Banks have undertaken extensive steps to transform their customer experience over the last decade in keeping with sweeping technological advancements. However, these efforts have yet to meet the needs of one key customer demographic: people with disabilities (PWDs).

In a post-pandemic world, accessibility has emerged as a critical factor for all customers, with most choosing online channels to perform their financial transactions. Our recent research found that new technologies can enable banks to become partners in the financial well-being of their customers. In the case of PWDs, banks must improve accessibility to help this underserved consumer category to enhance their financial well-being.

As of 2018, 58% of banking websites failed accessibility tests that examine websites on four principles: perceivability, operability, understandability and robustness. And a recent rise in lawsuits under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (and resultant reputational and business risks) suggest that banks have a long way to go in addressing this matter. Importantly, improving accessibility benefits not only PWDs but all users since banks are likely to uncover related issues affecting all customers.

This means fixing accessibility loopholes in the current offerings as well as ensuring that the objective is embodied in banks’ digital blueprints and organizational culture. While the former can be achieved by adopting latest standards such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1), the latter calls for a focused approach to spread awareness about accessibility among employees and to leverage the power of data and intelligent machines to uncover and fix issues.

Why Accessibility Matters for Banks

Banks’ websites falter at accessibility

Market opportunity

Surge in mobile banking post-COVID

  • Post-COVID, there was a 85% surge in online banking registrations in the US.

Roadmap for building inclusive, accessible banking

Customer service is the cornerstone for digital brands. Applying data collected from multiple touchpoints enhances banks’ ability to attract and retain customers and boost brand loyalty. Yet every year, businesses in the US lose billions of dollars in revenue due to poor customer experience. For banks, this could mean losing customers to more aggressive and accommodating fintechs.

The accessibility blind spot creates hurdles that undermine user experience, and generates legal risks for businesses: More than 2,000 ADA lawsuits were filed in federal courts in 2020, and the number is likely to be higher this year. Meanwhile, the entry of nonbank digital insurgents means that switching banks is now easier than ever, especially among the younger set.

We have worked with leading US banks and financial services companies to make their websites more accessible. This has helped us create a roadmap to remediate accessibility issues. This bottom-up approach can be applied across a banks’ digital landscape.

Creating ADA-Compliance Framework for a Financial Services Provider

We worked with one of the largest US-based independent broker-dealers, with 15,000-plus financial advisors, which wanted to make its cluster of advisor-facing and home-office-facing applications compliant with the latest WCAG 2.1 guidelines.

We began by carrying out an end-to-end manual and automated assessment of the existing list of applications for ADA compliance. These included unique/high profile web pages for accessibility assessment, access set-ups and assessment plans. By analyzing aspects such as keyboard and screen readers (navigation, heading structure, text sizing, etc.) and using code screening to perform compliance analysis and identifying gaps, we were able to identify 2,500-plus accessibility issues.

Based on these issues, we remediated 250-plus online pages, forms and pdfs in accordance with WCAG 2.1 guidelines. We deployed an Angular JS-based framework and a scaled Agile methodology to revamp webpages according to the guidelines.

Furthermore, we evaluated all existing advisor/home-office-facing applications to identify accessibility issues, the risks they pose and suggested solutions. We then created an ADA governance framework to determine which level of compliance is required. Finally, we developed internal processes and architectural standards to ensure ADA compliance requirements are “baked in” to future projects/enhancements.

Functions such as opening new accounts, trading, advisor practice management, account viewing, etc. were overhauled as a result of the remediation efforts. We were able to create:

  • A superior user experience with inclusive design catering to disabled category financial advisors.
  • An ADA-compliant framework, with a catalog of checkpoints and best practices for future remediation exercises.
  • A roadmap for future development and the launch of public-facing websites and technology impacting investors and advisors.

Future of accessible banking

The shift to online banking post-COVID is believed to be permanent, making accessibility a key for customer engagement. Becoming and staying WCAG compliant may not be mandatory, but is critical for creating delightful customer journeys in today’s hypercompetitive banking sector. To stay ahead of the curve, we suggest:

  • Avoid the easy fix trap. Accessibility must be seen as an ongoing requirement, meaning remediation efforts should build on past successes rather than easy fixes which may create problems later.
  • Upskill web development talent. In-house web development expertise is critical for accessibility. Upskilling the existing web development teams will provide continuous support and save costs.