How accessible are UK banks for customers with sight loss?

Post date: 
Tuesday, 1 August 2017
HSBC bank branch with ATMs and person walking past

Simon Chandler from Choose, a price comparison website, reveals the results.

Banking is a necessity for everyone in this day and age, yet many blind and partially sighted people in the UK continue to report difficulty in accessing their own money.

For instance, nine out of 10 people with sight loss are unable to use an ATM without assistance from another person, while 50 per cent say they have difficulty in distinguishing different bank notes.

Fortunately, the UK’s banks are gradually realising that they have to do more to accommodate blind and partially sighted people, with increasing numbers installing talking ATMs and others offering such aids as note gauges.
And as our summary of UK banking accessibility will show, they are improving the range of accessibility options they offer to people with sight loss, even if there are one or two failings – such as a lack of standardisation (which I will discuss further on in this article).

Growth in talking ATMs

To take perhaps the most prominent example of their improvements, nine major banks now have talking ATMs outside most of their branches. HSBC became the most recent member to join the club this May, when it installed some 1,500 machines capable of speaking via a headphone socket.
By doing this, HSBC joined Barclays, the Co-operative Bank, Lloyds, Halifax, Sainsbury’s, TSB, Nationwide and Santander (who has just finished rolling their ATMs out nationwide). This is a healthy list, yet at the moment there is one big bank conspicuous by their absence from it.
This is the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), which also owns NatWest. Despite announcing as early as 2013 that it would begin rolling out talking ATMs in 2014, has so far failed to do so, even though it boasts as many as 15 million customers.

Lack of standardisation

That said, RBS and NatWest do help to make lives easier for their customers in a variety of other ways. For example they’ve been providing an accessible debit card with notches since 2015 (and have just launched the credit card version), and they offer statements, brochures and PIN numbers in braille.
In fact, they’re perhaps a little ahead of the pack here, since only two other banks offer notched or large print banking cards at the moment. By contrast, 12 banks currently offer chip and signature cards, which instead of demanding a customer’s pin to be entered allow him or her to simply sign a receipt.
The large number of banks doing this is unquestionably a good thing, yet this variation in how different banks deal with similar problems highlights another significant issue affecting the accessibility of banks.
Namely, their respective approaches to accessibility aren’t as standardised as they could be. This is preventing customers from expecting consistent help and facilities across the entire industry, and makes it more difficult for blind and partially sighted people to do their banking independently.

The future

Still, despite some variation in how banks accommodate their blind and partially sighted customers, there’s an increasing amount of overlap, as evident in the fact that 16 banks offer cheque templates to customers, to take another example.
This shows how Britain’s banks are gradually learning how to serve their customers better, yet despite this there’s one thing key thing holding them back.

This is the phenomenon of branch closures, which is a problem for accessibility since people with sight loss are less likely than the general population to use a computer, with only 74 per cent of blind and partially sighted 18-64 year olds doing so (RNIB, 2013).

That said, the innovations that banks are introducing on a near-regular basis now suggest that they may nonetheless be able to maintain their accessibility for people with sight loss despite not being as physically accessible.
For instance, in June, Barclays introduced a new talking card reader for home banking use, while in May a cash machine locator app was launched to help blind and partially sighted people to more easily find their nearest ATM.
This goes to show that, even though the UK’s banks certainly aren’t perfectly accessible, banking is becoming more accessible with every passing month.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of RNIB.