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It’s time for traditional banks to double down on accessibility

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It’s time for traditional banks to double down on accessibility 1

By Danny Bluestone, CEO at Cyber-Duck

A few years ago, challenger banks burst onto the scene and were hailed as disrupters, changing the face of banking forever. People were enamoured with brightly coloured payment cards connected to slick apps that provided a superb user experience and cut out the inconvenience of heading into branches for services. Until the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it was looking like traditional banks were out of the race. But sure enough, as with every industry, coronavirus turned financial services on its head and consumers began to see the value in trust, experience, and established market presence once more.

With people uncertain of the future and worried for their employment, challenger banks grew to feel unreliable. Customers were concerned about their ability to survive a recession, a lack of customer service meant that it was hard to restore faith and it didn’t help that very few people bank with challengers as their primary accounts. This in turn opened doors for the traditional banks. Old fashioned procedures that had once made them seem clunky actually provided a sense of security and normalcy in a world of fear and uncertainty.

As customers rely on trusty traditional banks, they are presented with an opportunity to re-engage consumers. Traditional banks can’t afford to simply rest on their laurels and it’s important that they remember the threat that challenger banks once held and continue to drive digital transformation despite the pressure being off. To retain their pole position, they must continue to take greater strides towards creating an accessible and well-rounded digital experience for consumers.

Designing with accessibility in mind is crucial as there are 13.9 million people, 22% of the population, in the UK with some type of disability. People today don’t just expect digital utilities to work well and for information to be accessible. Users also expect personalised information to avoid having to scroll, listen or browse through irrelevant data and menus. Products and services should be instantly and clearly available to big screens, small screens, voice and even in person. Equally, users expect a brand’s physical and digital experiences to be functional and blend seamlessly across channels. This translates to both the mobile web and apps. With half of all web traffic coming from smartphones, users should receive a superior experience no matter the device.

The banking sector understands better than most the importance of delivering strong experience and meeting customer expectations online. Despite this, we often see businesses prioritising internal needs, usually what their CEO or CTO thinks, rather than how someone with disabilities would want to use an app. The success of an application, digital product or website depends on both the users’ abilities to perform tasks or access information easily and user perception. The first step to accessibility is understanding what type of disabilities there are and how they impact the user experience of a product or service.

Pre-COVID, it seemed as though the fluid, modern scalable tech stack of digital only challengers was unrivalled but there’s no reason as to why traditional banks need to continue operating on the back foot. We’re already seeing some institutions make inroads to full accessibility. Banks like Barclays and HSBC set a good example for others by focusing on making services in branches and at ATMs highly accessible, with both banks catering to blind customers through initiatives like providing sign language interpreters for blind customers in branches or upgrading live chat functions. It is also positive to note that Lloyds is using technology to introduce accessibility features, like Chrome extensions to offer sign language translation on their website. These examples are really encouraging but total accessibility goes beyond measures to cater to the more apparent challenges faced by members of our society.

Digital services need to be accessible in every sense of the word, not just through modality, utility, or even search. As well as considering blind users, deaf users and those with motor skill issues, institutions should consider how to service users with different educational backgrounds, IQ levels and neurodiverse users. Not everyone in the UK is a native English speaker either, hence the need to focus on linguistic capabilities. For example, a hugely off-putting factor for many is the amount of jargon that banking services tend to use.

Confusion in any industry needs to be avoided but when customers are unclear as to what they can expect from investments or are unsure as to what the terms of their pension schemes really mean, it makes them feel as though they are gambling with their hard earned money. Using language that people find difficult to understand is extremely isolating and means that people grow frustrated with the service being forced to spend time calling customer service, doing their own desk research or worse taking their custom elsewhere completely.

Digital transformation cannot be rushed and, as with growing any good business, getting it right takes time. Traditional banks have spent years building trust but now it’s time to put some energy into readying services for the new digital age. User experience and digital design has never been so fundamental to business success and whilst consumers are attracted to prestige, they will only stay if experiences continuously meet their rising expectations. As society shifts towards remote living and working, people’s reliance on digital channels is greater than ever. Anything short of total accessibility won’t cut it.

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