All-Female Team Wins PNC Hack-A-Thon With Health Care And Finance App

Jan 31, 2017

In 24 hours, an all-female team of hackers called “Codebusters” created an app allowing people to manage their family finances and health needs all in one place.

They were the winning team at PNC’s second annual employee hack-a-thon.

“Really, when we walked into the door it was kind of a sprint and everything came together a couple of hours towards the end of yesterday and here we are today,” said Codebuster team member Becca Smith. “And now I know some women who want to sleep.”

Each Codebuster went home with $3,000 for their overnight work, as well as three extra vacation days.

Last week, 275 PNC employee from 14 states gathered in downtown Pittsburgh for the hack-a-thon to “disrupt how PNC does banking," according to senior vice president for innovation Laura Ritz.

“We have teams spread across three floors, in two buildings that are actively coding as we speak to try to do the next great thing for banking,” Ritz said during the first few hours of the event.

The participants were given access to all of the technology at the bank’s disposal, seemingly acres of white boards, snacks and gallons of Gatorade and Red Bull.

All of the participants volunteered to lose a night’s sleep to take part.

“About half of the folks here are developers, like what you would think of as your typical technology team, and another group of folks are actually line of business representatives who have no technology background,” Ritz said. “They’re here … to provide that business expertise to help guide how and what solutions we provide.”

The teams focused on three broad tasks, including providing real-time pay solutions for clients, supporting personal healthcare management and making the process of opening new business accounts easier.

Team No. 12 worked on the latter. Team member Paul Kohler said their idea was to use the augmented reality provided by Microsoft’s HoloLens, which generates holograms of people and objects, to smooth the process.

The team aimed to create a technology that would allow a user to look at documents from current accounts and have the information populate their new accounts.

Team 12 gets to work on its "hack."
Credit Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

“The beauty of the HoloLens is that Skype already integrates with it, so at the gesture of a button it kind of pops open a window with somebody you are familiar with and have a conversation while you are walking through the process,” Kohler said.

Another team on the other side of the room worked on a health-related solution. The app they designed enabled someone to tell Apple's Siri or Amazon's Alexa that they were about to go to the hospital and all of their information would be shared with the receptionists and doctors by the time they walk through the door.

Team member Adam Schrecengost said it would also help the user understand how much a visit to the hospital might cost, as well as help the hospital manage its finances.     

“You have these insurance plans that are becoming increasingly high deductible, but people don’t know what they are paying for," he said. "So we are trying to think of ways to attack helping consumers pay for it while at the same time helping hospitals lower the amount of bad debt."

Team Red Zone’s Eric Zwiebel worked in one corner of the room on a health care-related solution, as well. He was part of last year's hack-a-than, or API fest as PNC calls it. He said he looked forward to year two.

“I’m from mortgage, so we deal with mortgages and loans and loan servicing," Zwiebel said. "So the opportunity to branch out an look at health care and things like that is a neat opportunity."

In 24 hours, the teams fine-tuned their concepts, wrote code and built presentations.

The following afternoon, the sleep-deprived teams gathered in an auditorium as judges announced the winners. Though Codebusters won the grand prize, several other teams were awarded smaller prizes. 

PNC President and CEO Bill Demchak visited all of the teams during the first afternoon and he watched the final presentations. He said it’s a great event.

“It engages the employees at a level of the firm that really understand the problems that our clients face,” Demchak said. “It allows them to innovate and solve problems for our clients in a way that’s fun, that builds teams from random parts of the company. They have a good time and we get great products out of it."

The project from Codebusters will be sent to the company’s technology development lab for more work and according to organizers, other ideas could also make their way into the lab.