How design and innovation drive accessibility in financial services

Maximizing financial inclusion by making banking products and services as easily accessible as possible should be an important goal for all financial institutions.

According to UK-based charity Leonard Cheshire, there are one billion people living with disabilities around the world – nearly a sixth of the global population. Four out of five disabled individuals live in developing countries, while more than 400 million live below the poverty line.

These figures emphasize just how important it is – particularly in light of the financial inclusion challenge – to deliver maximum accessibility in financial services. For the industry, it’s clear that ongoing innovation and inventive thinking is required to ensure that people with disabilities have just as much choice and control in their financial affairs as all other customers.

Read on to see how innovative solutions have already helped to drive improvements in accessibility for people with sight and hearing loss, and could continue to aid consumers with various disabilities in the future.

Physical channels

For blind and partially sighted consumers, some of the most positive strides in financial services accessibility have come in physical banking channels – namely cash and ATMs.

The UK recently followed in the footsteps of Australia by introducing a banknote with tactile features for visually impaired people. Developed in association with the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), the new £10 note has a series of raised dots in the top left-hand corner to denote its value. This adds to other characteristics of UK banknotes designed to help visually impaired people, such as tiered sizing, bold numerals, raised print and varying color palettes. The new £10 note will be issued on September 14th 2017.

Introducing the new piece of currency, Bank of England governor Mark Carney said: “The note will … include a new tactile feature on the £10 to help the visually impaired, ensuring the nation’s money is as inclusive as possible.”

In the ATM channel, meanwhile, there have been positive strides in accessibility for blind and partially sighted consumers in markets all over the world. Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank recently upgraded its ATMs with voice-guided technology designed to lead visually impaired users through transactions without any additional assistance.

Santander recently became the first bank in the UK to introduce talking ATMs in all of its branches. Customers can plug in headphones to access a voice assistant that will guide them through their transaction, either with or without the use of the ATM screen.

According to the RNIB, more than two million people in the UK are currently living with sight loss and that figure could reach 2.25 million by 2020.

Scott Lynch, director of solutions at the charity, said: “Helping people living with sight loss to remain independent and carry out everyday tasks with confidence is at the heart of what we do. These talking ATMs are a practical solution to some of the challenges faced, helping to empower blind and partially sighted people so they can experience the same freedom as everyone else and retain their financial independence.”

In June 2017, NCR’s Cx110 became the first ATM to receive ‘Approved Gold’ status from the RNIB. The touchscreen-only ATM features a tactile strip beneath the screen, as well as a text-to-speech function that provides guidance for users via headphones.

Remote banking

The development of remote banking channels such as digital, mobile and telephone banking has made a huge contribution to accessibility for all customers, including those with disabilities.

Bank of America has taken steps including improving the accessibility of its online mortgage documents for visually impaired customers. It has taken the same action with its travel redemption website, which credit card customers use to redeem reward points for travel.

After a survey showed that nearly one in three deaf and hard-of-hearing adults (29 percent) are put off using service providers such as banks by lack of access, first direct and HSBC launched an online video interpreting service for users of British sign language (BSL). Accessible through both banks’ websites, it allows customers to communicate in sign language with an on-screen interpreter, who relays the message to a customer service adviser and then conveys the response to the customer.

HSBC’s UK head of customer contact, Joe Gordon, said: “Financial inclusion is extremely important to us and we believe everyone should have the tools they need to help them take control of their finances. This rollout of the BSL Video Relay Service will make it much easier for deaf BSL users to contact us directly, manage their money and communicate with us.”

Another institution that has taken action to improve accessibility via remote banking channels is Royal Bank of Scotland, which recently updated its app with 160 visual and audio enhancements for blind and partially sighted users. The bank said these changes mean tasks “that had been difficult or impossible for blind and partially sighted people to complete, such as viewing transactions, transferring money between accounts and making payments, will now become easier”.

Engaging and understanding

Technology is often the driving force behind these kinds of innovations, but in order for them to be successful, they must be based on efforts by banks to engage with and truly understand the needs of their customers. In short, financial institutions must have empathy.

In a presentation at Inspirefest 2017, Lesley Tully, head of design thinking at Bank of Ireland, explained how empathy is the first step in the process of design thinking, which is a “human-centered approach to problem solving”, according to Jeanne Liedtka, strategy professor at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business.

Adopting this strategy when it comes to maximizing accessibility for people with disabilities could deliver some genuine benefits in the banking industry, not only for consumers but for businesses, too.

A recent report from Barclays noted that, in the UK alone, there are 11 million people with disabilities, with an estimated spending power of £212 billion. That number is expected to increase in the coming years.

It’s clear that the concept of accessibility is only set to become more important in financial services markets all over the world. As the drive to improve financial inclusion continues, there will be an onus on banks to do everything they can to engage with, understand and effectively serve customers with disabilities.

Written by Steven Birnie

Steven Birnie

Dr Steven Birnie is a consultant industrial designer with the User Centred Design group at NCR. He has nearly 20 years’ experience designing solutions with and for consumers in the financial and retail industry globally. He completed a PhD in 2014 which focused on the role of co-design within a multi-national corporation. Steven is based at NCR’s innovation hub in Dundee, Scotland.