Monday 26 September 2016

Ulster Bank hackathon brings tech entrepreneurs together

Published 16/02/2016 | 15:07

Pictured is Robin Marshall, CIO, Ulster Bank with
Pictured is Robin Marshall, CIO, Ulster Bank with "Gift, Graft, Grow", Fabio Oliveira, Connor Murray, Samuel Teixeira, Denis Olivira. Picture by Shane O'Neill Photography.

On January 29th the Ulster Bank #hackmakethebank hackathon made a triumphant return to Dublin, hosted by the Ulster Bank Innovation Solutions team in the Vaults at Dogpatch Labs.

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Over 130 people gathered; coders, designers, mentors and other attendees to spend three days ‘hacking’ out new ideas.

With the opening words from Robin Marshall, Ulster Bank Chief Information Officer (CIO), reiterating Ulster Banks ambition of being the number one bank for customer service, trust, and advocacy, the scene was set for a phenomenal weekend of collaboration, coding, and competition!

Kicking off with a round of ‘firepitches’ participants had 30 seconds to pitch their suggested apps in the hopes of attracting some team mates. The hackers then quickly organised themselves into 11 teams each focused on coming up with the one brilliant idea that would make them winners on Sunday evening.

One of the competing entrepreneurs, Brian Henry, said of the event "this was my fourth hackathon with Ulster Bank/RBS and they really put on a top class show. I love coming up with a fun idea and then being mentored into turning it into a profitable idea followed by the exhilaration of pitching it. I always try to convince my friends – tech and non-tech – to come along, as it's great fun with great opportunity to mingle with Ulster Bank execs who'll undoubtedly invite you to meet again if you impress."

Throughout the weekend, the teams were mentored from a team of experts from across the Tech industry. Mentors were assembled from UB, Currency Fair, Temenos, Each and Other, Jumble Fund, Zendesk, Interface Builders and Accenture. The mentors supported the teams with a wealth of tech and business knowledge, providing feedback and guidance to help refine and improve their pitches.

Mark Swaine, one of the Hackathon Mentors from Interface Builders, said "it is great to see a financial institution like Ulster Bank getting deeply involved with the Irish Tech Community. It shows a real understanding on their behalf of the absolute need for urgency to collaborate, ideate, discover and deliver new approaches in banking that customers actually want."

This was complimented with an Application Programming Interface (API) workshop for the coders to help them get the most from the technology available over the weekend. Again there was a wide range of choices on offer from Colu, the Open Bank, Twilio, and for the first time, a prototype of Blue Bank – the RBS API currently being developed under the guidance of RBS API & Developer Community Lead Alan Lockhart.

Pictured is Robin Marshall, CIO, Ulster Bank with
Pictured is Robin Marshall, CIO, Ulster Bank with "Save with Penny" Valerie Yuskevych and Sohail Amin. Picture by Shane O'Neill Photography.

According to Lockhart "an API provides a means for developers to use functionality created by someone else - in this case the Royal Bank, Ulster Bank & Natwest. In a Banking context, this means we can securely provide access to sample customer accounts and data (i.e., not real customer data). This will enable 3rd party developers to create interesting and innovative solutions for bank customers. We are using the name BlueBank to describe our test environment, where developers can create apps and test them against mock data." 

Entering the home stretch on Sunday, the teams were given the opportunity to practice their pitches and add the final polish before they went to the judging panel later that day.

This year’s judging panel was made up of Robin Marshall - UB CIO; Patrick Eltridge – RBS CIO; Barry Murray – UB Chief of Staff; Naresh Vyas – Head of Solutions for RBS; and Mark Barry – European Sales for Stripe.

Following a difficult decision making session the judges eventually agreed on the winners in what proved to be a close contest.

On the night the top prizes were taken by GoDutch, for their bill splitting app; Gift, Graft & Grow, for their reward based savings app for parents and kids; and PopCard, for their digital charge card solution.

Overall the event was a fantastic, energetic session which saw teams build apps from scratch, working together to develop customer focussed solutions.

Ciarán Coyle, CAO of Ulster Bank, stated that "Ulster Bank and Dogpatch Labs share the same ambition to create the centre of FinTech in Ireland. The success of the Hackathon is a fantastic example of how Ulster Bank are invested in creating the centre of FinTech and strengthening our connection with Ireland’s Tech Startup community.

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