How a tech partnership helped a credit union retool for accessibility

  • About 15-20% of the world’s population is neurodiverse.
  • But the financial industry rarely keeps the needs of this consumer segment in mind when designing its products and services. 

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How a tech partnership helped a credit union retool for accessibility

The term 'neurodivergence' encapsulates cognitive and developmental conditions like color blindness, ADHD, and autism. About 15%-20% of the world’s population is neurodiverse. But the financial industry rarely keeps the needs of this consumer segment in mind when designing its products and services. 

The fallout? Neurodiverse individuals find financial services and products difficult to use, which negatively impacts their financial health. About 38% of those with cognitive conditions in the US report feeling financially vulnerable. Fortunately, active advocacy and a recent focus on user-centric design has been changing how digital products are designed across all sectors, including financial services.

The financial industry is busy making its products more accessible, for example banks like Capital One are making accessible products by building subject-matter expertise in-house as well as partnering with accessibility technology providers. Similarly, credit unions are also stepping up to the challenge. Given the wide spectrum of accessibility needs of the differently abled, how do FIs improve and retool their technology to ensure their products are usable for all?

This is how Park View Federal Credit Union answered the call.

Listen closely and partner well

Park View’s interest in ensuring its products are accessible arises largely from its member base. Park View has a very diverse membership, we have a younger demographic, and we also have a presence in multiple retirement communities. Our folks that live at retirement centers need a very simplistic look and feel, they want to have an enlarged font, they want their colors to be just clear and clean, they don't need bright, splashy interfaces,” said Tanya Holland, Director of Digital Operations at Park View Federal Credit Union. 

To cater to the needs of its member base, Park View decided to partner with Mahalo Banking, a banking technology provider that is focused on building software for credit unions. After one year of planning with Park View and another in development, Mahalo Banking was able to deploy an interface for Park View that was designed with neurodivergent individuals in mind. 

Initially, Park View switched partners due to questions about its current efficiency and resource utilization. The credit union felt that its very robust technology core was not currently being leveraged as well as it could be. “We knew the power [of our core] wasn't being leveraged, nor was it on the roadmap to be leveraged. And we really wanted to allow our members to access that same power that our staff could, and we also knew that the digital branch is our largest branch. As we looked down the road, we saw that was not going to be accomplished, so we began the search,” added Holland.

The credit union also considered building its technology in-house but didn't go down the road due to the technical and resource lift it would require. “Due to the compliance side of it would and because it would require spinning up an entire new team and department. We decided that building capabilities in-house wasn't where we wanted to go,” said Holland. Assisted by a consultant, the credit union settled on Mahalo Banking. 

Nothing about us without us

Often accessible products emerge from the lived experience of those who are differently abled. Mahalo Banking’s COO and co-founder Denny Howell is red and green color blind and his focus on developing a product that catered to neurodivergent individuals emerged from his own experiences developing software for the company. “I was doing a demo session with our development team on some new features we implemented and I just had a hard time seeing some of these,” said Howell. 

He added that for most banks and credit unions, their credit section is green-themed and debit is red, both of which “do nothing” for him. Hence, he and his team tried to identify more things that are beyond the scope of the ADA (American with Disabilities Act) and they “dug into it, and developed an interface for every form of colorblindness out there,”.

For its platform, Mahalo Banking consulted with doctors from the University of Michigan and Harvard Medical Schools, specifically regarding ADD and ADHD. These consultations helped them design their button hierarchies and text, as well as simplify their overall interface. Their platform also offers special fonts that are easier to read for those who have Dyslexia, light and dark modes, and the ability to switch the entire interface from left-hand mode to right-hand mode. Moreover, users can also switch off animations which can prove to be distressing for certain neurodivergent individuals. 

Picture showing the Account transactions page after dyslexia-friendly mode has been turned on.
Dyslexic consumers can change their app settings to be more friendly, Source: Mahalo Banking

Credit unions are very member-centric and the needs and composition of their clients play a huge role in determining their priorities, according to Howell. “25% of their membership had a difficult time using their app. Or worse, maybe they're not engaged in digital banking at all. So we really wanted to kind of solve that and bring it to the forefront,” said Howell. He also added that having neurodiverse people on staff has proven to be an asset in building this product. 

Notification: Your product is now accessible!

To ensure that consumers and employees  at Park View were aware of the changes the credit union had made, it  ran an awareness building and marketing campaign. The internal HR team assigned ambassadors whose job was to communicate about the new interface with the added benefit of bringing candy, popcorn, and ice cream to each branch they visited. “We did a bingo card as well. So every employee, even if you never worked with a member, was still required to complete a large bingo card where you had to go through the new Mahalo product and find all the features and functionalities. So everyone had that same positivity and energy prior to the launch, and it worked out extremely well,” added Holland. 

Park View’s example shows that accessibility is much more compliance. It can materialize as a question of finding partners that help make the most of current investments, it can come as a response to consumer needs. It is about attempting to build the best of both worlds: a financial product that an FI is proud of and an accessible experience that respects the dignity of its users. 

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