Fintech’s or financial technology start-ups are to the banking sector what UBER is to the taxi industry. Brash, young and disruptive, Fintech’s are unsettling established financial services pathways with new innovations, like peer to peer lending, and dirt cheap international money transfers.

Often run by a t-shirt wearing brigade of millennials, Fintech’s have been quick to find a social conscience, directing their expertise to problem solving for disposed refugees.

With 60 million refugees estimated in the world today it’s a vast problem, and traditional methods of doling out aid with cash payments are often inefficient, and can lead to crime syndicates being established inside camps.

To put it in perspective, if the entire population of the United Kingdom was tomorrow made homeless and had to flee, it would be equivalent to the size of the current refugee crisis.

And for many refuges the decision to leave is similar to those fleeing bushfires. There is little time to prepare, and it can be a matter of running out the front door, and not stopping till you find refuge.

For the financial services industry that creates a big issue, for even if a disposed person can access services, they likely have little or no identification, or their accounts are in institutions now run by the people they are fleeing from.

Pilot program for refugee financial inclusion

Fintech not-for-profit think tank and financial innovator, Canadian-based Digital Finance Institute (DFI), is piloting a project called “Banking on Refugees”.

“We have been working on refugee payments and a Refugee Bank for about a year DFI executive director, Christine Duhaime, told BPAY Banter.

“We started out with the thought of just doing refugee payments, but it's as much infrastructure and investment in terms of time to launch payments as it is to launch a bank, and in reality what refugees need is banking relationships for financial inclusion, so we graduated to the Refugee Bank.

And DFI is bringing the latest digital revolutions to meet the challenge.

Blockchain technology to help refugees

Duhaime says DFI is focusing on using the Blockchain for “client ID and “on-boarding”

Blockchaining is normally associated with Bitcoin, but the innovation has the potential to revolutionise the internet.

For the refugee bank it means all transactions on the network can be tracked and displayed, and cannot be tampered with or deleted without detection. It’s a technology offering the ultimate in accountability, and for the refugee bank it would ensure credibility in disbursements.

But it’s not the only issue DFI faces in bring the bank into reality.

Help needed to navigate issues

DFI’s journey over the past 12 months has thrown up unique issues, like cultural, and language barriers, and even US and UN imposed sanctions.

Duhaime says for the Refugee Bank to work it requires a presence in the Middle East, in an area free of conflict.

DFI has chosen Iran, and is working with a company that is in close proximity to the refugee crisis to form part of the launch platform.

“We are waiting for sanctions to be lifted to be able to engage with Iran fully, says Duhaime. “And working with Iran also puts us in closer contact with UNICEF, to enable financial inclusion for children who are heads of households but denied banking services.

White paper out this month

DFI has also produced a white paper to formalise its approach to starting the bank, and enlisting help from key stakeholders, like the United Nations.

The white paper is currently being reviewed by its contributors and Duhaime expects it to be released late November.

Duhaime says there have been amazing offers of support from corporates across the globe, and that as the project moves to a more formal outreach process, the challenge will be to bring those offers of support together tom make the project a reality.
This article represents the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of BPAY.
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