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A Bank Hapoalim branch in Tel Aviv.(Photo by: REUTERS)
Bank Hapoalim looks to start-ups for innovation
“We decided to lead a competition that would last a month and a half, in a unique and original format, during which the needs of different developers would arise.”
In search of the best Israeli innovation required to further its business, Bank Hapoalim is taking an innovative approach: a financial technology competition.

“We chose not to use a consulting firm, but instead looked at leading organizations and banks in the world with technology division,” said Ron Wexler, executive vice president and head of strategy at Bank Hapoalim.

“We decided to lead a competition that would last a month and a half, in a unique and original format, during which the needs of different developers would arise.”

The resulting BANKAPP competition, which is already under way, challenges developers to come up with the most cutting- edge financial tech app.

The start-ups are competing to win a NIS 100,000 prize and the chance for a NIS 1 million investment from the bank’s fin-tech fund. Winners will also be offered an opportunity to work at MindSpace, a new start-up work space on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard, and be given automatic entry to CitiBank’s accelerator program.

Last week, the bank announced its 10 finalists. The winner will be selected at a special event on November 23, where all the finalists present their products.

“In my view, this is an example of the bank’s ability to be a leader in thought, openness, organization and implementation speed, which are especially important in the dynamic digital world,” Wexler said.

Nir Yor, who heads IT portfolio management at the bank, said 1,000 people are registered on the competition’s site, which offers access to a unique platform the bank built that allows interested entrepreneurs access to some of its data. The ages of participants have ranged from 14-years-old to pensioners, he said.

Wexler said the ability to be nimble in a fast-moving world is crucial. Being able to test and change ideas quickly may ultimately lead to faster innovation than a planned-out, formal process of figuring out what’s best ahead of time, he said.

“The world moves quickly, and the thought that research and exact planning will provide the answer may turn out to be an illusion that costs a lot of time and money,” Wexler said. “Sometimes it is preferable to choose the options of quick concept adoption, trial and error.”

One example of the bank adopting hi-tech from an start-up is Tipranks, a company that evaluated stock analysts’ recommendations to see how they turned out. It found regular biases.

“The cooperation with it led us to the insight that the world is changing quickly, and we need to create an ecosystem that contributes to innovation from outside, while integrating internal experimentation based on the knowledge that statistics show that just one in five start-ups reach the finish line,” Wexler said.
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