Creating a Bank 737 Addon: Bank1337


Last month was my worst month living in Nigeria. We had a fuel scarcity and systemic failure of our electricity supply.

Surprisingly, last month was when I got the most inspiration I have received this decade. Funny how adversity leads to opportunity.

In the course of my activities last month, I had to transfer money to a friend. My token was forgotten at home so I asked my colleagues to help me make the transfer. I went round the office begging someone to take cash from me and make the transfer to my friend all to no avail.

In the course of going round the office, a colleague told me about the Bank 737 shortcode service from GTB. I was skeptical at first that it would work but when I tried it, it worked and I felt the feeling you get when you have found a solution to a problem after years of searching.

That same week I made use of the service again. I was annoyed that I had to type in *737* for each operation. Being a programmer, I decided to create a solution to the problem rather than complain about it.

I realized that GTB already has a mobile application for funds transfer but without your token, it doesn’t work. On the other side of the fence is the Bank 737 shortcode service. Bank1337 is an intermediate solution between the two products.

Once I got the idea, the rest was easy. As I was looking to create a prototype, I decided to develop it using App Inventor. App Inventor is a drag and drop programming environment for creating Android applications.

I initially thought of calling it Bank737 but I decided that I didn’t want to risk GTB coming after me. I am a Jedi not a Sith. I don’t want anything that would insinuate that I am on the dark side of the force.

Once I settled on a name for the application, I created the project in App Inventor and started working on getting the operation of buying airtime to work.

The first tests were all failures. In creating this application, I found a subtle limitation to using App Inventor. The task of sending shortcodes something I had never done before so I had to find out how to get it done.

Once I confirmed that the application could carry out the purchase of airtime, I extended it for other operation of the Bank 737 shortcode service.

In case you don’t have the operations memorised, the image below shows all of them.

BANK 737

Although I didn’t have to code, it took more that a month to get the entire application completed. I was busy with other things and also working on tutorials for Android Development for Everyday People.

The only other area where I had a bit of trouble was implementing the Startimes Bill Payment. The trouble came from the fact that I am not a Startimes subscriber so I didn’t have a Startimes Card.

As a result, I had to search for a Startimes Card. I found one online by visiting the Startimes Customer Support Page. Getting the right search phrase took a while and slowed down the completion of this project. Once I found a Startimes Card Number, I counted the number of digits and used it for error checking in Bank1337.

The entire premise of Bank 737 is simplicity. It represents an attempt by GTB to capture the unbanked population of Nigeria so any application built on top of it must be simple, accurate and convenient.

In my own way, I tried to make an application that would check for input errors before the user initiates the service. Testing of this was done using BlueStacks which is an application that allows you run Android apps on your machine.

Creating mobile applications using App Inventor is really easy. Once you have assembled your code, you click on the Build link in the menu and save to your machine.

Once you have an apk file on your local machine, you should test your application. In my case, I tested for errors using BlueStacks and tested the calling functionality using a phone.

At the end of the day, Bank1337 works as a frontend for the Bank 737 service. It saves the user from the hassle of typing *737* everytime they want to perform an operation. It is simple, accurate and convenient.

I have published the sourcecode to the App Inventor Gallery so you don’t have to download my app if you are not comfortable with apps of this nature.

The Bank1337 application is available on the Google Play Store. You can check it out there. Have a great week.