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UW CSE launches Digital Financial Services Research Group to accelerate innovative banking solutions for developing regions

M-Pesa agent in Africa

Photo credit: Brian Harries/Flickr

UW CSE revolutionized data collection and analysis in low-resource settings with the creation of the Open Data Kit (ODK), a suite of free, open-source mobile tools. ODK – a project spearheaded by the late professor Gaetano Borriello – has been deployed in more than 40 countries to monitor elections, to conserve natural resources, to track health care outcomes, and much more.

Now, UW CSE is poised to do for money management what we did for data with the launch of our new Digital Financial Services Research Group.

Led by professor Richard Anderson of the Information & Communications Technology for Development (ICTD) Lab, the new group will focus on accelerating the development and deployment of secure, practical and culturally relevant digital banking solutions to people in developing regions, where mobile phone usage is surging.

From the UW news release:

“In Kenya, the ease of transferring money via mobile phone has increased incomes in rural areas, enabled small businesses to thrive and reshaped the country’s economy….

“But the success of that service — called M-Pesa — has been difficult or impossible to replicate in other parts of the developing world.

“University of Washington computer scientists and engineers, with a grant from the Seattle-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, will develop, test and deploy new technological solutions to make financial products more available to the lowest-income people around the world.

“‘This technology can have tremendous impact — both for allowing people to send remittances from the city back to rural regions, and to establish savings accounts so people can have reserves so that an event like an accident or a pregnancy doesn’t send them over the edge,’ said Richard Anderson, a UW professor of computer science and engineering.”

In addition to Anderson, the core research team will include Kurtis Heimerl, an expert in community-based cellular networks who will join the UW CSE faculty in the fall; professors Yoshi Kohno and Franzi Roesner, co-directors of UW CSE’s Security and Privacy Research Lab; and iSchool professor (and CSE adjunct) Joshua Blumenstock. The group will work with mobile providers and financial institutions to test and refine new technologies in the communities they will serve.

Read the complete UW news release to learn more about this exciting new line of research for us. We look forward to sharing many success stories from this stellar group of faculty and their students in the future!