Creating the next unicorn at Europe’s largest FinTech hackathon

Open innovation at its best: the F10 Hackathon Zurich attracted a lot of young, brilliant minds, looking to disrupt the financial sector. At the Julius Baer challenge, competitors were asked for new ways to engage with the ‘clients of tomorrow’.

The F10 Hackathon unites people from all over the world. Some are students, some have already gained experience in the financial industry. Some are technical engineers, others have a business background. More than 140 men and women from different companies, countries and careers came together last March, giving up their weekend and having to sleep – if at all – on the ground. Some contestants were there to win and to fulfil their dream of becoming a start-up entrepreneur. Others were there to network with attending corporate sponsors. But everyone said the main reason they attended the F10 Hackathon was for the experience and to have some fun with likeminded people.

The team 'Millennial Whisperers', winner of the Julius Bear challenge with an impressive virtual assistant solution, receives its award from Julius Baer's COO Nic Dreckmann (second from the left).

Julius Baer challenge: serving the ‘clients of tomorrow’
Presented by Nicolas de Skowronski, Head of Advisory Solutions at Julius Baer, the Julius Baer challenge was about the future of Private Banking and how to best gain and sustain the interactions with the ‘clients of tomorrow’. De Skowronski said the F10 Hackathon provided the ideal platform for financial institutions that embrace digitalisation and wanted to future-proof their business. “We wanted to gain a fresh angle from people outside of our organisation on how we could combine our traditional values of highly personalised services with the expectations of the next generation of our clients: digital interaction, convenience and security”, he explained.

F10 Hackathon – for first time in Zurich 
Hosted by the Zurich-based FinTech incubator and start-up accelerator F10, the Hackathon is a 48-hour challenge open to everyone interested in innovation and product creation for financial services. F10 is sponsored by SIX, the Swiss stock exchange, and other leading financial institutions (including Julius Baer), and is driving innovation in Zurich’s finance hub and beyond. More than 350 people applied to join the first F10 Hackathon in Zurich, which is already the biggest FinTech hackathon in Europe. 142 contestants were admitted, amongst them were seven Julius Baer employees. 

Mixed-gender teams perform better
Grouped in teams of up to five people, the contestants chose to compete in one of five challenges presented by different corporate sponsors. The team-building part was an important step in the overall process. Co-founder of F10, Andreas Iten, advised the participants at the beginning of the event to form highly diverse teams. “Mixed-gender teams including different age groups, nationalities and skill sets usually perform better overall. Coming up with new business ideas including technological advances is crucial, however you also must be able to sell your idea to the jury. Therefore, you need a diverse set of skills within the team”, Iten said. 

15 teams make it to the final round
From Friday evening until Sunday midday the teams worked continuously on their business idea and pitch. Some didn’t sleep much. Others found time to join yoga sessions, mentoring workshops or to play a game of table football. On Sunday afternoon, it was pitching time: all 36 teams individually presented their ideas and prototypes to a 13-person jury, including Julius Baer’s COO Nic Dreckmann and other finance and tech experts. The jury then decided which 15 teams would make it to the final round. 

One of two teams from Julius Baer, who attended the hackathon. From left: Yannick Marti, Raphael Schiftan, Rafael Stoll and Anna Gromova.

Making the financial world a little bit better
During the closing ceremony, the finalists pitched their business idea again – this time to a larger audience, including other competing teams and the jury. The jury was impressed by the energy as well as the endurance and commitment of the competitors. Nic Dreckmann found the experience very insightful and inspirational. “I met a lot of young people whose goal is to make our world a little bit better. Showing willingness to break down barriers and the motivation to disrupt the status quo, I highly admire each and every person who participated at F10 Hackathon,” said Dreckmann. 

A virtual assistant claims the victory
Winner of the Julius Bear challenge was the ‘Millennial Whisperers’ team and their impressive virtual assistant solution. In addition to the winners of the other challenges, the group “REPS” won another coveted prize: the Golden Ticket, an opportunity to participate in F10’s 6-month Accelerator program in Switzerland, which will support them in transitioning their prototype to a sellable product. 

Championing innovation within Julius Baer
F10 Hackathon in Zurich provided the ideal stage for open innovation. “We came to the F10 Hackathon with an open mind to learn something new, to network with brilliant minds and to get inspired – and we did get all of these and more”, explained Senad Celebic, who is a key innovation stakeholder within Julius Baer. 

Using the momentum that the F10 Hackathon has created amongst attending Julius Bear employees and beyond, the bank will explore the prototypes that the JB teams developed at the Hackathon further, and is planning a series of innovation workshops with the teams. Celebic is a firm believer that innovation is unpredictable and needs to be nurtured in unconventional and informal ways. And that’s exactly how Julius Baer is approaching the future: looking to create the next unicorn within the bank - but also by attending events, such as F10 Hackathon, to gain new ideas and inspiration from others.

Picture on top: one of two teams from Julius Baer who attended the F10 Hackathon (with Pascal Engeli, Hans Christian Schmitz, a friend and James Macpherson)
 

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