Banking on Refugees: Helping those affected by global conflict to establish an ID and a lifeline to financial services
As stories of international conflicts continue to flood our news feeds, we are inundated with images and videos of devastated refugees making incredibly long and dangerous journeys in search of a new home. Once these refugees are able to settle and begin their new lives, they will be faced with many challenges and needs: Affordable housing, stable employment, and help with integrating into a new culture to name just a few. But though it’s often overlooked, among the most important of their needs is access to financial services. Without these services, refugees and their families are unable to receive timely financial assistance for basic household needs or establish savings to help manage their family finances.
I strongly believe that financial inclusion can be achieved when identities can be easily and reliably confirmed for the unbanked. Having worked in the authentication and fraud space for almost two decades, identity verification is a key component in maintaining the integrity of financial institutions as a whole.
However, for many refugees who may have been forced to quickly and unexpectedly leave their homes, establishing who they are becomes a challenge. In some cases, their identity documents may have been lost or stolen as they fled. For others, they may not have had any government-issued documents to begin with. This can pose a problem for relief organizations as well as refugees.
Take Iraq, for example. Ongoing armed conflict has ravaged both the country and its people, as well as neighboring countries along its borders, such as Syria. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there are over 3 million people in Iraq who have been uprooted from their homes. Many of the newly displaced people are struggling to provide for their basic needs due to their limited financial resources and rising costs of basic food and accommodations. Without passports, the options available to them are very limited, as many are unable to find work or legally travel to other countries to seek a better life.
The global case for action is compelling. As of June 2015, the United Nations estimates there are 60 million refugees around the world, a figure that continues to grow as wars rage on and natural disasters strike. Despite an increasing need, there is a lack of financial inclusion programs that specifically focus on refugees. To raise awareness of this critical situation, the Digital Finance Institute, (DFI) a think tank for financial technology (fintech), is currently working on a financial inclusion project called “Banking on Refugees.”
The DFI, along with key contributors, is scheduled to release a white paper on financial inclusion for refugees on Nov. 1, 2016. The white paper will outline the current problems faced by refugees, aid groups, and banks and will suggest solutions that leverage current technology to facilitate greater access to financial services in conflict zones.
The white paper is just one part of this multi-faceted project. The next step will involve field testing digital payment solutions at a refugee camp as part of a pilot before rolling out a global financial inclusion program using payment solutions. The aim is to create create a refugee bank targeting the refugee population in the Middle East, Africa, the EU, and Asia.
Earlier this week, the DFI presented at Sibos, the world’s premier banking and financial services conference organized by the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT). Sibos is bringing together 7,000 business leaders, decision makers and topic experts from a range of financial institutions, market infrastructures, multinational corporations and technology partners, offering the DFI an excellent venue to build networks and collectively shape the next steps for the Banking on Refugees project.
While much attention is already given to the 2 billion unbanked people highlighted by the World Bank, the proposed solutions do not adequately address the particular challenges and obstacles that refugees face on a daily basis. I am proud that my company, Trulioo, is involved in this very worthwhile project that will greatly improve the lives of tens of millions. At Trulioo, our mission is clear: to build a framework of trust online, to develop best privacy practices, and to advance financial inclusion.
By working together, we can accomplish great things that will have a deep and meaningful impact for the most marginalized in our world.
Jon Jones is President at Trulioo, a global ID verification firm.