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Coping with a pandemic: Improving citizens’ everyday lives through digital services

Digitalization technologies make our society more inclusive. Describing our recent blockchain experiences in this field.

Markus Hautala / April 15, 2020

Before the current crisis, many of us probably believed that our society is capable of operating fully digitally. For many people, essential citizens’ services were yet to be digitalized. Therefore, the small silver lining in the current situation is that hopefully – finally – things will change. This is now the time to transform our society into more digitally inclusive.

The current corona pandemic has proven to be a significant acid test for the digital society. Before the current crisis, many of us probably believed that our society is capable of operating fully digitally. Under a thin veneer of digitalization was the harsh reality; digitalization was not equally distributed in our society. For many people, essential citizens’ services were yet to be digitalized. Therefore, the small silver lining in the current situation is that hopefully – finally – things will change. This is now the time to transform our society into more digitally inclusive.

Social benefits are one key area where there are still significant digitalization steps to be taken. Take basic social assistance as an example. The customer first needs to visit Kela (The Social Insurance Institution of Finland) office in order to get a payment guarantee and then visit a physical store to buy groceries. Now imagine that you’re at home in Corona quarantine and out of money. What are you expected to do in a situation like this? What can you do? Should you just drag yourself to the Kela office and then to a store whilst putting the Kela officer, store clerk and numerous other people at risk? Or do you stay at home and starve?

The above is obviously a dramatized hypothetical instance, and I’m sure that social services will find ways to help people in need. This, however, is not an imaginary situation but a very real one; and a problem that social security services have now needed to solve.

 What if, instead of physically visiting a Kela office and a store, you could simply receive a digital payment guaranteed from Kela, which you could then use online to buy groceries? This is exactly what Kela and TietoEVRY have been working towards since last fall. Announced in early April, Kela and TietoEVRY in cooperation with Finnish Tax Administration, Financial Supervisory Authority of Finland and Borenius Attorneys have built a Smart money proof of concept. The details of this can be read here.

 Smart money is a conditional digital payment guarantee. It relies on computer protocols which enforce preset conditions for its use, for example who may use the payment guarantee, what products and services can be bought with it, and where.

From the user’s perspective, Smart money knows what it can be spent for, where and by whom. From the end user’s perspective Smart money is designed to be very simple; it works in a similar manner as existing digital payment methods, such as for example Apple Pay.

In addition to the above mentioned Kela use case, Smart money can serve many others. In fact, within the proof of concept, the feasibility of Smart money was specifically evaluated in the context of rehabilitative psychotherapy reimbursements. Other use cases that we identified include basic social assistance vouchers for medication, eyeglasses, moving costs and home insurance. Smart money could also digitalize service vouchers, such as those used for private care support.

Furthermore, Smart money is not intended to be limited to be only used by Kela. Our ambition for it is to become a general purpose instrument that could also be used by the private sector for example for insurance compensations, lunch and commute benefits, loyalty points, gift cards, travel cards and even weekly allowances in families.

 Alongside with the results and experiences gained from the Smart money proof of concept, we have many possibilities and opportunities to improve upon the society’s ways to cope with emergencies such as the current one.  It is quite evident – I think – how these kinds of innovative digital solutions can enhance everyday lives of citizens and how immense benefits they can bring.  Smart money is just one example.

Digitalization is an equalizer in the society as it brings the same services to everyone, providing equal opportunities.

Do you want to hear more about the possibilities to digitalize citizens’ services? Feel free to contact me to discuss.

Markus Hautala
Head of Innovation Center

Markus has a broad experience on building innovative digital services and bringing them to market. He has over 10 years of experience in various lead business development roles within financial services and IT industry. He is currently Head of Blockchain Solutions helping to build smarter, more equal and inclusive societies with distributed ledger (DLT) technology.

Author

Markus Hautala

Head of Innovation Center

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