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Fintech in Finland Bringing Blockchain to Refugees

Seniors Nick Courtney, Michael McRoskey, and Soren Kyhl travelled to Finland to investigate a new technology called blockchain, which has the potential to revolutionize refugee resettlement, banking, and much more.

Red Cross Refugee Center, Helsinki

A New Type of Debit Card

Our first stop was to meet with a few special asylum seekers who were benefiting from a new blockchain technology. They had been issued prepaid debit cards by a startup called "MONI" because they did not have the identification necessary to open up a bank account. Because of these cards, they were able to stabilize their finances and gain employment. We wanted to know: what's so special about these MONI cards?

MONI Headquarters

We visited the headquarters of the new Fintech company in downtown Helsinki. Through MONI, asylum seekers who do not have the credentials to open a bank account can gain access to a debit card. These cards are special because they are not hosted in a traditional bank, but on the "blockchain" distributed network. This new project is supported by a unique partnership with the Finnish Immigration Service, who orders debit cards from MONI and distributes them to refugees in order to administer their monthly welfare payments digitally.

Ville Sointu, Head of Blockchain at Nordea Bank

Blockchain in Banking

On a higher level, we met with technical professionals to more thoroughly understand how blockchain - the distributed ledger technology that makes MONI’s peer-to-peer payments possible - actually works. We met with the Head of Distributed Ledger Technology at Nordea, the 9th largest bank in Europe, who described the grassroots mobile payment systems present in some African countries and how blockchain might be utilized to securely verify identities of undocumented people before they migrate to Europe.

Cutting Edge Research

Dr. Timo Seppala, a blockchain researcher from Aalto University, offered his academic perspective on how the blockchain might be used to transform other industries. He described a trusted platform for homeowners and interested buyers to make real estate transactions and a concept for an underground electric vehicle charging station which automatically begins charging when a car stops near a station selling fuel below the customer’s desired price point. Dr. Seppala envisions blockchain technology as a means of decentralizing transactions and giving individuals greater control over their information across a variety of industries.

Timo Seppala, Aalto Univ.

... But we didn't stay in Finland

Baltic Sea. (Estonia: 30 mi.)

Estonia

Finally, we travelled across the Baltic Sea to talk to representatives from the Estonian government, who has begun to run their country entirely on a blockchain network. Since their founding 26 years ago, they have offered digital services to all their citizens: online tax filing, voting, driver's licence, etc. These services are now being integrated into a giant countrywide blockchain. In addition, they have recently offered an e-residency program which allows anyone in the EU to gain access to these benifits. They hope to provide a full "sovereign digital identity" in this blockchain system for their residents, which would prove to be more transparent and secure than any existing system, and which would allow their country to continue operating digitally- even if the physical infrastructure didn't exist.

A Bright Future

The introduction of blockchain technology in Europe is on the leading edge of innovation. It is a technology poised to disrupt many industries, and the nature of future influential blockchain applications are yet unknown. Fintech startups like MONI are employing the blockchain to serve unbanked and underbanked populations, including a growing demographic of refugees and asylum seekers. However, on a larger scale, banks and even countries have begun to take notice of the potential for blockchain to revolutionize our lives. Though in it's infancy, the idea of a sovereign digital identity held on a decentralized blockchain may intertwine our lives even more tightly with the digital while opening up structures in society never before seen.

Thank You!

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