Person calculating bills.

ASU students use TIAA tech and generative AI to create retirement savings app

Fintech Collab Hack gathers learners, industry experts, and the university to develop strategies that enhance financial literacy.

If you had a few days to brainstorm and solve the financial pain point of saving for retirement, with whom would you work to solve it?

That's precisely what the recent Fintech Collab Hack did with its sponsors, including TIAA Client Tech Labs, ASU, and the AZNext Digital Workforce Apprenticeship Partnership (DWAP). Held at Creativity Commons from Nov. 3-5, 2023, the event gathered 29 ASU students and several industry leaders to create solutions promoting financial literacy.

"This hackathon is only one of the ways we get our students engaged in new technologies with local partners, such as TIAA, and help them upskill for the modern workforce," said Rob Buelow, program director for AZNext.

The Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America (TIAA), a leading retirement and outcome-focused investment solutions provider to millions of people and thousands of institutions, launched Client Tech Labs in January. The coalition of higher-education institutions like ASU and industry leaders work with TIAA to create fintech and other technology solutions.

"We view the ever-evolving world of technology as an endless opportunity to serve and delight our clients," said Sastry Durvasula, TIAA chief information and client services officer. "With Client Tech Labs, TIAA focuses on client co-innovation, the integration of emerging technology, FinTech incubation, crowdsourcing, and partnerships with research and industry leaders."

The TIAA fintech challenge

Participants in the hackathon were tasked with developing a comprehensive, engaging, and interactive solution that leveraged generative AI to educate and engage Gen Z users on the essentials of retirement savings. TIAA encouraged using games or interactive elements to provide entertainment value to the solution.

"The ultimate goal of the challenge was to create awareness among the Gen Z population around retirement and the importance of saving early in your career," Buelow says.

The Client Tech Labs cloud platform and APIs (application programming interfaces) were the foundation of the hackathon, providing participants with a technological blank canvas to express their creativity.

All hackers were onboarded to the Client Tech Labs AWS platform overview of the power of generative AI before the start of the hack. They also received training in AWS cloud computing and Google's generative AI tools.

The winning fintech idea

Among the innovative solutions presented, the top idea that stood out was a dynamic avatar-based app. The concept aimed to transform retirement savings into a rewarding financial journey, building the habit of making small investments over time. Congratulations go to ASU students Kasyap Rachuri (BS Computer Science '26), Nikhil Menghani (BS Psychology/Biochemistry '26), Pranav Nadimpalli (BS Electrical Engineering '26), and Sameer Bhagavatula (BS Computer Science '26). They won a fully funded summer internship to make gamified apps for education with TIAA and housing in Charlotte, North Carolina.

"The fintech hackathon was the perfect platform for participants to showcase their skills," said Buelow, "and it highlighted the crucial role of generative AI in making financial literacy more accessible and engaging."

Second and third-place winners received a TIAA trophy, and all participants earned a digital credential.

Panelists included John Almasan, head of TIAA Client Tech Labs and AI Center of Excellence; Raghu Santanam, executive director of DWAP; Mina Johnson, associate research professor of psychology; and Amanda Federico, AZNext Lab management intern. The support team included Lev Gonick, ASU chief information officer; Bonnie Wilde, executive director of partnerships for development, mobility, and smart cities, enterprise technology, and web application and Salesforce; Olivia Herneddo, lead experience designer at ASU Enterprise Technology; Usha Jagannathan, faculty associate of information systems; Buelow; Durvasula; Laurie Brown-Goodwine, TIAA director of technology partnerships – acceleration and culture transformation CS&T; and Gabriela Mendieta, TIAA program manager of strategic innovation and technology.

As the financial landscape continues to evolve, events like these play a pivotal role in shaping the future, driving progress, and ensuring that the next generation is well-equipped to navigate the complexities of retirement planning.

Buelow said it was a very successful event and that they hope to partner with TIAA again and offer additional hackathons.

"I was impressed with the innovation the students from ASU brought to the hackathon, and Client Tech Labs looks forward to seeing their ideas come to fruition," said Almasan.

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