Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Coronavirus: Business and technology in a pandemic

Brazil undertakes massive tech-enabled financial inclusion exercise with "coronavoucher"

Millions of unbanked citizens are receiving the government's emergency financial aid through a mobile app.

As the Covid-19 outbreak evolves in Brazil, the government is undertaking the largest and fastest financial inclusion exercise enabled by technology in the country - and potentially the world, given its scale.

Through state-owned bank Caixa Econômica Federal (CEF), Brazil started an emergency aid program aimed at 54 million financially vulnerable citizens, who will be paid 600 reais ($117) monthly until June. This includes millions of previously unbanked citizens, who are being provided with a mobile-based savings account.

By yesterday (8), 24 hours after the emergency aid registration website and app went live, CEF had processed applications from over 25,1 million Brazilians. Of that total, 39,3% chose to open the digital account offered by the bank to receive the monthly payments.

It is estimated that 45 million adults in Brazil don't have access to a bank account - and many are expected to receive the emergency assistance, dubbed "coronavoucher", from the government.

The digital account provides basic functions such as payments and transfers, but no physical cards will be issued. The five main telecommunications providers operating in the country - Algar, Claro, Oi, TIM and Vivo - are enabling free access to the app.

According to the bank, the website where citizens can sign up for the financial support program had 240 million views since launching on Tuesday (7). Some 62 million SMS messages had been sent to confirm the requests. The Android version of the emergency aid registration app had been downloaded by 21.8 million users, while the iOS version saw 699,000 downloads.

The personal information of citizens applying for the financial aid will be automatically assessed and validated against a database of socially vulnerable citizens handled by Dataprev, the social security technology company owned by the state.

Dataprev is one of the government assets the current administration intends to sell as part of a privatization program, amid concerns over citizen data protection.

After the validation by Dataprev, citizens are able to open the digital account or choose to receive the money from the government  through an existing bank account. The payments began today (9).

The initiative is part of a 98.2 billion reais ($19.2 billion) relief program aimed at Brazilians who are self-employed or rely on gig economy work, who have been severely impacted by the coronavirus crisis.