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Professor Karen Elliott is Chair of Practice in Finance and FinTech at Birmingham University Business School and Co-Director of the FinTech MSc Degree Programme.
She has been named as ‘Standout #35 Women in FinTech Powerlist by Innovate Finance’ for Policy and Governance 2019, 2020 and listed for the new Hubs (governance) category in 2021. Karen co-leads FinTrust, Agency, and the UKFin Network+ projects (£1.2m/£3.5m/£2.5m EPSRC/UKRI) with Prof van Moorsel to optimise trustworthy and ethical AI, engineered to deliver citizen transparency, fairness, and inclusion. Likewise, co-led Finclusion (Gates Foundation/Turing Institute £100k), which explored verifiable credentials for vulnerable groups, focusing on dementia in the digital economy following her mother’s diagnosis.
A member of the Prime Minister’s Champions Group for Dementia, Corporate Digital Responsibility, ForHumanity, Radix, the IEEE Global Initiative Planet Positive and an Ambassador for the Digital Poverty Alliance, Karen creates a fusion of academic and practical ethical considerations at the individual and societal level, seeking to find balance for an equitable digital society while protecting and sustaining the planet.
Assuring Citizen Agency in a World with Complex Online Harms
The online world is an uncertain world, exposing citizens to a variety of threats that may cause harm to themselves, loved ones and wider society―a complex interaction of socio-technical processes driven by diverse stakeholders, resulting in ‘Complex Harms’ and requires secure global digital identities (ID). Governments around the world are committed to supporting the roll out of national digital IDs, but there are privacy, trust, and security implications associated with scaling these systems at a national level. Responsible innovation and implementation of ID services is a critical enabler for inclusion (social, economic, and environmental); secure ID enables access to services and enactment of civil rights. According to the World Bank, more than 1 billion people are currently living without an official digital identity. Complex Harms happen to citizens, they are not caused or controlled by citizens. Therefore, based on the firm belief that establishing citizen agency is a sine qua non for any transformative approaches that resolve these complex harms. That is, citizens need to be empowered through technologies, behaviours, and processes to gain a sense of control, ownership, security, and consequently trust in their online activities.
Finclusion, Agency and Online Harms
Digital banking can pose challenges for citizens, raising vulnerability concerns around trust in banking institutions: branch closures, accessibility of online services, and digital skills and understanding all play a role in the inclusion and participation of people in the digital society. Financial inclusion depends on providing adjusted services for citizens with disclosed vulnerabilities. At the same time, the financial industry needs to adhere to a strict regulatory framework, which is often in conflict with the desire for inclusive, adaptive, and privacy-preserving services raising public concern around the trustworthiness of technologies. Such tensions impact the deployment of privacy-sensitive technologies aimed at financial inclusion. To understand issue such as trust and access for all with privacy assurances, prototype solutions can be based on open-source decentralized identifiers and verifiable credentials software moving towards self-sovereign identity to address such issues. However, if you reside in the digital divide where you neither have the funds, skills, or knowledge to access financial technologies, how do banks and society address this broad chasm? The technology is promising thanks to its selective disclosure of vulnerabilities to the full control of the individual and supports GDPR requirements, but at the same time, there is a clear tension between introducing these technologies and fulfilling other regulatory requirements, particularly with respect to “Know Your Customer” in finance. Therefore, social and policy implications arise from firms socio-technical responsibilities towards citizens in assuring agency over access to financial or other technology-based services to include and project citizens, more work is required.