How Financial Services Providers Can Extend Disability Inclusion

> Posted by Pina D’Intino, Senior Manager, Scotiabank

The Financial Inclusion 2020 campaign at the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion is building a movement toward full financial inclusion by 2020. Accordingly, this blog series will spotlight financial inclusion efforts around the globe, share insights coming out of the creation of a roadmap to full financial inclusion, and highlight findings from research on the “invisible market.”

This post is the second in a series of two posts from Pina on financial inclusion for persons with disabilities. Pina’s first post can be found here.

A study by the Martin Prosperity Institute in Canada estimates the buying power influenced by persons with disabilities (PWDs) is in excess of $US 26 billion in Canada. The same market is estimated to exceed $1 trillion in the United States by 2021. It is clear that PWDs represent a significant market in North America, but I believe they hold similar if not equal potential around the world. The World Health Organization estimates that 15 percent of the world’s population, over 1 billion people worldwide, live with a disability. This number is largely concentrated in developing economies, and is projected to increase considerably as the global population ages – a trend that has been highlighted in CFI’s demographic research. Engaging PWDs is essential when developing policies, standards, or products, or when selecting technologies for providing access to financial services. Otherwise, we risk excluding a population that can be viable consumers of financial products. Most importantly, culture needs to be shifted to embrace and recognize that PWDs have the ability to positively impact economic prosperity and that, along with the rest of society, must have equal access to education, employment, and financial independence.

How can financial services providers make a difference? It’s not rocket science. From including PWDs in the development of products and services, to the selection of technologies that are accessible to PWDs, financial services providers have a diversity of options for taking action and resources for understanding how to do so.

Engaging PWDs in Product Development

Financial services providers would not develop a product without getting input from their consumers. So why not include PWDs in the research conducted for product development or improvement? In Britain, Lloyds Banking Group convened a cross financial services sector focus group comprised of over 25 customer facing organizations and industry/regulatory bodies to discuss how to better respond to the needs of their customers suffering from dementia. After surveying caretakers and consumers, the consensus of the focus group, which included Business Disability Forum Partners: Allianz; Barclays; RBS; Santander; and Members: Aviva; HSBC; Legal and General; and Zurich, resulted in the creation of a charter on dementia-friendly financial services. This charter is intended to help financial services institutions recognize, understand, and respond to the needs of customers living with dementia and their caretakers and is an example of an institution that identified an obstacle in access by current and potential clients, conducted research within that client segment, and found a way to address it.

Accessibility Standards and Policy

Technology enables PWDs to access more and more information and services, but often this access is compromised by adding complexity and unnecessary language that crowds on-line applications and confuses the user. More often than not, it is automatically assumed that everyone will use electronic or digital self-services, excluding those like myself, who may at times prefer a person-to-person interaction and cannot complete a transaction independently. This forces us to rely on someone else to help, often further complicating the process, compromising security, confidentiality, and privacy.

Digital standards, such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0, that provide recommendations for making web content more accessible and are revised on a regular basis, and the Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 on designing web content authoring tools that are accessible for PWDs, exist but aren’t being used. Many organizations are either unaware of them or do not have a commitment to comply with these standards despite work undertaken by organizations like the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) to achieve this. In Canada, this is changing due to new provincial regulations such as the Accessibility for Ontarian Disability Act, which prompted banks to adopt these internet standards and deliver training on customer service for PWDs to all their employees.

Accessible Technology

It’s no news that mobile based financial products have had great impact on access to finance in various low and middle income economies. Notable examples include TchoTcho Mobile in Haiti, launched by Scotiabank together with DigiCel and YellowPepper, and of course M-PESA in Kenya. These products hold great potential for the financial inclusion of PWDs if they are developed to be accessible early on. From simple interfaces, to voice enabled navigation, screen reader compatibility, and automated customer service, various product design elements can significantly increase the accessibility and appeal of existing products to persons with disabilities, such as myself. In 2012, G3ict, a non-profit organization that supports and promotes the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, together with the ITU, developed a set of guidelines for making mobile handsets and services accessible for PWDs. While these guidelines are not necessarily intended for phone based applications, they are still applicable and a useful resource for developers to understand the accessibility enhancements required when working with PWD clients.

Access to financial services for persons with disabilities is no longer an area relegated to NGOs and development institutions. It is a strategic growth area that banks and financial services organizations should tap into if they are to grow, retain market share, and manage reputational risk. As a person living with a disability, I look forward to seeing the innovations and policies that will make it possible for all PWDs around the world to access the financial services that are right for them.

For more information on Financial Inclusion 2020, sign up for project updates.

Pina D’Intino is the Senior Manager of the Enabling Solutions and Management team at Scotiabank, Toronto, Canada and is chair of the Accessible Financial Services initiatives at G3/ICT. Pina has acquired more than 27 years of experience in the IT and financial industry. She is also the chair of the Canadian Financial Institutions on Assistive Technologies (CFIAT), bringing together financial organizations to leverage and share accessibility practices and strategies, and a board member on the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP).  

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