This next startup touches on something that many of us take for granted. Suppose you’re at the mall and you see a scarf your mother would just love or suppose you ran out of the house for work this morning and forgot to take your lunch but you know there’s a cafe nearby.
In both of these circumstances, you don’t have to rely on cash, the proliferation of various apps and cashless systems means that all you have to do is reach for your debit or credit card.
Similarly, when it’s payday you just have to wait for the dough to roll in, most people don’t have to go to a check cashing business or wait for a check in the mail. For those of us who rely on the convenience of bank accounts and the products and services that come with them, we may have never considered what it’s like to live without them.
For some it’s a matter of past debts to other financial institutions which were not paid off, for others, who cannot afford a proper ID or afford an updated ID it’s a matter of paperwork but for some of the most vulnerable groups in our society, like refugees, asylum seekers and those who have no homes to go to, the issue is exacerbated by poor life circumstances.
Today’s startup Taqanu may be able to change that! Using their Blockchain based, digital identity platform, they’ve created a system where all you need to have access to the same products and services of a traditional bank account is a smartphone. This technology is groundbreaking for many people who cannot or do not have traditional bank accounts but especially for refugees and asylum seekers.
With an identity formed using Blockchain and our Abacus Fabric technology; we are allowing for access to the financial and social services that will accelerate integration into new lives and new homes.
With Taqanu, instead of users being asked for identification to open an account, they can use their smartphone. You may remember from prior articles that refugees and asylum seekers are likely to travel with their smartphones to keep in touch with family and friends, travel through unfamiliar lands relying on their network and navigate their way to safety.
This may seem odd but if you’re forced to flee your home very suddenly, sometimes with only what you have on you, you’re a lot more likely to have your phone than your papers. Furthermore, in conditions where travel papers may have never been owned (perhaps due to financial or mobility status), they are more likely to have their cell phone than a passport.
Once the user installs the app on their phone, it can track their information using digital data like social networking sites to prove their identities. The user can create a "reputation network" where they ask those closest to them to vouch for them so it can be proven they are who they say they are when no other proof of their identity exists.
In addition to networking identification, the user can also submit photos of any identification proofs they do have like papers from their refugee camp or a work ID. The user is then constantly authenticated throughout the time they use the app. This gives them a digital footprint which acts as a source of identity for their bank account.
This is not only good news for basic things like receiving aid, purchasing items and getting paid for work but it’s also a way to allow people their dignity and expedite integration. The sooner they are able to take control over their own finances and ensure their economic stability, the easier it will be for them to do things like pay rent an apartment, pay bills, buy groceries, save funds or send and receive money. Having a bank account can also be the first step for those hoping to rebuild their lives.
Without proof of who you are financial services are limited. Just think of how many apps, payment websites and transfer services rely entirely on your bank account information.
Another concern is that when operating on a cash-only system, the propensity to be wrapped up in illegal or exploitive schemes is increased because paying cash all the time, especially when the user is unable to prove who they are, means that there is no paper trail.
Once their identity is re-established, they will be able to access essential services. This use of technology will accelerate financial inclusion, and enable relief agencies to focus on their core mission.
Taqanu’s mission can best be described by their hashtag #banking4all. There are many ways to approach integration and inclusion and this is one of them. What makes their startup so important is that it gives people, whether refugees or other marginalized groups, the opportunity to have access to one of the most common human needs.
Besides being able to conduct transactions in an unrestricted, efficient matter the importance of having a bank account for these groups is invaluable because when you can’t prove who you are and you can’t trace your transactions, the extent to which you can be made into a victim skyrockets.
In the future, they’re hoping to partner with banks so that customers can be offered at least basic banking services and some kind of debit card. Of course, there are serious federal laws that banks have to comply with to ensure that money is being earned and used appropriately but it would be amazing to see what becomes of these partnerships and if banks can do more for refugees.
Banking isn’t the first thing we think when it comes to human rights but in a world where finance and commerce are so intertwined with our ability to access basic services and be extended basic rights (like fair pay), I would argue that the right to have an account (and therefore, an identity) is a 21st century human right.