Hack a bank from the inside – and why innovating hurts

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Hacking a bank is serious business. This is true in terms of hacking as an illegal activity aimed at getting unauthorized access to data and information. Hacking a bank with the institution supporting the action is another matter. And it is a completely wonderful experience.

Establishing a digitalization strategy in a large institution like a bank can be painful. With many approaches there is a problem associated: they do not change the bank so much internally, but are aimed at catering to the customers at a specific point of sale with a specific product developed for that matter exclusively. Another, more comprehensive approach is to hack the bank itself by planting the spirit of innovation within the bank – with a little help from your friends. For example by hosting a bankathon as part of your digitalization strategy and harnessing its effects properly.

Hack a bank with…

Saying a bank can be hacked by means of a hackathon (because this is what a bankathon is), means exactly what it indicates: it is aimed, ultimately, at getting rid of outdated mindsets and hindering structures. But unfortunately, change does not happen overnight. Especially with an event like a bankathon, the process involves many steps, effort and even constant iteration. One hackathon does not make you innovative. Give yourself and the company some time to have the aftereffects really gain momentum. There are some vital ingredients to this approach which all come from different persona involved:


While there certainly are very talented developers and strategists working in banks, we are looking for something different at a bankathon. As you work in a bank, taking care of your daily business influences your perspective. We need a mix of developers, strategists, designers, thinkers, concepters and thought leaders from outside the institution. The more diverse, the better. These people have ideas they might not even be aware of to an extend that they would try to realize them. But as they join forces, knowledge can flow between them and ideas can take off. The participants are the fuel and the inspirational core of a hackathon. But a cool prototype for a financial technology product does not mean change on multiple levels. Don’t expect to be presented the next big thing, even if there might be the potential of this happening. The strategy to follow is a different one.


You need the experts that know the financial industry and associated fields from A to Z, who live and breathe banking and technology and who are always quick to recognize genius ideas when they pop up - however unformed they might be at that point. These people could be a CTO at an innovative bank, a founder of several unconventional startups, an industry’s thought leader…you name them. Idealistic views and crazy ideas are one thing, a fact-based, experienced and realistic view are still vital to succeed in the long run. You will want industry experts and big players in your jury or functioning as mentors at the event, not only to identify the best ideas. After all, you need powerful allies which believe in the format (spoiler: there are probably more than one would think).


A bankathon is going to take some serious work to kick off – if you plan to harness its effects further and not let them go to waste. Prompting change in a bank is always A LONG JOURNEY. This also applies for this format.
Your organizing team needs to firmly believe in the need to innovate and prompt change. All of you need to be emotional about the problems they identify in the financial system’s status quo. You need to be a little bit obsessed. Most likely, those who plan a bankathon are not the CEOs, CFOs or risk managers of a bank. Which means they might face skepticism and indifference from above at some point. Be prepared to fight for your idea before, while and after the bankathon(s).


Once your team has organized a bankathon, has found great ideas, promising talents and even prototypes that solve an existing problem the bank has, there is still the hardest part to come: to use the results (learnings, contacts, insights, public awareness) to convince the rest of the institution that this is an important part of the banks digitalization strategy. There will be people who won’t believe in it. So you will need to be able to pass on your euphoria about it. Slowly, like a virus, you will contaminate your colleagues. Invite them to join the events to be able to be convinced by the industry experts and authorities. Make the bankathon a community event with representatives from all levels of the food chain involved. And afterwards? Repeat.
As said before, if you want to persuade people to believe in a bankathon as an important part of the bank’s sustainable digitalization strategy, you’d better be prepared to fight for it. It will hurt.

Make a bankathon multiple bankathons

To give you an example: the POST /bank Hackathon Roadshow is currently touring through Germany. Their concept of a bankathon goes beyond a single event and aims at leaving an impression in the community, the industry and – last but not least – in the organizing bank itself.
Not only do the organizers, Germany’s largest private bank Postbank and event agency hack.institute, host three bankathons in different cities to connect the community with the bank, but they strengthen links between the people who meet there by hosting three meetups alternating with the bankathons. The meetups lay focus on connecting industry experts and discussing topics like blockchain, cloud computing, AI, and retail revolution.
This strategy allows for prolonged repercussions of the roadshow and a continued discourse of those involved. It enables the bank’s team to develop a sophisticated strategy to spread the knowledge and clarify the benefits involved within the bank. A series of bankathons plants an idea inside the bank and connects it with valuable touch points, so it can grow stronger, long after the event has ended.

It’s not just fun and games

Hackathons have long been viewed as recruiting events in disguise while they bear so much more potential if you harness the results on all levels – the prototypes and ideas, the participants, PR, your learnings – to make them available for the whole institution.

If you want to learn more about the POST /bank Hackathon Roadshow visit hack.institute/events/post/bank