Operating in the heart of “Startup Nation,” Bank Hapoalim recently launched BankApp, a first-of-its-kind competition for startups to develop mobile banking applications. The competition ended on November 23 with the announcement of the winner, BzBuzz, an application that provides real-time information on the number of shoppers and the estimated waiting times at various stores based on the number of payment transactions and reports by other shoppers.
The winning team, led by Shachar Albeg, received a NIS 100,000 award and is eligible for an investment of up to NIS 1 million from Bank Hapoalim, based on its suitability to join the bank’s unique FinTech program.
More than 1,000 startups entered the competition, which gave the Israeli innovation ecosystem unprecedented access to the Bank Hapoalim’s technological infrastructure and simulated databases, as well as ongoing mentoring during the six-week competition.
BzBuzz was one of the 10 startups that reached the last round. The final event, held in Cinema City in Jerusalem, was attended by former president Shimon Peres, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and senior officials from Israeli industry and the economy.
Bank Hapoalim CEO Zion Kenan said the huge interest in the competition is a clear reflection of the innovative ecosystem within which the bank operates and which has won Israel the title Startup Nation.
“We were truly impressed by the level of innovation, originality and ingenuity we saw among the BankApp contestants,” he said.
“In a true win-win, the competition allowed the bank to leverage the startup culture in which we operate to foster FinTech innovation, support the Israeli startup community and bring cutting-edge mobile-banking applications to our customers.”
Bank Hapoalim sees immense value in leveraging crowd-sourcing, one of the leading trends in the global hi-tech industry, allowing the bank to benefit from the best ideas and innovation, regardless of their origin, Kenan said.
“The use of crowd-sourcing creates a huge force multiplier that gives us the ability to move faster and to better serve the bank’s customers,” he said. “Hapoalim is the only bank in Israel that has put this issue on the top of its business agenda.”
“As Israel’s largest bank, we are privileged to move ahead with, and be supportive of, the Israeli hi-tech sector,” Kenan said. “A strong, developed hi-tech sector is the key to our success as a country, not only economically, and we must all do our part in investing in its future.”
Avi Kochva, CIO and Member of the management board, expected about 300 contestants to join the competition. He said he was surprised by both the number and caliber of companies and developers who threw their hat into the BankApp ring.
Kochva said the unique program was initiated by the bank to encourage the development of mobile financial applications based on a special open API system the bank developed.
“Bank Hapoalim was able to give entrepreneurs access to its technology infrastructure and expertise while maintaining data security and privacy,” he said. “With the launch of BankApp, Hapoalim has opened the door to endless possibilities of cooperation with an exceptional community of start-up companies in Israel, making the competition unprecedented even on a global scale.”
“This competition is another significant step on the digital road we have been on for several years,” Kochva said. “As our customers become increasingly interested in digital banking platforms, including mobile and Internet, technology will continue to be at the center of our strategic focus for the coming years.”
The initial phase of the BankApp competition was more demanding than some had expected, as contestants were asked to present working applications, not just ideas, said Nadav Ure, who ran the BankApp competition.
“It was thrilling to see concepts take shape, and we saw truly incredible development teams, well beyond the 10 finalists,” he said.
Ure spoke about a few of the interesting applications, including “Dan Innovator,” an app that allows parents to help their children make financially smart decisions through an accessible mobile interface.
The app’s developers included an 85-year-old and a 17-year-old.
He also mentioned “BPlus,” an app that allows people to manage loans they take from friends and family, developed by a team from Startappist, a company that employs hi-tech veterans 45 years old and older.
Toward the end of the competition, 10 finalists were selected for the accelerated boot camp, designed in collaboration with the SifTech accelerator, supported by the Jerusalem Development Authority. The boot camp, which included lectures by leading Israeli entrepreneurs and hours of individual mentoring on digital marketing, branding, UI and UX, finance and investment, psychology of the consumer and more, took place at the JVP Media Quarter.
The BankApp jury included Yossi Moldawsky, CEO of Plus Ventures, which invests in young startups; Gigi Levy, an entrepreneur and one of the most active angel investors in the country; Tamar Barak Landes, CEO of the Nielsen Innovate incubator; Neil Corny, CEO of Citi Israel; Roy Vella, a world expert in the fields of mobile and e-payments and one of the founders of PayPal’s payment activities in England; and Michael Docis, director of digital and innovation at Rabobank, a Dutch bank known for its innovation.
The competition was also important for what it symbolized: a new era in banking that encourages innovation and partnerships with entities outside the banking system. Hapoalim’s FinTech program, launched two years ago, is part of this trend.
The program is focused on investments and partnerships between the bank, startups and companies in the technology field that are given the opportunity to implement their innovations within in the bank’s systems.
TipRanks is one FinTech company that already works with Hapoalim.
It has developed a product that allows investors in the capital markets to follow analyst recommendations and rankings to help them with their investment decisions.
The product is already being offered to Bank Hapoalim customers and is successfully penetrating global markets.
So where is the banking sector headed? Banks have traditionally relied on internal resources to create products and services for customers, assuming that they have the best understanding of the complex financial world and of their customers. Today, Bank Hapoalim, like other leading banks around the world, is going beyond the bank – to the innovation ecosystem in which it lives – to identify the best ideas and bring them to customers, regardless of their origin.
Consumers are increasingly expecting smart, useful innovation in all aspects of their lives, and the banking sector is no exception.
BankApp is perfect example of how a big, leading bank can use its scale and resources to foster fast, nimble and smart banking innovation.
Looking ahead, there is little doubt that banks that are able to bring cutting- edge innovation to serve their customers will remain ahead of the curve.Translated by Maya Pelleg.