Barrier breaking innovation triumphs in the 2022 BBVA Hackathon

With a population that includes 18 million elderly people and more than 7 million people with disabilities, one of the biggest challenges of financial inclusion in Mexico is to provide personalised attention and services to these groups. A solution that makes it possible to easily identify them through the gyroscopes of their mobile phones, created by a team from Mexico, has won the 2022 BBVA Hackathon and could help boost banking accessibility.

Imagine that one day you have an accident which changes your face forever. Suddenly, biometric systems no longer recognise you. You have lost access to your bank accounts and your money, and with them your independence. BBVA’s business unit in Mexico launched the Authentication for all challenge with this situation as a starting point, one of thirteen challenges laid out in the BBVA Hackathon 2022 organised by BBVA Open Innovation.

Participants were asked to devise alternative mechanisms for user identification to complement existing ones, thus facilitating access to digital banking services. One of the solutions presented, which takes advantage of the omnipresence of smartphones and their integrated sensors, has finally emerged as the overall champion of this edition of the competition, celebrated this past October.

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More than 600 participants from nine countries took part in the 2022 BBVA Hackathon, including professionals and students from 85 different universities. During three days of uninterrupted team work, and accompanied by 261 coaches, they faced the challenge of designing digital solutions that are capable of responding to one of the thirteen challenges posed by BBVA’s business units in Mexico, Peru, Colombia and Spain, as well as by the event’s sponsors.

This seventh edition of the competition covered challenges in areas ranging from algorithmic real estate valuation to the metaverse. But it was data analysis, coupled with a social purpose, that led the team called  The Code of Duty to emerge as the winner of both its individual challenge and the overall 2022 BBVA Hackathon, taking home prize money of 65,000 Mexican pesos (approximately €3,330).

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Identifying customers with special needs

The members of the winning team had the advantage of knowing each other before the competition. Graduates of the Universidad Autónoma de México from disciplines including Physics, Actuarial Science and Computer Engineering, and with backgrounds in data science and architecture, together they made the most of their diverse skills to create the GIRA solution.

The name refers to both the initials of the team members and its functionality: to detect the position and movements of the users through the gyroscopes and accelerometers in their mobile phones. “We thought about how to take advantage of the technology we already had and came up with the solution based on something that almost all users have: a mobile phone,” explains Javier Sánchez. Data collected through smartphones can be used to deduce whether a person is, for example, in a wheelchair, uses crutches or has some other mobility problem. Once the probability of a user having difficulties that prevent them from accessing digital banking has been established, entities such as BBVA can use this information to adapt and personalise their services for customers with special needs.

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To develop their platform, the team used the services of Amazon Web Services, a sponsor of the 2022 BBVA Hackathon, and also designed an algorithm that links the information collected by mobile phones with consumer data (such as purchases at pharmacies or hospital visits) to detect behavioural and mobility patterns. In this way, it can predict whether the user belongs to the group of people with disabilities or the elderly. The process was far from easy and many lessons were learned along the way: “We had many queries on the technical and analytical side… We even received copyright advice; the coaches were very attentive,” says Aarón Castillo.


Solutions for more accessible banking

The Code of Duty chose the Authentication for All challenge because “it was the one with which we could see the most direct contribution of our work to our families and the population,” says Ricardo Cayetano. “We all had a close family member who suffered from this problem and we wanted to achieve a little social justice.”

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The problems with using mobile phones to access digital services that the team members had observed among their own grandparents are a concern that probably affects a significant part of the population in their country of origin: in Mexico, 14% of the population is elderly, (aged 60 years or older) and 5.7% have some type of disability, which, in more than 40% of the cases, hinders their mobility. Thanks to their solution, which would support the authentication services already in place, such as passwords and biometrics, digital banking could make it easier for these groups.

"With this challenge we could see the most direct contribution of our work to our families and the population"

“It was one of my favourite challenges, since it is an issue  we are dedicating lots of resources to  so we can improve our proposals for the good of society,” said Sergio Torres, director of Strategy and Innovation for Digital Banking and Sustainability at BBVA Mexico. “The Code of Duty team fully deserved to win the competition.”

Brief but intense: the winners’ lessons learned

One of the key things that helped them win the Hackathon, say the champions, is to specify the scope of the proposed solution in order to achieve it in the tight time frame available to them. “We had to give them a concrete idea and after the competition we will continue to move forward,” says Gilberto Subias. Among the possible improvements they are considering for GIRA, he adds, would be to calculate the speed at which the user moves in order to make segmentations focused, for example, for people on crutches or in wheelchairs.

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“It was an enriching experience for everyone. From teamwork to the way we organised ourselves… We all learned something from each other,” says Javier Sánchez. “What we take away most are those experiences and everything we learned. Solving a problem in such a short period of time involves creativity, effort and skills. If we had not participated in the Hackathon, we would not have challenged ourselves. I think we feel different. Aarón Castillo emphasises the importance of tenacity and teamwork to reach the goal: “I want to thank my colleagues for their patience, trust, communication and the feedback they gave me.”

"If we had not participated in the Hackathon, we would not have challenged ourselves"

Looking ahead to the 2023 BBVA Hackathon

The BBVA Hackathon serves the dual purpose of boosting young talent with technological skills and inspiring new ideas and solutions to respond to real business needs, explains Sergio Torres of BBVA Mexico. “It allows us to connect with the world’s developer ecosystem and, by posing challenges aligned with a real issue for the bank, we found very disruptive and creative ideas at the end of the event.” This is a key initiative on which the organisation will continue to focus strongly in the coming year: “The 2023 BBVA Hackathon is shaping up to be the return of an in-person event at the BBVA Tower in Mexico,” Torres suggests. “And we will no doubt have a very attractive proposal of cutting-edge technological challenges, as well as an improvement in the prizes awarded to the winners.”

"The BBVA Hackathon allows us to find disruptive and creative ideas that provide a solution to real issues for the bank"

What would the winners of the 2022 Hackathon say to the contestants of the next edition? “See you there!” says Aarón Castillo. Ricardo Cayetano adds: “Sometimes you don’t think you’re capable of winning or doing things when you are bogged down by impostor syndrome. Be brave and grasp the nettle. You’re going to learn a lot of things even if you don’t win.”

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Ricardo also calls for diversity: “Diverse teams create diverse solutions”. As a result of putting together a team with different profiles and backgrounds that complement each other, the members of The Code of Duty have been able to design a solution that contributes to promoting diversity and inclusion. Now, it is up to them to enjoy their victory and continue learning to contribute to those goals.

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