Nigeria’s Wema Bank hopes to birth disruptive innovations through Hackaholics

When it comes to ideas that propagate innovation, the difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas but in escaping from old ones and this is what Nigeria’s Wema Bank is trying to achieve through Hackaholics, a three days sprint-like technology-focused event, which recently held in Lagos. After a tense and brain-racking 72 hours, a winner with visionary concepts and actionable solutions emerged.

The hackathon brought together some of the brightest minds who are computer programmers, software developers, graphic designers, interface designers, project managers, domain experts and others in the technology space that are involved in software development to collaborate intensively, to brainstorm, strategize and create solutions to the problems presented.

Understanding that outsiders, who may not necessarily be in the banking or financial sector, can bring a fresh perspective to business challenges, give an outside-in view of products and organization as well as offer solutions to problems, the creators of ALAT, Nigeria’s first fully digital bank, Wema Bank, engaged over 20 teams in their maiden hackathon, Hackaholics.

Hackathons are proving grounds for new ideas and are especially good tools to stimulate innovation. As of 2016, there were over 200, 000 hackathons held globally and over 13, 000 prototypes created. Presently, internal innovation and intra-team collaborations are prominent but soon hackathons would be widely sought after, especially in Nigeria, to draw a pool of ideas into various sectors.

As of 2011, Hackathons were all about mobile application development but eight years down the line hackathons have grown in popularity, birthing new products and solutions to different challenges. In the Hackaholics organized in partnership with content application Scooper and internet service provider, Ntel, numerous solutions were created, but to distinguish the best from the rest, a winner had to emerge. Having screened all, a team of judges decided that a solution that provides simpler payment for transportation was the most innovative solution.

The originator of this solution, Team EazyChange, noted that their solution is programmed to ease the problem of scarcity of lower denominations for transport fare within Nigeria’s most populous state, Lagos and other states. With this, Team EazyChange received Wema Bank’s $10,000 prize and a six-month job offer with Nigeria’s oldest indigenous bank.

Despite there being just a single winner, other solutions were welcomed. Team 2i emerged the first runner-up for a backend solution designed to solve problems in Know Your Customer (KYC). The second runner-up, team Lendse, created a solution that tackles alternative credit scoring for financial institutions.

Given that there are all winners and no losers, participants who impressed with their ideas and work attitude will gain access to incubation and acceleration programs at the Wema Bank’s innovation lab, Codeville. The innovation lab will help nurture technological solutions and other business ideas into marketable brands through investment opportunities, business support and mentorship.

Hackathons are known to generate startups and it evolved to support ideas beyond the traditional 72-hour event that hatched it. Through Wema Bank’s Hackaholics, it is expected that incubation and business acceleration programs will arise to help develop projects into actual products.

While Nigeria awaits new innovations birthed through Hackaholics, the lender has already launched Ignite by Wema, a special business account for micro, small and medium enterprises. The all-inclusive account will support MSMEs to upgrade their businesses through partnerships with the bank, leverage on the bank’s network and marketing channels, provide access to business advisory, incubation benefits and concessions on business loans of up to N3 million ($8,300).