Data61, CBA partner for blockchain-based NDIS ‘smart money’ prototype

Smart money could impose limits on how and when NDIS funds are spent

The Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) and CSIRO’s Data61 division have partnered to develop an app that could be used to impose ‘smart money’ limits on the spending of funds provided through the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

Smart money can include conditions that limit when and on what it can be spent, as well as by whom.

The NDIS, which began rolling out in 2016, is expected to eventually provide support to some 460,000 Australians that have permanent and significant disabilities. NDIS participants have individual plans that contain multiple categories with different spending rules.

The new app, which is part of a trial dubbed ‘Making Money Smart’, is underpinned by a “blockchain token solution,” Data61 said and could be integrated into the Australia's New Payments Platform.

The prototype app developed by Data61 and CBA allows NDIS participants to book and pay for relevant services without having to track receipts.

“Programmable money represents an opportunity to re-envisage how we think about money and how payments function across the economy,” said Sophie Gilder, CBA’s head of experimentation and blockchain at the bank’s Innovation Lab.

"The potential of this technology for the NDIS is exciting, ranging from greater empowerment for participants, reduced administration costs for businesses and greater visibility for government.”

“We're particularly interested in the broader research opportunity around programmable money, because it should reduce friction in business transactions, and enable companies to create new business models and innovative ways of delivering and paying for products and services,” said Dr Mark Staples, senior principal researcher for Data61’s software and computational systems program.

“This would benefit customers and reduces the administrative burden involved in managing payments.”

Data61 said the project reference group includes the government’s Digital Transformation Agency (DTA), as well as the National Disability Insurance Agency, which administers the NDIS, the Department of Social Services, the Department of Human Services, the Treasury, the Reserve Bank of Australia, the Disability Advocacy Network, Ability First Australia, National Disability Services, New Payments Platform Australia, the Australian Digital Commerce Association and FinTech Australia

CBA and Data61 will next month released a ‘Making Money Smart’ report based on the NDIS use case.

Data61 is also working with DTA to explore the potential of blockchain and distributed ledger technology (DLT) for government.

Budget documents released by the government in May revealed that the DTA had been directed to investigate areas “where blockchain technology could offer the most value for Government services”, with $700,000 from within the DTA’s existing resources to be allocated to the project.

Government chief digital officer, Peter Alexander, earlier this year told a Senate Estimates hearing that DTA would look at the applicability of blockchain solutions to welfare payments.

The DTA’s aim is to explore “innovative ways to securely and efficiently deliver government services using blockchain,” DTA CEO Randall Brugeaud in May told a technology conference.

“The potential of blockchain to securely record transactions will be investigated drawing on the experience of other public and private sector organisations,” Brugeaud said.

The DTA has said it is on track to deliver a prototype blockchain system for government by the end of the financial year.