Program Helps Refugees Open Bank Accounts By Giving Them Digital Identities
A conceptual application could help refugees lacking identity paperwork by going through their digital footprints
Refugees face numerous challenges when they enter a new country, from finding a place to stay to having to learn a new language. Some countries and cities also have requirements refugees are unable to fulfill; for example, in Berlin, a person must have a bank account in order to rent an apartment. Refugees often lack the necessary paperwork, including proof of identity, to open a bank account, so the startup Taqanu developed an alternative. Taqanu’s concept allows refugees to use their smartphones to prove identity by drawing from their digital footprints.
Taqanu created an application that browses through a user’s digital life. The app also reaches out to contacts to create a reputation network, requesting help from others to verify a person’s identity. Refugees can upload pictures of paperwork from previous camps or locations to build evidence about who they are. The application could also help a refugee establish a new credit score to demonstrate reliability.
Taqanu’s founder Balázs Némethi drew from his own experiences attempting to apply for bank accounts in foreign countries and wanted to make the process easier for people likely to have limited access to documentation.
Taqanu has drawn the attention of larger companies, including Microsoft and the accounting company Deloitte. Microsoft representative Daniel Buchner appealed to Taqanu to market to partners beyond humanitarian organizations, a recognition of the app’s value for general users in the open market.
Taqanu faces a large challenge in regulation, as regulators must approve the service before it can launch. The company has entered discussions with regulators, but the timeline for arriving at a decision remains unclear. In July 2017, Taqanu will attend the G20 summit in Hamburg to present their concept to central bankers and policymakers.
European regulators, bankers, and policymakers will have the final say on whether Taqanu’s product is permitted and to what extent refugees will be able to use it after settling in a new country.
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Yael Maguire is an engineering director for the Facebook Connectivity Lab and a visiting scientist at Harvard. He is the co-founder of Plum Labs, an early stage mobile innovation lab, and co-founder and former CTO of ThingMagic, Inc., a leader in bringing long-range RFID readers to the global market. At Facebook, Yael is directly responsible for identifying and developing ways to provide affordable internet in underserved communities around the world. He is leading Facebook and Internet.org’s efforts to develop lasers, high altitude long endurance planes and satellites to help provide the necessary infrastructure for connectivity to these areas. He has been recognized as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum 2009-2013, a MassHighTech All-Star in 2007, and one of Technology Review's "Top 35 innovators in the world under 35" in 2005.