The Center for Data Innovation spoke with Nicolas Gertler, Director of Engagement at Fidutam, a SIM card-based application that provides microloans and self-sovereign IDs to unbanked individuals. Gertler discussed how Fidutam uses AI and blockchain technology to provide an accessible approach to financial systems worldwide.
Gillian Diebold: What problem do you aim to solve with Fidutam?
Nicolas Gertler: Fidutam addresses the pressing issue of financial exclusion that historically marginalized communities face, including domestic violence survivors, working-class individuals, people of color, and refugees. Our primary focus is on the ALICE population (Asset-Limited, Income-Constrained, but Employed), comprising over 5.6 million unbanked households in the United States, with more than 90 percent representing historically marginalized groups. These individuals are effectively cut off from the economy, facing significant barriers to accessing traditional banking services. By providing an accessible SIM card-based application, Fidutam offers microloans ranging from $50 to $100 to unbanked individuals, empowering them to claim ownership, make payments, obtain education and job opportunities, and mobilize upward. Our goal is to ensure equitable banking opportunities for the unbanked, enabling them to break free from the cycle of poverty.
Diebold: Can you explain the technology behind the Fidutam product?
Gertler: Fidutam’s innovative technology centers around a SIM card-based application accessible via widely-used instant messaging apps like WhatsApp and WeChat. To start using the app, users simply need to provide a selfie and their name. This information undergoes an encoding and encryption process— facilitated by a convolutional neural network—resulting in the creation of a unique digital identifier known as a hash. The hash is then securely stored on Fidutam’s system, serving as a self-sovereign identity (SSI) accessible through a QR code.
The SSI, with its cutting-edge encryption, is securely stored on Fidutam’s blockchain-based system. Leveraging blockchain technology ensures that all loan transactions and user interactions are recorded on a decentralized ledger, fostering transparency and trust in the platform’s operations. This off-chain computation method not only provides enhanced security but also enables Fidutam’s platform to function efficiently—even in regions with limited access to high-speed Internet or electrical inputs.
Diebold: How does Fidutam protect user privacy and data?
Gertler: Protecting user privacy and data is paramount. All user information, including selfies and personal details, undergoes encryption into a hash, ensuring that private identifiers remain secure and accessible only to the user. This encrypted hash is stored on Fidutam’s secure system, preventing unauthorized access. By prioritizing privacy and data security, Fidutam aims to create a safe and trustworthy platform for our users to access financial services.
Diebold: How do you ensure that the populations you intend to serve can access the app?
Gertler: Fidutam is dedicated to ensuring broad accessibility for the populations we serve, particularly those with limited access to financial services. SIM cards, which are the core technology in our approach, are commonly available, even in low-resource areas. Additionally, we work with on-ground agents who assist users in identifying community centers—such as churches and parks—that have partnered with Fidutam to provide SIM cards preloaded with the app. This simplifies the installation process and ensures that unbanked individuals can easily access our services. Our user-friendly application process only requires a selfie and basic personal information, minimizing barriers to entry.
Diebold: What does the future hold for Fidutam?
Gertler: As a responsible technology company that empowers unbanked individuals towards upward mobility, we actively engage with policy and corporate stakeholders to expand our footprint and advance financial equity and inclusion worldwide. We are currently in the process of launching our student network, which brings youth leaders together to support our mission. Collectively, we are building partnerships with NGOs, economic development organizations, governmental ministries, and other organizations to effectively scale to new countries and regions across the world, adapting our approach to diverse legal, governmental, and financial requirements. Our growing network of passionate individuals is pivotal in driving awareness, engagement, and social impact.
In addition to the student network, we are launching the Fidutam Financial Institution Partner Program (FFIP). Through the FFIP program, establishments like credit unions and payment service providers partner with Fidutam and eventually adopt Fidutam’s users. These users can then open accounts when they graduate from using microloans. Fidutam filters potential account holders for FFIPs, providing access to an untapped community that has a line of credit, verifiable digital ID, and demonstrated ability to generate profits from small financial inputs.