The 2023 Generative AI hackathon: 48 hours of Zopian innovation 

Learning and development are high on the agenda at Zopa Bank – whether it’s internal training courses, our mentoring program and leadership academy, or our partnerships with organisations such as Code First Girls to upskill and bring in new talent.  

We see learning as a lifelong, ongoing opportunity to learn new skills and technologies, collaborate with industry peers and prototype new product ideas. So, we partnered with the team at Google Cloud, to run a joint Gen AI hackathon at Google headquarters 

The two-day hackathon brought together 90 Zopians working across engineering, data, and our customer service to experiment and ideate with cutting edge Gen AI technology.  

Why run a hackathon now? 

Millions of people across the country are struggling with the high cost of living. In the last year Zopa Bank has responded by building the 2025 Fintech Pledge, an unprecedented coalition of 50 fintech companies and their industry partners to improve consumers’ financial resilience. We saw the hackathon as an opportunity to take this work a step further.  

Those taking part were tasked with the objective of finding creative ways to help alleviate the pressures of the current economic environment and improve consumers’ financial resilience using some of the latest models of Gen AI technology. 

Bringing the Generative AI hackathon to life 

The hackathon was organised by a six-person team consisting of Chief Software Engineer, Ashis Joshi; Head of Software Engineering, Vaishali Patel; Staff Software Engineer, Peter Meckiffe; Senior Delivery Manager, Yuri Mariano; Product Manager, Rebecca Mack; and Engineering Manager, David Marton.

Having not run a hackathon for several years, it was important to the organising team that our people would have an excellent learning experience, but also a lot of fun – and they weren’t let down. 

Zopians were split into 15 teams; they were tasked to create a demo-ready product for the judging panel, using Google’s cutting-edge Generative AI tools to create solutions that improve consumers' financial resilience, which they would ultimately present to the judging panel who were a mix of senior leaders at Zopa and Google. 

The products were judged on four key criteria: 

  1. Feasibility, including whether it was a complete enough solution to demonstrate proof of concept, realistic, and implementable within three to six months 

  2. Presentation and communication, in terms of how well the team explained the problem, gave their product demo within the five-minute time limit, and engaged the audience 

  3. Impact, including how well it served customer outcomes or helps customers take a financial resilience action like saving money or budgeting. 

  4. Innovation, including whether Generative AI tools were used and whether the solution could have been done without AI, and the originality of the solution.  

Creating solutions that matter 

The agenda was enriched with plenty of extras to keep those participating engaged in the process. It included technology demos and talks from Google Cloud, prizes including cash, Google products, and a drinks and celebration event at the end of the hackathon. Those taking part also had the option to receive hackathon-branded merchandise. 

After a massive two-day effort, the teams presented their ideas, and the judges chose gold, silver and bronze winners, before a celebratory event to congratulate everyone’s hard work and innovative solutions.  

The winning ideas included solutions that helped domestic violence victims discretely regain financial control and independence, an AI tool to improve customers’ interactions with customer service agents, a product helping consumers understand financial documents in simple terms, and a personalised AI chatbot helping consumers make better financial choices. 

See how the day went below. 

The secret sauce to a successful hackathon 

While everything went well, the organising team had to navigate challenges along the way.  

These challenges included data protection and understanding what data we could use in another company’s models, ensuring the relevant technology access was given to those taking part, understanding limitations, and agreeing these elements with Zopa Bank’s senior leadership. 

To ensure their success, the team were careful to: 

  • Frontload the preparation around data and tool access as much as possible. 

  • Ensure technical talks from Google Cloud were part of the agenda during the event to maximise people’s understanding of Gen AI. 

  • Build excitement early through internal promotion, and ensure the agenda includes fun and celebration alongside the hard work. 

  • Ideate and collaborate with the Google Cloud team ahead of the event to ensure stronger team outputs during the hackathon. 

 Zopians taking part had a great experience, achieving the hackathon’s goals of creating solutions that improve consumers’ financial resilience, innovating with new technology, and driving greater company collaboration.  

The experience allowed Zopians to work with new colleagues they might not normally engage with, have an opportunity to work with Generative AI tools, and innovate new ideas that the company is now exploring further in its roadmaps. 

Sounds like something you’d want to be part of next time? See what it's like to work at Zopa Bank by visiting our careers page.   

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