The Customer Effect

How banks are reaching out to visually impaired customers

  • Banks are required by law to offer equal access to disabled customers, and to comply they've rolled out a series of features to improve access
  • Rather than being perceived as a burden, banks now see blind and other disabled customers as previously untapped customer segments
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How banks are reaching out to visually impaired customers

Hashim Kirkland is like millions of other Americans who track their bank balance and pay bills on a mobile banking app.

He also happens to be blind.

“Usually, what I do is go find the app on my iPhone, double-click, then I scroll to find what I need,” he said. “[The banks] are willing to work with you, helping out with the app if you have a problem; they’re willing to go the extra mile.”

Beyond the talking ATMs the major banks have offered for years, banks are rolling out service enhancements that emphasize voice — tools that can enhance accessibility for visually impaired customers. A notable example is USAA’s mobile app’s voice-guided deposit the bank debuted last year, a feature that lets visually impaired customers deposit checks by taking pictures of them, following voice prompts. Others have made a push on voice-activated services, including TD’s VoicePrint authentication that rolled out earlier this year and last year’s launch of Capital One’s Alexa skill, which lets customers check balances, track spending and pay bills.

Instead of seeing accessibility requirements as a burden, banks are now seeing them as opportunities to reach a large market segment, with the National Federation of the Blind estimating there are 10 million people who are blind or visually impaired in the U.S.

“The majority of banks realize that they’re reaching an untapped marketplace — about a trillion dollars [of transactions] are controlled by people with visual impairments,” said Glen Schubert, evp of marketing at Braille Works, a company he said helps major U.S. banks offer reading materials to visually impaired customers, including audio statements and marketing materials, as well as accessible PDF documents.

Of course, a lot of this is simply following the law. Banks are required by law to accommodate Americans with disabilities, including those who have visual impairments. Banks must offer customers additional tools to ensure their customers can access services, regardless of a disability. And banks have a history of failure here; for example, in 2011, Wells Fargo paid $17 million to settle a lawsuit filed against the company claiming that it didn’t offer equal access to services for customers with hearing impairments. For banks, a more recent push has been in making websites accessible, which is covered under legislation.

Due to technology-driven service enhancements, Kirkland said he doesn’t think there’s a huge amount more banks can do for blind customers — except in the realm of security. Despite opportunities to use talking ATMs, Kirkland said he prefers getting cash the old-fashioned way, by lining up to see a teller.

“Even by using headphones [at a talking ATM], people could be standing over you, watching you put in your pin,” he said. “It’s a lot safer to go to the teller.”

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