The unfinished symphony of accessibility in the financial industry
- Only 51% of working-age differently-abled people reported they were able to pay all their bills on time, in comparison to 71% of those without any accessibility needs.
- Financial health gets more difficult to achieve for those who live at the intersection of multiple identities and how banks can make their financial products more accessible.
Financial services are more accessible than they were a few decades ago.
This change has been caused by an amalgamation of many factors. For example, advocacy and activism has raised awareness and spotlighted the needs of the differently abled. Regulations mandate compliance and technologies like screen readers and smartphones ease interactions that may otherwise be affected by mobility constraints or require the involvement of a non-differently-abled person. Only 3% of differently abled people reported dissatisfaction with the accessibility of financial services, according to a recent survey.
As laudable as these improvements are, our work here is not done. Differently-abled people are still less likely to independently handle all parts of their financial lives than those without any accessibility needs. These activities include managing everyday expenses and saving for the future. Only 51% of working-age differently-abled people reported they were able to pay all their bills on time, in comparison to 71% of those without any accessibility needs.
Living on intersections
When differently-abled people cannot manage their financial lives independently, their financial wellbeing suffers. These effects are compounded when gender, race, and sexual orientation are taken into account:
- Working age women who are differently abled are only only half as likely to be financially healthy.
- Only 7% of black differently-abled people are financially healthy as opposed to 22% of those that are white and differently-abled.
- 14% of LGBTQIA+ people who are differently-abled are financially healthy as opposed to 20% non-LGBTQIA+ differently-abled people.
An inability to access common financial resources or services can drive people to alternatives that are negative in the long term. For example, differently-abled people are three times more likely to use a pawn shop loan than those without any accessibility needs.
While statistics for unbanked people with and without accessibility needs are similar, the same is not true for those who are underbanked. 27% of differently-abled people with household incomes under $30,000 are underbanked, while only 19% of those without any accessibility needs are underbanked in the same income bracket.
Inclusion of the differently-abled requires informed and specific action, and this can start from paying attention to specificities:
a) Call us: People with disabilities think there is room for improvement when it comes to contacting their banks over the phone. Many banks utilize audio calls to relay marketing and other important information to their customers. This can be particularly taxing for people who experience pain when talking or have other speech-related accessibility needs.
b) Screen reading: When digital elements like a text field or form labels don’t carry appropriate HTML descriptors, screen readers cannot appropriately communicate the structure of the document or the action a consumer needs to take. An audit of 30 major banking institutions found that national banks had at least 12 WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) errors per page. Community banks with their limited budgets and reach, had 13 WCAG errors per page. Bigger technology budgets do not necessarily equal more accessible service.
c) Differently-abled product designers: Differently abled people are in the best position to identify their own needs, and these requirements may not be visible to those outside of this community. Product ideation techniques like building personas often ask designers to estimate what a particular user may want from a digital product. But personas are guesswork, while differently-abled designers are experts. Shifting accessibility considerations to the start of the design process means that a product is designed with accessibility in mind. This can only be achieved successfully with differently-abled people having a seat at the table.
Conversation about meeting accessibility needs help everyone. Inclusion is a global moral imperative and FIs are finding different ways to make their products more accessible. Take JPMC’s branch that caters to those with hearing impairments, for instance. Or Capital One’s work with Evinced that allows the bank to test for accessibility issues quickly. While smaller banks may not have the incentive to build out a branch like JPMC’s, takeaways and specific design considerations in the branch can be incorporated in all branches. Similarly, Capital One’s journey to building out accessible financial products provides a roadmap and also sheds light on the importance of technology partners.
No solution is one-size fits all. But industry-wide conversation on the challenges and solutions in the accessibility space can provide ready ground for germination of ideas and actions. Solving for a more accessible financial industry cannot be siloed – it will take a village.