The human cost of financial exclusion was the central focus of Money2020's first blockchain panel in 2016.
Putting a focus on applications for identity, the panel session saw BanQu CEO and co-founder Ashish Francis Thomas Gadnis discuss the impact blockchain technology solutions could have on quality of life in emerging markets, in situations such as the ongoing refugee crisis in Syria.
"Think about that family that got bombed out of Aleppo... that mother in Congo. She has land, she has a cell phone, she has an immunization record, yet she's not bankable because she doesn't have an economic identity," he said.
In this light, Gadnis discussed how blockchain could enable a way for the underbanked to "collect their own data" and leverage it to secure more equitable financial products.
Gadnis told the audience:
He further argued it remains difficult for those in the developing world to leverage their full range of assets and history to secure financial projects. Founded in 2015, Texas-based BanQu is said to have pilots in Somalia focused on blockchain use cases.
CEO Micah Winkelspecht, however, continued this argument by extending it to the enterprise. In his remarks, he focused on healthcare, a key business area for the startup that has so far raised $12m.
"In most jurisdictions by law you own your own health data, it is not eMARS data. But in practicality, how many people take custody of their data?" Winkelspecht asked.
Elsewhere, both panel participants agreed that blockchain is "underrated" by the public in terms of understanding its value in the emerging market and its use as a vehicle for financial inclusion more broadly.
As for how much value that market could have for businesses serving this market, Gadnis suggested the number could be in the millions.
"It's a $550m opportunity people are not looking at seriously," he said.
One or many?
However, one of the more interesting discussion points took place when Santander InnoVentures' Pascal Bouvier, the panel's moderator, asked whether problems with identity could be solved by a single blockchain or multiple blockchains.
Here, Winkelspecht argued that it was likely to be implemented over multiple blockchains, given that identity is, in the view of the panelists, contextual. For example, he spoke about how a "self-sovereign" identity could then receive information from other data points, but give more control over the data to the user.
"The number you announce should be public," Winkelspecht said. "This identity is mapped to me, but I can reveal which attributes I want to share. Blockchains you can create a unique number for every transactions. It has massive implications for how we do identity."
Elsewhere, Winkelspecht said he believes it's unlikely that any large institution (be it the United Nations or some other global body) could get all of the world's organizations to use a common technology for identity.
"There's a lot of work going toward developing a common protocol for this, but getting people to agree on protocols is very difficult," he said.
Money2020 image via Shutterstock
CoinDesk is an award-winning media outlet that covers the cryptocurrency industry. Its journalists abide by a strict set of editorial policies. In November 2023, CoinDesk was acquired by the Bullish group, owner of Bullish, a regulated, digital assets exchange. The Bullish group is majority-owned by Block.one; both companies have interests in a variety of blockchain and digital asset businesses and significant holdings of digital assets, including bitcoin. CoinDesk operates as an independent subsidiary with an editorial committee to protect journalistic independence. CoinDesk offers all employees above a certain salary threshold, including journalists, stock options in the Bullish group as part of their compensation.