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Are artificial intelligence and data the key to attracting and retaining customers?

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Maribel Muñoz (BBVA Creative)

Innovation, teamwork, knowledge acquisition and use of new technological capabilities are essential to developing new products and services that are more in line with customer needs. The BBVA Global Ninja Hackathon accordingly set the challenge of creating a prototype to attract and/or retain customers using artificial intelligence and data, in partnership with IBM. Did anyone manage it?

A hackathon hosted by the Ninja project is a high performance test that uses 'modern learning' methods. Given just two days, a team must build, and then explain to a jury, a minimally viable product that meets the challenge set.

At the 2021 Global Ninja Hackathon, 44 BBVA employees, split into 11 teams from 6 different countries (Argentina, Colombia, Spain, Mexico, Peru and Uruguay) developed prototypes using IBM Cloud technology to help bring customers closer, build loyalty or acquire new customers, leveraging the potential of data and artificial intelligence.

The two companies have partnered to implement the digital talent development program 'Ninja' among employees of Spain's most international beverage group.

The winning team was the Spanish outfit, comprising Jesús Cuesta, Juan Manuel Matalobos, Roberto Abdelkader Martínez and Juan Carlos Cámara, all of whom are BBVA Group employees at, respectively, Infrastructure and Operations, Corporate Security, Innovation Lab and BBVA Next Technologies. This was the first time they were brought together as a team.

The Spanish team unveiled a prototype of a virtual assistant for core banking transactions (inquiries and transfers to contacts) via Telegram, using voice and/or text messages. The assistant provides a web-based interface that authenticates the user for money transactions and displays information when voice functionality is not the right fit, such as transaction listings. In addition, the app uses machine learning to detect transactions that may be fraudulent and is flexible enough to accommodate new functionalities.

According to Juan Manuel Matalobos, "the experience has meant living BBVA's values to the fullest for 48 hours: to get an interesting idea, you have to place the customer center-stage and think big.... and put it into action so quickly that it is only possible if we work as a single team."

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For this Ninja Hackathon, participants had to use IBM Cloud services and Watson's artificial intelligence and analytics, so they had to acquire all the know-how needed to meet the challenge successfully. They received specific training on IBM technology beforehand and acquired new knowledge intensively during the contest itself.

BBVA's Global Head of Engineering and Organization, José Luis Elechiguerra, spoke at the opening of the hackathon, highlighting the need to be constantly learning and evolving. "Ninja is a key lever in the digital transformation of the organization, 'upskilling' and 'reskilling' employees while empowering their talent," he said.

IBM provided the tools and added an additional prize so that the winner of the Hackathon could bring the project to completion using IBM Garage, a comprehensive model for accelerating digital transformation. "It is so gratifying to see how a vague concept became something real that conveyed a business idea effectively," commented Roberto Abdelkader Martínez, a member of the winning team.

"BBVA and IBM share strategic priorities, which is why we have been working together as strategic technology partners. At IBM we are delighted to contribute to move to the next level with cutting-edge technologies in the field of artificial intelligence and data," said Horacio Morell, head of IBM Spain, Portugal, Greece and Israel, at the opening of the Hackathon.

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