For the second year in a row, First National Bank of Omaha is bringing coffee and food carts into its headquarters and this time cots and massage therapists as well.
The perks will be there to help 36 programmers endure First National's weekend-long hackathon a type of competition common in the tech world but rarely hosted by banks, and even more rarely by rural community banks.
First National sees the hackathon as a way to get closer to talented technologists, inspire new thinking in an industry in desperate need of digital transformation and give the bank's brand some edge.
Typically, financial institutions have a hard time recruiting individuals who may prefer to work at say, Google, over a bank. Events like First National's coding competition could help it connect with prospective hires who may not otherwise have considered a profession in banking.
The bank has not implemented the tech suggested by the winners of last year's contest, but it did collect something tangible from its investment: it hired two people who participated in the inaugural hackathon.
"Forty-eight hours of my life is a little exhausting, but [it's] well worth it in the end," said Angela Garrett, vice president of innovation and enterprise solutions for First National Bank of Omaha, a subsidiary of First National of Nebraska.
From Sept. 12-14, a dozen teams of three members each will compete to solve a specific problem they will discover only at the start of the event. They will have 48 hours to tackle the software challenge with cash prizes as a lure and energy drinks, food and intermittent prizes as fuel.
Most of the other banks to host hackathons have been large, international institutions. JPMorgan Chase, for example, hosted a coding contest in 2013 to help benefit several nonprofits. Barclays has hosted several hackathons in Europe. Bank Leumi in Israel is gearing up to host a hackathon for apps related to online payments, user experience, social media, small and midsize businesses, gamification, and the "Internet of Things" in October.
The $17 billion-asset First National of Omaha heavily markets its Code One 2.0 challenge to local colleges. (Omaha is an emerging hotbed for startups.)
The event should help the bank take advantage of the startup scene in Omaha while fostering a reputation as an organization that inspires interest in creating banking apps, said Stessa Cohen, a research director at Gartner.
The hackathon also underscores the need for financial institutions to seek out innovation, said Mark Schwanhausser, director of omnichannel financial services for Javelin Strategy & Research.
"There's a whole lot of ingenuity that can be applied to anything and everything," said Schwanhausser.
In last year's Code One challenge, teams of programmers tried to find fresher ways to collect feedback from the bank's digital customers. At the time, First National Bank of Omaha had just overhauled its online banking platform and launched a mobile app and wanted to elicit comments on its updates, said Garrett.
Jeff Joneson, a contestant in last year's hackathon, is now a programmer at the bank. Joneson, who found out about the competition from his dad who worked at First National, says the hackathon was his big break to work as a professional technologist.
"It was my first chance to test my mettle," said Joneson.
Tom Ortega, a principal at the consulting firm Omega Ortega and serial hackathon competitor, participated in First National's event last year and is coming back to Omaha to participate again. Last year, his team got face time with First National's chief information officer, Jim Cole.
"This is a great way to go meet the players and establish relationships," said Ortega. "I couldn't just drive to Omaha and ask to hang out with Jim Cole for a few hours. Here is an opportunity where the bank is saying, 'come out and let us get to know you.'"