first CU as a programmer, I took an opportunity to join a fintech company and soon began to miss the credit union culture and atmosphere. I took the next opportunity I found to join a CU again and I haven’t looked back. It’s one of the best choices of my life and the reason I stay is the people. Being a credit union professional is a way of life for me and it has come to help define other aspects of my character as well. Being surrounded by positive, caring people who are genuinely concerned with your wellbeing is very rewarding and I have that every day I’m at work.

It still amazes me how many people we have interviewed that accidently found their calling at a credit union. You have been very busy, tell us about going through DE, being an i3er and all the other things you’ve done and how they changed your view on the industry?

DE was definitely a transformative event for me. I think it changed me from being generally aware of our credit union mission to being completely purpose driven in how I approach my work and how I think about the macros of our industry. It shapes your perspective to be one that can more objectively address systemic issues. For me, being an i3er has been sort of like a reset switch for my mind and how I look at problems. The i3 process really forces you to think about the true nature of problems and encourages a thoughtful, academic, and data driven approach to the issues that face our industry. Another program that helped me tremendously is the Filene Crash program. It really gave me a sense of belonging and showed how much our young professionals are needed in the industry. Lastly, getting involved in my local League was a huge benefit as well. I started out by just going to our annual leadership meeting and from there I was able to meet several mentors and friends who have helped me along the way.

What are some of the struggles we have as YPs and how can we work together to overcome them?

I think it’s the great irony of credit unions that we see manifested in how we approach our young workers, young members, etc. We simultaneously try to straddle the line between being something that closely resembles a bank and something that closely resembles a consumer co-op or social endeavor. And in many ways, we fail at the latter. Youth of today want to know they are making a difference. They make choices conscientiously and care deeply about their impact on the world. Most of my friends know more about the quality of their eggs than they do the quality of their financial institution. We haven’t done enough to differentiate ourselves.

I believe credit unions need to reach out to the wider cooperative movement as a whole and garner support from disparate sectors and markets. If there is a local cooperative fair or outreach group, we need to be a part of that. The days of stuffy bankers looking down on people with poor credit should be in the past and we need to start to look and feel like a cooperative. How do you force your employees to dress? Do you have diverse hiring practices? How are you educating your community about the credit union difference? (not just your members). These are all challenges we face. The general perception among Millennial's and Gen Z seems to be that credit unions are a corporate entity. We need to change that and we need to look ourselves in the mirror.

What other passions do you dedicate your time to outside the CU industry?

I enjoy writing, weightlifting, travel, hiking, being in nature, and spending time with family. Anything that keeps my brain ticking and my imagination running wild is what I love.

I am really fascinating by CU Build, tell us more about CU Build and how it came to be?

CU Build is a nonprofit and seeks to create a first of its kind multi-credit union build-a-thon (hackathon) on the Symitar platform. It started as just a dream after being a part of the American Airlines hackathon, HackWars a few years ago. I started asking colleagues about it and since it’s never been done before, of course I had to try it! J If you’re familiar with other hackathons, this is what we’re creating and it will be a 3 day event over a weekend (Fri-Sun) which will give programmers, ideators, business product owners, innovators and anyone else willing to experiment the chance to work with some of the latest technologies in the space and apply those to the Symitar ecosystem of tools and platforms. Symitar and Jack Henry have been incredibly supportive in helping us launch this initiative and we have about a dozen volunteers on the team working to make this a reality. If not for the pandemic, our first event would have been this June but instead it will be held in June of 2021. We’re very excited to help the industry’s best and brightest collaborate and build real solutions with cutting edge technology. The event concludes with team presentations and a judging panel will decide the winners. We’re thrilled to have the support of several of the industry’s best companies along with the likes of AWS, IBM, and Microsoft. Your readers can find out more at

CUltivate is people helping people with our mission to spread the word, connect the people, and give an outlet to share your stories. Know someone in the industry we should interview? Drop us a line at


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