November 2017

Everyone’s future. Is there such a thing as accessibility in online banking?

Online accessibility is hardly a new topic. The Internet, including websites and applications of banking institutions, have been successfully implementing various accessibility guidelines for people with disabilities for decades now. But there is a tremendous amount of work to be done – not just in terms of the implementation of guidelines, but also changing the mindset of everyone involved in creating online banking services. Especially because by building truly accessible services, they do not only help those with disabilities, but everyone involved. Including themselves.

According to the World Health Organization, there are more than a billion people with all kinds of mental, physical, or sensory limitations[1], about 80% in developing countries. Out of those, close to 300 million people are blind or visually impaired. There are also many other types of disabilities that limit an individual’s ability to use online services – each one of them with their very own set of unique guidelines for accessibility: mobile, auditory, neurological, cognitive, medical and psychological disabilities[2].

27% of disabled adults had never used the Internet, compared to 11% of non-disabled, even though the Internet has fantastic potential to make their life easier.

By now it is pretty much established that people with disabilities are one of the largest minority groups in the world. Can banks, which vow and attempt to bring more and more of their services to the Internet, accommodate all those people, and take their unique needs into consideration? Are they capable and motivated to do that? We will answer these questions. However, before that, let’s dive a bit deeper into the world of web accessibility.

The short history of web accessibility

The issue of web accessibility itself is about as old as the Internet. And the more ubiquitous the web was becoming, the more it was talked about. There was a time when bulk of websites were about as difficult to use for people with disabilities as possible. For example, the early versions of Flash made it impossible to add alternative text to the visual and audio content it generated, making it difficult to use text-to-speech software. There was also a clear lack of standardized guidelines for web accessibility.

This has changed in 1999, when the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 1.0) were compiled and became a standard backed by the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium). The standards were updated in 2008 and released as WCAG 2.0[3] – the most current version. According to its principles, all user interfaces and information published on the web should be perceivable, operable, understandable and robust. Some of the most important recommendations include:

  • providing text alternatives to any non-text content,
  • making it possible to change layout of content without losing information,
  • making it possible to use all functionalities from a keyboard,
  • maximizing compatibility of websites and applications with various assistive technologies.

For each specific guideline, there are three levels of conformance: A (lowest), AA and AAA (highest).

Currently, many websites still struggle to implement these guidelines. In more regulated sectors, such as the public sector or banking, the situation is better, but, as we’re going to see, it’s far from ideal.

Not just people with disabilities

It’s worth adding that web accessibility isn’t an issue just for people with disabilities. More accessible sites are easier to use for everyone.

According to various research, as many as 35% people aged 40 or more are very likely to feel nauseous when using websites that implement the popular parallax scrolling[4]. It’s just one of many examples when using a different solution could have made it easier to fully use all information and functionalities of a website. As we’re going to explain, this very fact may make all the difference for the progress of web accessibility in the future.

The very special responsibility of banking institutions

As previously mentioned, heavily regulated sectors such as banking are generally more adapted to the needs of people with disabilities than average. A lot of banking institutions strive to meet WCAG guidelines and (at the very least) state that they consider accessibility essential. But considering just how sensitive and important banking is for the financial safety of any person, it may still be not enough.

Contrary to popular belief, people with disabilities in some age groups may be more likely to conduct (or at least wish to conduct) their banking activities using a computer or smartphone[5].

As research shows, all kinds of elements of banking websites and applications may be prone to accessibility shortcomings – edit fields in forms, unlabeled buttons, improperly structured and labeled navigation. A lot of customers complain about the lack of ability to hear the information that is being displayed. Security options, such as CAPTCHA, are also a typical source of accessibility problems for users as the ability to listen the provided CAPTCHA characters/images is not always possible[6].

As a result, many customers with disabilities were either unable or unsure of how to complete all kinds of tasks on banking websites and apps such as retrieving account balances, displaying recent transactions, receiving alerts or transferring money between accounts.

Accessibility trends for banks

One of the big reasons why it is worth it to follow accessibility trends is that many solutions that are being implemented with accessibility in mind end up being soon useful and adopted by general population. Examples of such originally assistive technologies are typewriter, record player, text-to-speech and optical character recognition or even audiobooks[7]. And what is currently happening in the world of accessibility for banking? A whole lot.

Banks are encouraged to implement strict accessibility guidelines by various regulations. In the U.S., a lot of such guidelines will become mandatory in 2018 as part of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). American financial institutions are being advised to make sure to comply with all standards as soon as possible[8].

We can see a growing interest in accessibility in the increasing demand for specialists in the field, but also, more simply, in the number of searches for phrases related to this field. On the other hand, we’re also observing increase in web accessibility-related lawsuits[9].

Banks are also increasingly interested in solutions that take into consideration accessibility from the start, such as telephone transfer services, interactive voice responses, or virtual branches (for example as LiveBank).

The proliferation of omni channel user interfaces means that banks intend to provide the very same user experience across all channels. In doing so, they may give up ad hoc solutions meant to make various pieces of interfaces accessible, and instead will design for accessibility from the start.

An increased interest in endeavors meant solely for accessibility such as Accessible Rich Internet Applications[10] (ARIA) is also reported.

A variety of biometric technologies such as voice recognition are also used to answer accessibility challenges[11]. It’s worth saying, however, that some of those technologies do have accessibility issues themselves. Nevertheless, it’s a field with incredible and already somewhat realized potential for making online and mobile banking services more inclusive.

Accessibility challenges – the struggle to explain that it simply pays off

While a lot of positive things is happening in the world of banking accessibility, a series of big challenges remain.

The biggest one is the sheer cost and scale of making true accessibility happen in every single online service offered by a bank. And the best way to overcome this is to realize that accessibility is in the best interest of everyone, including the banks themselves. It’s not just a matter of doing the right thing, or the polite thing. It is catering to a large portion of the customer base. Moreover, designing for them is a great way to get some goodwill and CSR points. What’s more, if disabled individuals can use your services freely, it means that they are accessible to everyone. Designing for accessibility improves user experience and user satisfaction across the board.

To achieve all this, everyone in the banking organization should be made aware of just how important accessibility is business-wise. That improving accessibility isn’t just being good – it’s being smart.

[1] http://who.int/disabilities/world_report/2011/en/
[2] https://accessibility.iu.edu/understanding-accessibility/types-of-disabilities.html
[3] https://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20/
[4] http://vestibular.org/understanding-vestibular-disorder
[5] Exploring the accessibility of banking and finance systems for blind users by Brian Wentz, Dung (June) Pham and Kailee Tressler
[6] Exploring the accessibility of banking and finance systems for blind users by Brian Wentz, Dung (June) Pham and Kailee Tressler
[7] Exploring the accessibility of banking and finance systems for blind users by Brian Wentz, Dung (June) Pham and Kailee Tressler
[8] https://thefinancialbrand.com/55509/ada-compliance-for-banking-websites/
[9] https://www.primitivelogic.com/insights/increase-in-web-accessibility-lawsuits-demonstrates-need-to-be-proactive/
[10] https://developer.mozilla.org/pl/docs/Web/Accessibility/ARIA
[11] Exploring the accessibility of banking and finance systems for blind users by Brian Wentz, Dung (June) Pham and Kailee Tressler

Any questions?

Need quick hints? Feel free to contact us

Piotr Skrabski
Piotr Skrabski
General Manager +48 518 667 591
Ailleron Company

Życzkowskiego 20 Street

Building Avia, 1st floor

31-864 Cracow

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