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Making banking more inclusive today: six things to consider

Accessibility matters more than you might think.

Why? Because much of the innovation we see today once started as a humble accessibility feature. Take Apple’s Siri, originally a feature for visually impaired people, for example. Today – virtual assistants are everywhere. In digital, innovation for all often follows changes for the few.

That being said, WCAG guidelines – long an industry staple - don’t go far enough. We need to take the leap beyond accessibility, especially in the financial services space where money is on the line. Everyone deserves the right to bank equally meaning we must create more inclusive products and services for all.

To help make banking more inclusive today, here are six considerations for FS providers based on recent project learnings.

1. Make sure your banking apps work if accessibility functions are turned on

We’re not just talking about screen readers or magnifiers. Accessibility features today are much broader and provide customers with greater control. These features are often adopted by a much wider audience than those with specific access needs, enabling customers to tailor their digital experiences to their exact requirements or preferences.

Animations are one example of this. They are often used as a means of adding delight to banking applications, but for some people it may cause serious health repercussions including migraines and seizures. Some people (for example, those with autism or vestibular disorders) need to turn off animations, colour, and other features to avoid feeling overwhelmed or distracted.  

This means making accessibility controls findable and considering them as part of the onboarding process at the point of download. It also means that the journey will need to effectively communicate the situation statically, even with these controls turned on.

2. Allow people to go at their own pace

We’ve all experienced it: a website or app with more information than your mind can handle. By overloading users with information, we are impairing them.

To minimise this, only show the essential information on any given screen and allow the user to dig into detail at their own pace. Finding out what information is essential is simple: just ask your customers. Often, this means a mix of looking at data sets, running quantitative studies and qualitative research to gather insight into a given problem space.

Taking a user centric approach to the content that appears in applications can also strengthen pacing. By offering clear, concise and helpful copy guidance, people can understand basic tasks and actions with ease before delving deeper to discover more information, as required.

3. Design content inclusively

Ensure that content can be read by everyone, and not just you. Reading age is a popular metric for gauging this, and should be applied to everything, including Terms and Conditions.

For many customers today, Terms and Conditions make little to no sense as they’re often filled with jargon. This is further compounded for those with dyslexia or other similar cognitive impairments. 

Based on our own qualitative research, we can also apply this practice to the information on sales pages for financial products such as loans and credit cards, where the details can easily become inaccessible. Complex language, poor sentence structure, large bodies of text and bullet points can be inaccessible to those with dyslexia. Tables of information for comparison can be inaccessible for those with dyscalculia.

This is particularly exasperating in banking products and services given the emotional importance of money to people. Solving this issue requires a commitment to user-centred content design. This means stripping back language, simplifying content, and prioritising the key information.

To borrow a quote from Sarah Winters (was Richards): 

“It’s not dumbing down, it’s opening up.”
4. Offer your customers flexibility and design for edge cases

Many businesses are excited about the benefits of personalisation. However, this is often based on false assumptions which do not take the individual’s needs into consideration. This is why we need flexibility: flexibility gives the customer greater control over the things which matter most to them. 

For some, being able to change the name on a debit card might feel unnecessary, but for those transitioning from one gender to another, it’s liberating. Likewise, not everyone would benefit from being able to adjust font sizes, but for some it might be the difference between inclusion and exclusion from a service. 

Likewise, people from some backgrounds use pardner (this is the Jamaican name, other such names exist in Asian and African communities) for saving and drawing money, due to previously being excluded from accessing loans and savings. 

This is why building empathy into your design process and exploring where customers in different situations may struggle with your current service is so important.  It doesn’t mean overtly presenting these options, it simply means considering the edge cases and making them readily available as and when people need them.

5. Don’t just sympathise, empathise

Approximately 40% of people (considered vulnerable e.g. homeless people, stay-at-home single parents, those on zero-hour contracts) in the UK have less than £100 in savings, and yet the people trying to help this group are unlikely to be in similar situations. Moreover, these people are unlikely to be in the privileged position of working for a financial institution.

We can try to think of clever ways to improve their lives, but without really understanding them, new concepts or ideas are unlikely to be fit for purpose. There are many blockers and barriers for vulnerable customers, so we need to listen to them and understand the nuances in their needs and explore the opportunities to meet them.

As a starting point, this could include free and confidential financial support taken directly to these people as opposed to relying on them coming into branches. Another idea is allowing those of no fixed address to register for financial services products and services such as Monzo and more recently HSBC.

6. Challenge your unconscious biases when you’re hiring

When designing inclusive services, you’ll want to hire more varied talent. Hire the sort of people your experience serves. Their stories reflect those of your customers, and their exclusion is a detriment to your output.

That person that you may have disregarded last year because they were dyslexic or could only work part time for example, are exactly the type of people who will help you build better digital products.

Moreover, when these teams create designs, they need to be tested with a more inclusive set of participants. Challenge the people who handle recruitment to rip up the research brief and actively bring people into the research and design process who have been previously excluded. Use this insight to spark genuine product and service innovation.

Summing up 

Designing for inclusivity isn’t a job to be done, it’s about meeting the needs of those you’ve left behind. Being inclusive reflects positively on your brand, and leads to benefits for all customers, not just the few.

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