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Close contact with computer whizzes

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The fifth installment of HackZurich, Europe's largest hackathon, was held in mid-September. Among the attendees was Credit Suisse, making a name for itself as an innovator, partner to the tech community, and attractive employer for university graduates.

Interest was keen, but the criteria were strict. Only 10 percent of the roughly 5,500 individuals from all over the world who registered were allowed to participate in this year's HackZurich. Most of them study at renowned technical universities. "Tough admission criteria are essential to ensure the event's high standards of quality are met," explains Sebastian Isenring from Investment Solutions & Products. Together with several like-minded colleagues from extremely diverse areas of Credit Suisse, he was responsible for Credit Suisse's second participation in HackZurich. This time, the bank even served as a gold sponsor of the event, a clear affirmation that it shares the organizers' values and acknowledges their significance.

Following standard procedure for hackathons, the computer geeks divided up into teams to develop an application to perform a certain task in the optimum manner before a given deadline expired. The teams had a choice of 16 tasks presented to them by big-name companies, both local and international.

Challenge to think entrepreneurially

One year ago, Credit Suisse challenged attendees at the 2017 HackZurich to develop an application that intelligently combined all the data available on a smartphone to generate an investment proposal perfectly tailored to the user.

"This year, we chose a theme related to open banking, which gave the hackers more leeway and was intended to attract a larger number of teams to solve our problem," explains Isenring. The gamble paid off. The number of teams that accepted Credit Suisse's call to "Design Your Dream Bank" was twice as high as last year. "What must an application do in order to satisfy the needs of our clients and be successful on the market?" was the central question. By asking that, the bank was appealing to the innovative spirit of the hackers and challenging them to actively put themselves in the role of the clients of a major bank and to think like entrepreneurs – in exactly the same manner as the bank does. Entrepreneurial thinking is an attitude that is deeply rooted in Credit Suisse's legacy and that drives and guides everything it does.

The participants were allowed to let their imaginations virtually run wild. The teams were able to structure the interaction with the bank however they envisioned. They were permitted to address issues that did not exist before but are sought after, or to suggest how data can create immediate benefits for clients.

The Credit Suisse team with the team that won their challenge

The Credit Suisse team with the team that won their challenge

Fourth from left: Sebastian Isenring

40-hour deadline

The bank presented its problem in two well attended workshops, supplied the teams with data, programming interfaces, and smart gadgets, and reminded them that less is more. Our instructions were very clear: "The application you deliver does not need to be a broad-brush solution. Instead, you can choose one aspect and be more thorough in devising a solution for it. However, you have no more than 40 hours to complete the task."

In order to keep the creativity simmering without interrupting their respective projects, the teams at a hackathon work in shifts. There is no quitting time. While some work late into the night, others recharge their batteries by catnapping on the edge of their desks or in sleeping bags in order to relieve their worn out colleagues in the morning hours. The team members don't take time out for meals. Instead, they snack. That means booming business for the pizza deliverers in and around Zurich. That is simply how things are done and it adds to the appeal of the event. After all, every community has its rituals. The tech community is partially held together by this feeling of "anything goes."

Impressive variety

Since the problem assigned by Credit Suisse was open-ended and left room for interpretation, it was crucial for the bank's officials to provide assistance and close support. Even at three o'clock in the morning, they were on hand to provide help and advice. "I was really impressed with the variety of the prototypes," Isenring says. "For example, one team developed a game to encourage young people to save money. Another one created a tool people could use to assemble their dream car in a virtual space and then discuss financing with the bank. A third team worked on event-based predictions of foreign exchange rates." Future Bank, the team that won the Credit Suisse Challenge, created a remarkable mobile app that provided users with support and advice based on peer analyses, for instance, by showing them savings potential. The winning team will be allowed to present its solution to representatives of the bank's executive management.

Mutual inspiration

"Many of last year's participants approached me and shared their excitement that Credit Suisse would be present again with some familiar faces," notes Isenring. "For me, that was one of the main highlights of the event because it showed me that the bank is perceived as an integral part of the event and of the tech world, and that our sponsorship is paying off." Participants and companies are inspiring one another and engaging in an in-depth exchange. HackZurich thus provided talented individuals from the tech community with an excellent opportunity to get to know Credit Suisse better. Employees from the areas of Experienced & Campus Recruitment and Campus Relations used the opportunity to introduce the bank and its career options, tapping into the global talent pool. Last year, a 2017 HackZurich participant ended up joining the bank. He is not likely to be the last.