According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 15% of the global population currently experiences a disability in some form, and the number is increasing as a result of demographic trends. While retail banks have pivoted towards online and mobile banking, their digital services for PWDs have been found lacking. Deployment of financial technologies could help to improve the financial well-being and independence of PWDs.

Retail banks must provide accessible services for people with disabilities

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities determines that PWDs are those with “long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others”.

PWDs face discrimination, with services not always made available and accessible to cater to their needs. As a human rights issue, retail banks have a responsibility to ensure that PWDs can access financial services that provide them with financial independence.

Most banks are failing to meet Web Content Accessibility Guidelines

Shifting to online and mobile channels can help to improve financial accessibility for PWDs, for example by removing the need to visit a physical location. In the 2021 UK Disability Survey by the UK government’s Disability Unit, 3.3% of respondents said that they had been unable to access, or experienced extreme difficulty in accessing, a bank.

However, while online and mobile banking can negate some issues for PWDs, a survey by the Bureau of Internet Accessibility found that at least 58% of the banking industry did not provide sufficient digital accessibility for PWDs and failed to meet the standards of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1).

Tech can improve the banking experience for PWDs

To better meet standards such as WCAG 2.1, banks are developing solutions using technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI). AI and chatbots with voice-activated messages enable easy customer interaction through mobile apps and online, allowing banks to prioritize PWDs on phone lines.

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Mobile payments and digital wallets using biometric technologies enable greater inclusivity and security, with the advantage of using a personal device rather than a point-of-sale device such as a kiosk.

Natural language processing (NLP)-based text-to-speech and speech-enabled technologies provide solutions for customers with visual and hearing impairments. Nationwide offers voice-enabled card readers, with larger screens and buttons, generating online banking security codes. Lloyds uses the British sign language extension Signly for videos, while Barclays has deployed talking ATMs at scale. Many UK retail banks also use Relay UK, a text-to-speech app for people with difficulties in communicating over the phone. Customers with visual impairments can also be provided with accessible banking statements. Made with digital tags, identifying elements of the PDF using assistive reading technology.

Retail banks can also offer other non-tech services to improve accessibility for PWDs. For example, Purple offers debit cards and savings accounts for PWDs and their families through its partner bank Member FDIC. Users can easily access Social Security Insurance and Disability payments they are entitled to, helping them to navigate regulatory obstacles. Meanwhile, True Link Financial, Eversafe, and NatWest offer banking cards that can also be used by a family member or guardian of those with disabilities to help manage finances.

Jemima Walker is an analyst within the GlobalData Thematic Team

Customer Experience in Banking – Thematic Research