In perhaps another sign that the conversation around fintech is shifting, MIT recently brought fintech together with traditional financial services companies in its first-ever fintech hackathon.
The best overall winner, a team from Cornell University, created a product called Switch, which taps the freelance economy to sell insurance products. EVEN Financial sponsored that challenge and offered up its own application program interface (API) for contestants to use. Organizers described the end product as a micro-loan and insurance broker, with freelancer on one end, underwriter on the other, and up to 40 percent commission facilitated by EVEN Financial.
As the FinTech Practice Leader at MIT’s Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship, Priscilla Cherie Koepke is charged with building an ecosystem of leaders, mentors, companies that are interested in fintech and student groups. This competition built upon that.
“What’s unique about the MIT culture is they like hackathons and they like to hack anything and everything. It’s just a way to facilitate innovation, find new ideas and ways to challenge problems,” she said. “Within the fintech space, MIT had not yet organized a hackathon. This was a great opportunity to take those activities to the next level.”
MIT recruited TD Bank, CITI Ventures and Prudential as financial sponsors and EVEN Financial, Wipro, Flybits, Associated Press, Morningstar and Safegraph as data sponsors. TD Bank, CITI and EVEN sponsored different hack categories, posing specific challenges. For instance, how should TD communicate with its customers via mobile? Or how could CITI make a connection between its customers’ physical and financial well-being? Over 36 hours, 26 student teams worked on the challenges of their choosing.
A team from MIT won the challenge posed by CITI, creating an app called CITICoach that integrates personal health data and lets users earn points for outdoor activities and nutritious food. Another team from MIT created the TD Intelligent Assistance to support call center and in-person interactions in real time.
Where fintech companies were once viewed as competitors or disruptors of traditional financial services, the conversation has shifted in recent years. Financial institutions increasingly view fintech companies as potential partners, and Koepke hopes to tap into that dynamic as she organizes the next fintech hackathon, next year. She said she’s already been approached by other financial institutions who are interested in the challenge.
“One of the areas about fintech that a lot of financial services companies are really embracing is the idea that some of the next great innovations are going to come from outside their institution and that’s really what the hackathon does,” she said. “We’re really excited this is an avenue where we can integrate the MIT culture together with those older institutions to chart a new path forward.”