It’s a big statement, but Fintech startup BanQu has vowed to end extreme poverty by creating Economic Identities for the unbanked through Blockchain. Image source.
BanQu was founded by Ashish Ghadnis and Hamse Warfa. For the past year, it has looked to create economic identities for 2.7 billion unbanked people globally, driving financial and social inclusion.
But BanQu is driven by something much greater than a desire to set up a profitable business
Co-founder Hamse Warfa is a former Kenya refugee. Aged just 12, Hamse fled his home in Kenya with his family, leaving behind everything including their identities. Two decades on, Hamse had secured a doctorate in public administration at Hamline University and a respectable job with Margaret A. Cargill Foundation, which he left to start BanQu.
This experience of being a refugee helped Hamse realise the criticality of economic and social identity.
The average stay for a refugee in a camp is 17 years. Some of our most formative years are between 12 and 29, as Hamse would have been at the end of a 17-year stay. In developed countries, many of us learn so much about ourselves through incredibly important experiences that occur between these ages. These include getting our first part-time job, reaching adulthood, heading off to university, opening our first adult bank accounts, taking our first steps on the career ladder and moving into our first property. By 29, many have even got married or started to grow their family.
Going back to the original point, 17 years in a refugee camp is such a significant amount of our lives. This long duration of economic exclusion is compounded by high poverty settings that refugees live in, given that 90% of refugees come from regions considered economically less developed.
A Passion Shared by Two Co-founders
Hamse’s fellow founder and BanQu CEO, Ashish Ghadnis, sold his previous business in 2012 and started volunteering in Africa. This opened his eyes to some of the financial problems that many Africans face. On account of this, Ashish too is motivated by passion gained through his previous experiences.
Let’s say that a female farmer can feed her entire family of eight people for $300 a year. She owns an acre of land on which she has been growing corn and using the income to support her family for thirty years, but this has been undocumented, meaning she has no identity or financial history.
This is true for many women in countries like Myanmar, Bangladesh, Syria, Congo, Somalia, CAR, Burundi, Colombia and El Salvador. It is more than fair to suggest these people deserve financial inclusion and would be highly creditworthy.
True transformation, true inclusion, and true fairness and 100% worldwide inclusion in the global economy can ONLY come from a massive shakeup; a massive redesign that fundamentally changes the foundation of the world’s economy.
But just how can BanQu make a difference and how does it use Blockchain to do so?
- Create an identity for the unbanked on BanQu’s Distributed Ledger platform
- Onboard the banked, financial institutions and other financial stakeholders to BanQu
- Allow connections between the parties (banked and the unbanked) to build a mini financial network
- Create a history of transactions on the platform, which would eventually become the economic identity of the unbanked, using which they can scale their access to various financial avenues.
The integrated approach of using principles of Social Media and DLT in a financial context seems quite powerful. Some use cases BanQu are addressing are:
Let’s say that A is banked and B is an unbanked friend/family living elsewhere. B can connect to A on BanQu. This allows A to provide funding to B, which B can use to purchase goods from say C.
A could also remotely add funds to B’s wallet, and B can use this to purchase goods from C
B purchasing goods from C could happen on pre-agreed terms, where payments can be spread over a period of time.
Remittances can also happen using remote funding of wallets. A can fund B’s wallet for a particular amount, and B can receive cash from C (instead of goods in the above case).
All the above scenarios provide a track record for B to make the progression from Unbanked to Banked. Over a period of time, this could help B establish creditworthiness in the financial world.
It does seem like the above could be too much for a startup to handle from the off. At the very least, BanQu certainly has big ambitions. In its own words, “BanQu has set out to solve extreme poverty”. To say this is a bold claim would be an understatement at best, but it’s very hard not to root for them. It genuinely feels like a business that’s powered by good people, working hard to try and make a positive difference to the world.
The biggest challenges BanQu will likely ace in its early stages is building a financial network infrastructure and onboarding a community of both credible unbanked and helpful banked. Beyond this, the sky is the limit.
So far though, things seem to be going ok.
A case study, as described by Ashish:
If you’re a poor female farmer on the Tanzania-Rwanda border, feeding a family of eight or ten on $300 a year, which is less than $2 a day. At harvest, the broker says to her that unless she sells her corn to him at a price it will get wasted. The mother is forced to sell the corn because she has no access to information. She has no identity. But if she has a piece of land and has been harvesting crops for thirty years, she should be able to produce 100 kilos of corn. Then the U.N. has orchestrated buyer contracts for that 100 kilos of corn.
Using BanQu, this mother/farmer has three things which she never had before.
On her phone, through the blockchain and BanQu, she gets to know that her one acre of land can help her produce 100 kilos of corn for which she has a buyer (the U.N.), even if the harvest is a few months away.
If you dry the corn to 13 percent moisture content, the price of corn doubles. With BanQu’s technology, the mother has an identity. She owns a piece of land, has a produce forecast and a buyer. That buyer will now allow her to get collateral to get a dryer so she can dry her corn. All that becomes part of her history.
The blockchain has given her an identity created by her transaction history. She can now borrow as lenders can see that she has a piece of land, a microloan, a harvest, a dryer and that she is selling them at market price. If that Rwandan woman farmer has her identity in the blockchain and she has gone through three farming cycles, the lender would not charge her 30 percent on $100 but would charge her 4 percent on $100 because she has a history.
For me, this raises the question as to whether too many modern-day financial services have too high qualification requirements. These requirements effectively alienate up to 2.7 billion people. If this is true, there are plenty who could learn from platforms like BanQu.
As with the majority of Fintech use cases of the blockchain, this is still in its early stages and is yet to be proven as a viable business model. If BanQu can prove itself to be just that, then there’s nothing stopping it from potentially creating yet another leapfrog moment.