Touchless Fingerprint Biometrics and Digital Advocates: Two Tech Innovations for Financial Inclusion

New technologies in financial services are evolving more quickly than ever. Some of these continue to gain hype globally as attention, funding, and developer talent are devoted to technologies like blockchain and artificial intelligence.

Here at DFS Lab, we aim to accelerate the next generation of fintech breakthroughs specifically for emerging markets. While cutting-edge tech in developed world contexts are relevant, we often come across presing problems specific to emerging markets that could be tackled with the right usage of innovative technologies.

Two key areas of tech we are focused on right now are (1) technologies used to biometrically identify users in low-resource environments and (2) conversational, natural language interfaces. New biometrics technologies and conversational interfaces (or chatbots) emerge every day and many show great potential to bring the world’s most financially excluded populations into the financial system by allowing them to prove who they are and interact naturally with financial services.

Systems like India’s Aadhaar biometric identification registry have demonstrated how to create formal identification credentials and a sophisticated real time verification system that encompass the entire population and is easily integrated into financial services. On the chatbot side, examples have recently emerged like the digital advocate DoNotPay that helps users contest parking tickets, illustrating simple but powerful use cases of conversational interfaces helping demystify and add transparency to otherwise opaque and frustrating processes.

We know that helping these innovative ideas get to market is critical and so we designed DFS Lab to provide hands-on support to teams trying to bring innovative digital financial services and products to market. Combined with our network of global fintech experts, DFS Lab often serves as the bridge between prototype and implementation.

Recently, we responded to a request from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help develop these two emerging technologies that have the potential to increase access to financial services around the world:

  • Touchless Fingerprint Biometrics — fingerprint capture via Android phone cameras which can increase accessibility of biometric registration and verification services in areas where hardware fingerprint readers aren’t readily available.
  • Digital Advocates — Chatbots that can help digitally or financially novice users navigate complex financial bureaucracies such as government welfare systems.

In response, we launched two technology challenges where teams of developers could apply to prototype potential solutions with support from DFS Lab to bring those solutions into market.

Our tech challenges have three main phases:

  • Phase 1: Team Sourcing
  • Phase 2: Product & Partnerships
  • Phase 3: Demos

Team Sourcing

Our first task was to find the right people for the job.

DFS Lab has built a global network of fintech experts around the world from Nairobi to Jakarta which we tapped to find the right teams to respond to our tech challenges.

We also reached out to DFS Lab bootcamp alumni for recommendations since they are all on the ground and building for a similar segment of end users. Finally, we opened up applications to the public on our website and through our social media channels.

In the end, we had over 50 qualified teams apply and of that pool, we selected a handful to work with during the next phase including:

Biometrics:

Total of 3 teams including:

Digital Advocates:

Total of 7 teams including:

  • VesselsTech — 4Pbot: social welfare in the Philippines
  • KissanBot: agriculture advisory in India
  • Ker-Twang — Aliados: immigration in the Dominican Republic
  • PesaKit: mobile money agent support in Kenya

Product and Partnership

Once we had selected a strong group of teams, it was time to get to work.

For each of the challenges, there are three specific areas where DFS Lab provided hands-on support: business development, product, and mass market strategy.

Biometrics

We first connected the biometrics teams with DFS Lab’s portfolio companies who were interested in touchless fingerprint biometrics. There were several use cases that made immediate sense, especially for those who needed to manage a identity database in areas where hardware biometrics don’t exist or are too expensive to implement.

We then explored national biometric databases where touchless fingerprint biometrics could expand the coverage and usage of biometric authentication in low-resource environments. Two major systems, Aadhaar in India and NADRA in Pakistan were natural partners for the technology.

From the product perspective, we wanted to help our biometrics teams take their touchless fingerprint biometric and improve performance to a level that could approach hardware-based fingerprint biometrics.

To that end, Dr. Anil Jain, one of the world’s foremost experts on fingerprint biometrics and his team at Michigan State University helped conduct independent field tests to verify the efficacy of our two touchless biometrics team on the ground in India.

Digital Advocates

Our work with digital advocates focused on government programs with anachronistic and complex bureaucracies which are hard to understand. However, we also saw an opportunity to help users navigate a system with defined rules and processes, as tedious as many of those steps may be.

We helped each team with product, introducing them to learnings we gained working alongside our portfolio company Teller. With our chatbot teams, we found that we could develop products without direct partnerships with the government agencies that managed the systems. In many cases, this was even an advantage and helped build trust with users as a third party advocate.

Our chatbot pilot projects were at an earlier stage than our biometrics pilots, but were more varied. Teams tackled issues from welfare payments, to immigration status, to SME training.

Demos

After months of piloting with support from our team, it was time to see the pilot projects.

Each team presented demonstrations of their technology and pilot program roll-outs at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Teams summarized the context of the problem they were trying to solve, their approach, and demoed their technology.

We were impressed by the results from both the biometrics and chatbot teams. The use cases were strong and we are excited to continue working to develop these emerging technologies to bring financial services to those currently excluded.

If you are interested in either of these areas or would like to propose a way to work together, send us an email at jake@cariboudigital.net.