Across Argentina, blockchain technology has been around since the early days of Fintech and cryptocurrency. Initiatives aimed at promoting blockchain development are gaining even more momentum recently with many emerging blockchain-based startups and university programs focused on finance, logistics, supply chain management and more are gaining increasing speed in Argentina.
Most notably, the inland province of San Luis, Argentina has become its own distinct hub of innovation, building on a strong history of deploying social and economic programs to help its communities thrive. This rural region stands apart for its forward-looking adoption of high-speed internet access, vocational training for high-tech jobs, modernized telemedicine, digital prescription services and other technology-backed initiatives that spur information access and promoting economic opportunity and upward mobility.
In fact, San Luis Governor Dr. Alberto Rodríguez Saá has proclaimed digital inclusion to be, “the first human right that is not born from the economy, but from science and technology.” The province’s multiple World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) medals for technological advancements are “proof that [San Luis’s] projects, in the south of the southern cone, are as innovative as in the most developed countries” according to Alicia Bañuelos, the Minister of Science and Technology.
Education is a cornerstone of San Luis’ efforts. In 2010, the province began offering financial incentives for students to earn their high school diplomas, boosting graduation rates by 20% and positioning San Luis above the national average graduation rates. Despite the program’s success, its original graduation award framework, which had been distributing the awards to students via paper certificates that students would physically redeem at a bank for Argentinian pesos, not only made the process of the award’s redemption inconvenient but also made it susceptible to the country’s legendarily high inflation which made its value plummet whether students redeemed the certificate immediately or waited to cash it in. And because students spent the cash from their redemption immediately instead of save the proceeds, that indirectly reinforces a spend-not-save dynamic among the young student population which is a lesson contradictory to what behaviors the province hoped it could avoid but could not in a country with such high inflation.
By 2020, San Luis leaders saw an opportunity to amplify its modernization efforts through blockchain technology. To test the efficacy of this initiative, they decided to launch a pilot program involving the graduation award system, enabling evaluation of this modernization strategy without subjectiving stakeholders to undue risk.
Officials went looking for answers and asked AccelOne to devise a robust and secure technology solution that would entice digital-native users, make their financial data more accessible and secure, and encourage savings and smart money habits by preventing rampant devaluation. Government and project leaders aimed to pilot the initiative with students to gain traction before expanding to the broader population.
“When we started this project, we knew there were opportunities to serve our community with blockchain technology, with a very specific goal in a very short amount of time. The AccelOne team was able to envision the opportunity to make a real impact. We are very grateful for AccelOne’s responsiveness and willingness to work as a team from the beginning; taking our idea and turning it into an application with a real impact on the community, giving their engineers the autonomy to be creative and diligent.” Jeremias J. Thuer. San Luis product owner
For generations, Argentina’s hyperinflation has consistently undermined savings protection and consumer buying power. Over the past century, the average yearly inflation rate was 105%, with a historic high of 3,079% in 1989. This inflation has eroded the purchasing power of the Argentine peso, making it challenging for people to save and invest, resulting in a cycle of economic instability.
For recipients of San Luis’ graduation incentives, this meant their paper certificates – known locally as stamps – lost value virtually the minute they were printed. Most students would cash in immediately after the annual distribution before their buying power could decline further, reinforcing a spend-not-save dynamic among the youth. To compound challenges, these stamps could only be redeemed in-person at a single bank and only for the full value of the certificate, making it inconvenient, inflexible and time-consuming.
Leaders recognized the need for a solution that would help them overcome barriers to accessibility and security, protect assets from inflation, and promote social inclusion. In May 2020, provincial leaders actively sought out AccelOne – a software development company combining offshoring and nearshoring to service the Americas – to collaborate on the design, architecture, building and testing of a robust technology platform to address these goals.
Before launching the design phase, AccelOne worked closely with provincial leaders to understand their requirements and the needs of their users, translating abstract challenges and ideas into a defined set of specifications that would allow the team to take action. The platform needed to prioritize flexibility, scalability and security to meet the immediate requirements of the graduation-incentive program, with the goal to expand to other programs that serve the broader population.
The solution, to be called Billetera Activa San Luis, is a one-of-a-kind private blockchain platform that enables users to login, access, store and redeem stable digital assets called Activo San Luis (ASL). By replacing paper certificates with stable coins backed by the U.S. dollar, Billetera ASL enables financial incentives to better maintain value over time, mitigating the effects of inflation. Through a digital wallet accessed via a secure mobile app, graduates can send a portion of their balance to others, redeem any amount they wish, and/or save their ASL to use later for higher education, housing and much more.
Adding to the challenges for every stakeholder in this unique and innovative solution was the fact that the province needed its design, built, tested and launched in just a five (5) month period which was incredibly short for an idea with no precedence.
AccelOne collaborated with the Province Ministries of Finance, Education and Technology to understand what factors were important for them to know about the proposed application and system’s user experience ranging from banking integrations to realistic load speeds, and drive program development, platform integrations, and communication with students. With an all-hands-on-deck mentality, the team worked within an agile environment and team configuration to conduct parallel analysis, design, development, and quality assurance. They were able to launch operational versions of the platform after five months – in time for December’s student graduations. For additional security, AccelOne recommended that clients hire an independent third party to test for any gaps in cybersecurity controls, ensuring the highest level of security for the app’s infrastructure.
Thanks to this innovative, agile and responsive partnership, Billetera ASL achieved client objectives for accessibility, stability, security, fraud detection, and regulatory compliance while maintaining flexibility and the ability to scale the system beyond student users. The platform enables government officials to create and manage ASL assets, allowing for fully auditable transactions with the ability to restrict access. It leverages multi-factor authentication (MFA), biometric validation for transactions, and digital IDs using Know Your Customer (KYC) best practices.
The technology used to create and deploy the solution includes Hyperledger Fabric for the blockchain, Flutter for the mobile wallet app, Nodejs for the API and integrations, ReactJS for the back-office web application, AWS for the cloud services, CI / CD within those services, and Docker Containers.
San Luis officials and AccelOne rolled out Billetera ASL in phases, starting with a targeted group of students to test signup functionality. The team then released a full version of the app to early adopters before officially launching to all eligible students at a government-led engagement event. When students watched their digital wallets swell with ASL stable coins worth $1,200 USD in real-time, they were overcome with excitement – and some even shed a few tears. It was an emotional day for the AccelOne team, too.
Today, 100 percent of the 5,201 eligible student users have successfully created an account in Billetera ASL, plus logged in and viewed their account balance or other information. Many of the students are trading digital assets with one another on the platform, making it a cloud-based transactional platform, and students have redeemed 84% of the total stable coins into Argentinian pesos to make immediate purchases. Importantly, almost 25% of student users are choosing to leave their ASLs intact, in their digital wallet, fulfilling the goals of supporting savings with a level of protection against inflation and it seems to be a solution which has brought happiness to students and validation and excitement among leaders. Likewise, government professionals who manage the program have created 6,241,200 total ASL digital assets to date, and are preparing to release a second tranche of tokens. They keep track of user behavior via available analytics, which shows how many ASL tokens have been created, how many have been exchanged into Argentine pesos, the total number of students assigned a digital wallet and the balance in their wallets.
In the short term, the team is now working on shifting from SMS-based two-factor authentication to biometric identification, to continue to support security while helping the provincial government save money on text messaging fees.
Looking further ahead, provincial leaders and AccelOne are launching phase two of the Billetera ASL project. This phase will extend use of the secure, stable and scalable blockchain platform to merchants and residents across San Luis, building on success with graduates to create a province-wide solution to the effects of inflation and secure upward mobility for the community.
“It seems to me a very good idea for the Government of San Luis to implement the virtual wallet because it is completely their own and safe. It saves you a lot of time by not having to go to the bank and stand in long lines. It seems to me a very fast way to have the money in hand in a virtual and protected way.” Mateo Roldán. Student at Club San Martín Generative School
Billetera ASL represents a groundbreaking model for the government and citizens of San Luis, Argentina to promote financial opportunity, literacy, education, and inclusion by enabling users to securely access, manage, and maintain the value of stable assets.
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