DataHack4FI Hackathon

A lesson on the state of insurance and financial inclusion in Zambia.

Team Nemo pitching

Data Science is the new sexiest job — well according to this article and Manoj Chiba a Data Science expert who was one of the judges at the DataHack4FI (pronounced DataHack-for-financial-inclusion), a 2.5 day hackathon that took place at BongoHive two weeks ago.

The aim of the Hackathon was to bring together programmers,data scientist and people from the financial world to build solutions that will increase financial inclusion in Zambia using the sexiest tool in the shed — data!

“It is not easy to detect insurance fraud because of the lack of pooled databases.” — Twaambo

At the launch of the hackathon, panelists discussed the issues affecting the insurance business and among those were the lack of a pooled database — a problem which blackhat insured customers have capitalised on to commit insurance fraud.

Listening to this made me remember one story I was told some time this year — were someone insured the same car with several insurance vendors — then purposely crashed his car and went on a coin collection spree like a character from temple run (and yes I still play temple run).

It was saddening learning about the negative effects of operating without a shared database— especially looking at where technology is right now and how we are still playing catch up with decade(s) old ideas like a central data system.This ties up with the problem that a fellow writer SuperSanusi mentioned in the highly recommended article titled “The way we learn is broken”:

“For some weird reason, Africa is only now learning to build stuff that was built a long time ago. Everyone else is building for the future.” — SuperSanusi

SuperSanusi statement is profoundly true — in a time when computers can understand natural language and see—is when financial service proivders are discovering the importance of shared databases on a countrywide level or in this case on an industry wide level.

To be truthful — I am glad that insurance companies and other financial service providers have seen that they cannot afford to operate as silos anymore — because there is a lot of innovation that happens with shared data. My hope is that this realization will lead to policy changes that will lead to situations were one can pay their monthly insurance premium using third party software or services like the almost ubiquitous mobile money.

In a way this policy change is already happening as evident by the hackathon — by bringing together young developers, participating financial instuitions were able to tap into a forward thinking set of young Zambians that managed to find innovative ways of dealing with the problem of low financial inclusion.

The ideas that were pitched ranged from apps to teach people about the importance of insurance — which is one of core issues affecting the adoption of the service( according to FSDZ only 3% are insured in Zambia) — to ideas that promise to disrupt the popular traditional “Chilimba” group saving system by using machine learning to make recommendations on who should join which savings group — who would have thought?

Team I-Click being asked questions by the Judges

One idea that broke everyone was this hardware device by Team I-Click which is a medicine dispenser that was just short of transforming into one of autobots— it had a tray for medicine,a touch screen for setting alarms, and is able to record whether one has taken their meds or not.The team lead pitched this device as a new way of tracking the medical intake of those on medical insurance.

To conclude the DataHack4FI was another great example of the power of bringing together people to solve real problems — especially the issue of low financial inclusion.In as much as the judges postponing the announcing of the winning team to the 25th of April felt a bit anti-climatic — it was the right call as it gives the teams time to perfect the various areas they lacked in. For now we will just have to wait for the 25th to find out which team will get to go to Kigali.

<praise> The catering was out of this world. </praise>

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