Fintech researchers from the University of Stirling are developing a new digital tool that could deliver emergency finance to people during crises such as the coronavirus pandemic.
The blockchain-powered EmFi (Emergency Finance) system would deliver payments from public authorities in the event of a socio-economic crisis.
Through the platform, researchers say payments in the form of ‘digital tokens’ from local councils – or even central banks – could be paid to specific groups of people or particular businesses.
Dr Andrea Bracciali of Stirling’s Faculty of Natural Sciences will lead the design of the EmFi platform as part of a collaboration with Politecnico di Milano and digital technology firm, Cefriel. The project is financed by the Algorand Foundation.
At present, researchers say targeted payments are inefficient, riddled with high administration costs and regularly fail to reach socially isolated people, such as those who do not use a bank.
These are often the people who are most in need of financial support in crises situations, however.
To address this, the EmFi framework fosters greater financial inclusion, using mobile apps and exploring ways to include digitally isolated people through a tokenised digital currency.
“If councils want to help families to buy medicines, incentivise people to shop local, support the hospitality trade, or make a basic income payment to the population, then digital and ‘programmable’ money is the most efficient way to identify, validate and support the beneficiaries,” Dr Bracciali explained.
“Public bodies across the world are grappling with the issue of how to do this in a flexible, efficient, accountable and secure way. Digital money is an innovative technology that could be a far more efficient system than the status quo,” he added.
Developed by MIT professor Silvio Micali, Algorand technology represents a further development in blockchain-supported Distributed Ledger Technology.
According to Dr Bracciali, EmFi ‘tokens’ that would be used in future could not be freely tradeable like other cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, for example.
“Distributed Ledger Technology offers the highest protection against theft, and makes interventions accountable and transparent, which is particularly sensitive in contexts where organised crime is prominent and in emergency scenarios,” he commented.
“The challenge, however, is to establish accountability while guaranteeing privacy, a key right in our digital future,” Dr Bracciali added.
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The EmFi system will be tested in a pilot scheme with the City Council of Milan to deliver payments for textbooks to local primary schools. Cefriel will deliver the prototype and look after the implementation.
“The union of the skills of Stirling, Politecnico and Cefriel is a great added value for the project, which aims to develop a real use case for traceable and fast payment systems,” said Professor Daniele Marazzina of the Politecnico di Milano.
Dr Bracciali said the project represents an opportunity for a Scottish university to showcase the country’s growing reputation as a fintech innovation hub.
“Through this project we want to create connections and develop expertise and know-how that can be transferrable and scalable later on,” he said.
“Scotland’s fintech sector is very lively, we are collaborating with institutions and companies, and we’d like to see it grow further through innovative international projects like this.”