Coding in Karachi: Highlights from the Mobile Money Hackathon

Pakistan has seen diverse innovation in digital financial services in recent years among start-ups and established organisations alike, coupled by concerted collaboration between government and industry stakeholders to further financial inclusion. With that context in mind, Karachi was an easy and exciting choice of location for our first Asia-based Mobile Money Hackathon, which took place in early October in partnership with Telenor Bank Pakistan, JazzCash and Karandaaz Pakistan.

The central goal of the hackathon was to test the harmonised mobile money APIs, jointly designed by key industry stakeholders in 2016 to ensure best practice and to reduce fragmentation in the fast-growing mobile money industry. The first mobile money API use cases – merchant payments and bill payments – which are now live with Telenor Pakistan and are undergoing final implementation processes with JazzCash, were implemented by both providers for the Karachi event.

We welcomed a total of fourteen teams, setting a new Mobile Money Hackathon record with over seventy participants competing over the weekend of intense coding. The common challenges, completed by all teams, integrated both Telenor Bank and JazzCash platforms and focused on merchant payments and money transfer to mobile accounts. Teams also had the option of tackling an additional six challenges which were specific to either the Telenor Bank or JazzCash API.

The teams presented their concepts and demonstrations to a panel made up of Telenor Bank’s Chief Financial Services Officer Yahya Khan, Rehan Aktar, Director of Digital Financial Services at Karandaaz Pakistan, Muddassar Nazar, Head of Product Development at JazzCash, and Gunnar Camner, the GSMA’s Mobile Money Services Director.

On-demand video doctor services, digitised parking fine payments, doorstep cash deposits via app-requested agents and flight payments by mobile money instalments were among the array of innovative solutions presented. Features including chatbots, machine learning and voice recognition were testament to the ambition and innovation demonstrated by all teams, providing the panel with the challenge of choosing the stand-out solutions.

After much deliberation, awards were presented on Sunday afternoon with all fourteen teams receiving commemorative hackathon plaques sponsored by Karandaaz Pakistan. The organisers’ special prize was awarded to the PIA team, representing Pakistan’s national airline, for their sophisticated solution and commitment to embracing and integrating new technologies into their established business models.

The Judges’ Recognition Award went to Team DotCash for a convincing pitch and actionable use case for SMEs, which comprise 90% of Pakistan’s 3.2 million businesses. Each team member walked away with a Go Pro action camera. Our runners-up were the Paysys Lab team whose Facebook Messenger bot, leveraging artificial intelligence for merchant payments, impressed the panel with its user-friendly interface and clever integration of Pakistan’s most popular social network. Team Paysys received accelerated access to Cohort 2 of Telenor Bank’s Velocity programme, along with Sony Extra Bass Headphones from the GSMA.

Finally, the Mobile Money Hackathon first prize winners were Team Queno who smoothly leveraged the Telenor and JazzCash APIs to improve parent-teacher communications, facilitating the payment of extracurricular and lunch fees via mobile money. Their prizes, including expenses-paid tickets to Mobile World Congress from the GSMA and Samsung Gear VR headsets and access to Telenor Bank’s Velocity Cohort Four, were presented by Telenor Bank President & CEO Shahid Mustafa.


Below are some comments from the judges on the event and the impact of mobile money APIs on Pakistan’s DFS landscape.

The event was testimony to the fact that Pakistan is the market for start-ups and fintechs these days. I was blown away by some of the innovative ideas, the level of active participation, teams’ desire to win and their grasp of the context of hackathon in terms of consuming the open APIs and using them to the advantage of their apps. I look forward to many more in the months and years ahead.
– Yahya Khan, Chief Financial Services Officer, Telenor Bank

The MFS hackathon was first of its kind event organized in Pakistan and I was happy to see all the players collaborating together for the betterment of the industry. Many innovative ideas were presented and payment APIs were used to complete the product offering. I hope that similar events will be organized in future for the growth of the industry.
– Muddassar Nazar, Head of Product Development, JazzCash

My main takeaway was that the enthusiasm I witnessed by the developers, as well as the Digital Financial Service providers, is a clear sign that the market is ripe for collaboration and innovation. This would definitely unlock a lot of possibilities, which is a very good development.
– Rehan Aktar, Director of Digital Financial Services, Karandaaz Pakistan

This was the first hackathon where we had the two leading mobile money providers coming together in a market adopting the same API specifications. Their close collaboration, combined with the level of ambition and sophistication of the solutions developed, was truly a testament to the value of the industry jointly adopting a modern payments API. It clearly shows the way forward for the industry to digitise the economies in which they operate.
– Gunnar Camner, Mobile Money Services Director, GSMA

Please enjoy highlights from the hackathon in the below video produced by our event partners Karandaaz Pakistan, and watch this space for the next event in the Mobile Money Hackathon series in early 2018!

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