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Banking

Preparing for the European Accessibility Act: The Countdown to 2025

Preparing for the European Accessibility Act: The Countdown to 2025

By Hilary Stephenson, Managing Director of Nexer Digital

As the deadline for the European Accessibility Act (EAA) approaches, banks and financial services firms trading within Europe find themselves at a crucial juncture. By June 2025, the EAA requires that all digital products and services within the European Union (EU) must be accessible to people with disabilities.

Proactive planning, collaboration, and continuous learning will be key for banks and financial institutions to create accessible, user-friendly services that benefit all customers and promote a culture of inclusivity.

With nearly 20% of the world’s population having access needs, delivering accessible services is not just a legal requirement but also a strategic opportunity for firms to boost customer satisfaction, enhance reputation and embrace inclusivity.

Understanding the European Accessibility Act  

The European Accessibility Act aims to improve the lives of people with disabilities by removing barriers and ensuring equal access to digital products and services like ATMs, self-service kiosks, and online banking. The EAA outlines specific requirements to make digital services usable for people with different types of disabilities, including visual, hearing, motor and cognitive impairments.

Failure to comply with these requirements will lead to penalties, such as fines and legal proceedings, and can result in reputational damage and loss of customers.

Assessing current accessibility  

Before developing a strategy to comply with the EAA, organisations need to conduct thorough accessibility audits of their digital products and services. This means evaluating websites, mobile apps, and other digital interfaces to see if they meet accessibility standards like the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

Designing inclusive experiences requires a holistic and comprehensive approach. To ensure that no digital assets are neglected, banks and financial services firms need to review all customer touchpoints and services from start to finish. By understanding the full user journey, organisations can see how users interact with different service channels like online chat, websites, call centres and branches. Transition points between service channels often create barriers so it’s crucial to consider those handover points. For instance, users with access needs might struggle to transition from an online service to a phone call due to incompatible technologies or security protocols.

Other common barriers in online user interfaces include poor colour contrast, lack of keyboard navigation, and inadequate screen reader optimisation. That’s why it’s important to check that products and services work with common assistive technologies like screen readers and speech recognition tools.

By running user research sessions with people who have a range of access needs, to identify these issues and understand customers’ needs and challenges, financial organisations can improve accessibility and reduce financial exclusion. Identifying these issues early allows firms to prioritise fixes, allocate resources effectively and improve their products and services before the impending deadline.

Developing an accessibility strategy  

After identifying issues and areas for improvement, financial institutions should produce an actionable plan to make their products and services accessible to comply with EAA requirements. This strategy should also consider the Consumer Duty Act, which emphasises fair treatment of customers. Combining its principles with the EAA requirements will help to enhance customer satisfaction and trust.

Cross-functional collaboration is crucial for creating a comprehensive accessibility strategy. Accessibility isn’t just the responsibility of the IT department; it requires input from HR and vulnerable customer teams, legal teams, customer service departments, and other parts of the organisation.

Often, there are pockets of good practice within financial service organisations, but these champions need to be encouraged, scaled and embedded so they foster long-term cultural and behavioural change. Having organisational structures that help teams work together and collaborate across and within the different delivery channels is one way to minimise the risk of cracks appearing in front-end services. Clear lines of responsibility and internal communities of practice for accessibility can drive this change throughout the organisation.

Setting realistic timelines and milestones will help keep the project on track and regular check-ins will ensure continuous progress.

Implementing accessible design is a continual process

Educating employees about accessibility standards and practices is key. Continuous learning and adaptation to evolving accessibility standards will help organisations go beyond compliance and improve user experience.

Training programmes should cover basic accessibility principles, understanding the needs of users with disabilities, applying accessibility guidelines in daily work, and ongoing education to keep up with changes in standards and best practices.

Large firms risk being outpaced by smaller, more agile, and innovative players that integrate accessibility into their services from the start. To stay competitive, larger institutions must adopt a more flexible approach when incorporating accessibility into their digital transformation initiatives and embrace change.

Thinking beyond compliance

While meeting the EAA and WCAG requirements is crucial, organisations should recognise the broader opportunities. Accessible services can lead to higher customer retention rates, a better reputation, and increased market share.

Building accessible services from the outset is faster, cheaper, and more effective than retrofitting. However, legacy systems now can’t be ignored. The cost of improving accessibility is relatively low, but the benefits in terms of customer loyalty and operational efficiency are significant.

The European Accessibility Act presents both a challenge and an opportunity for banks and financial institutions. By prioritising accessibility and embracing inclusive design principles, banks can not only comply with regulatory requirements but also unlock significant business value. The countdown to 2025 is on, and the time to act is now.

Global Banking & Finance Review

 

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