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Digital banking – not a one-size-fits-all solution

By Donna J. Jodhan.

Digital banking continues to be a hotly debated topic in Canada, but this subject doesn’t just affect Canadians, it affects all customers doing business with banks around the world.

On the one hand, we have banks claiming that digital banking is the way forward and that in the mid-to-long term it will benefit all customers, whether they are visually impaired or not. On the other hand, there are blind and visually impaired customers who feel strongly that they are being left out by digital banking.

Even taking both opinions into account, it’s no surprise that technology continues to set the pace and tone of this debate. As in many countries, Canadian banks have been focusing on digital services for some time and continue to move towards an increasingly digital outlook.

Speaking about how digital banking will affect blind and visually impaired customers, Alicia Jarvis, Inclusive Design Practice Lead in the Royal Bank of Canada’s Digital Design Team, said: “I see many benefits [of digital banking] for customers who are blind and low-vision. New technologies like voice and AI are already opening the doors for independence and inclusion in a lot of ways. So, I think the biggest advantage for customers who are blind and low-vision is that new technology will continue to equalise the playing field and accelerate their entry into mainstream banking.”

Despite this push towards digital services, we can only hope that banks will recognise that there are still issues which need to be addressed. If these issues are not dealt with in an efficient manner, then equal digital banking for all customers will be extremely difficult to accomplish.

Most banks are still working to make their websites usable and accessible to blind and visually impaired people like myself. For many of those people, forms on websites are still a challenge to complete independently, and as a result of this, many blind and visually impaired people have major concerns about their online privacy.

There are many sighted people who continue to complain that online banking is a challenge for them, so why would it be any different for blind and visually impaired customers?

In addition, banks are not providing adequate customer service to assist blind and visually impaired people in learning and understanding how to take advantage of digital banking. One potential consequence of this is that it will not be only blind and visually impaired people who are left behind, but also older people who did not grow up in the technology era.

One reason why it’s so easy for blind and visually impaired people to be left behind in this area is that accessible technology is not known for keeping up with technological evolution, and this includes digital banking. In short, accessible technology is continually having to catch up with technological changes and the gap continues to widen.

The potential benefits of increased digital banking are that blind and visually impaired people will be able to conduct their online banking more freely and independently, without having to rely on sighted assistance. Also, despite some people’s concerns, online privacy can be achieved if banks’ digital security systems are working correctly.

For many blind and visually impaired people, the move towards digital banking will be thought of as an upcoming nightmare that will soon become reality. What makes things more difficult is that there does not seem to be any way to change this push towards digital banking, leaving us to wonder what can be done to improve the situation. This is why we need to continue making our voices heard.

Some banks may think that the blind and visually impaired consumer market is not large enough to be a concern to them, but it is the right of those consumers to be able to access services in the same way as sighted consumers, and to have their privacy and confidentiality protected, no matter what.

If banks really want to ensure that the playing field is equal for all of their customers, they need to address the following issues:

– Ensure that their online banking facilities are usable and navigable.

– Ensure that their websites interact with accessible technology.

– Carry out meaningful testing to ensure the previous points, which means working with blind and visually impaired users.

– Work with manufacturers of accessible technology to develop mobile apps and computer programs.

Read more about Donna Jodhan’s work at her website.


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