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During the Sichuan earthquake in 2008, one of the largest in history, the Agricultural Bank of China (ABC) tried to offer immediate aid and financial services to victims.

But the disaster caused several pain points, including lost bank cards and photo IDs, which hindered the bank’s ability to serve its customers.

“Over the past 10 years, there have been lots of natural disasters worldwide,” said Wang Yi, vice general manager at ABC’s Research & Development Center. “We want to provide better financial service for victims.”

And so, developers from ABC decided to answer the Call for Code and create United Aid Net (UAN), a global emergency assistance network for uninterrupted financial services during and after natural disasters. Based on facial recognition withdrawal and blockchain technology, UAN allows temporary shared financial services among family members or friends during disasters.

How it works

This solution was developed by the Beijing-based team Green Coder, whose members include Dong Xiaojie, Liu Xu, Liu Bo, Huang Zhiming, and Liu Jiajie. It was a finalist in the 2018 Call for Code Global Challenge.

“UAN contains two networks: an institution network and a family network,” said Xiaojie, ABC’s vice general manage of application platform development network. “Now I sign the UAN agreement and identify my brother as my beneficiary through the ABC app. Therefore, my family network is formed.”

In addition to identifying relatives as beneficiaries through the banking app, financial institutions must also apply to join UAN. When a disaster happens, the government will launch an official announcement, claim disaster area scope, confirm the affected period, and enable UAN services.

Beneficiaries of customers can then use facial recognition to withdraw a small amount of cash through UAN alliance of ATMs. The inter-bank transaction bills for emergency withdrawals will be cleared and maintained through the UAN Hyperledger-based blockchain network.

To create UAN, the team used IBM Blockchain Platform and three services on IBM Cloud: Cloudant, Liberty for Java, and Db2. They also used IBM Watson Visual Recognition for the facial recognition piece.

What’s next

For beneficiaries, UAN could increase efficiency, improve user experience, and decrease turnaround time on financial requests from several days to two minutes. For banks, it has the potential to reduce operation cost and enhance enterprise image.

In recent years, ABC and many other banks in China started to adopt facial recognition technology. Currently, 12,000 of ABC’s ATMs are enabled with facial recognition to withdraw cash, and the daily transaction volume has reached 25,000. But this still doesn’t allow people to withdraw cash from their relative’s accounts.

“We want to call for more banks and organizations to join UAN,” Xiaojie said. “If we extend UAN’s institution network, it benefits more people worldwide.”

In collaboration with the David Clark Cause, IBM in May launched the Call for Code, a worldwide, multi-year initiative that inspires developers to solve pressing global problems with sustainable software solutions.

The 2018 Call for Code Global Challenge ended in September. The winning team, Project Owl, was announced at the Call for Code Award Celebration on October 29. This IoT and software solution keeps first responders and victims connected in a natural disaster. The topic of the 2019 Call for Code challenge will be announced early next year.

Watch the replay of the Call for Code Global Award Celebration

Kevin Allen and Liz Klipp contributed reporting to this article.