Accessible banking features in 2021

Person with a disability sitting at a desk using smartphone for banking.

When talking about accessibility, our minds often turn to the physical world first –  railings, ramps or signage, for example. Indeed, in the banking world, these more tangible features are present and often advertised the most when financial institutions promote themselves as ‘inclusive’ organisations. 

Accessibility in banking includes things like: 

  • having automated doors, ramp access and adequate space to use a wheelchair in bank branches 
  • in-branch and ATM braille signage 
  • audio-enable ATMs 
  • banks cards with physical indicators, larger font and high visibility

Even the ‘tap-and-go’ capability on your debit or credit card was created with accessibility in mind – just think about how much easier this would be for people with vision impairment instead of typing a PIN or signing a receipt. The new Australian banknotes now in circulation also have tactile elements for people with low and no vision. 

Then, if you go digging in bank policy documents, you’ll regularly find extensive accessibility improvement guides and staff training manuals on inclusion and accessible customer service.

But if you’re a person with a disability, you’ll probably want to know the practical offerings as well as the corporate promises. So, we’ve gone digging to find some of the more specialised accessibility features offered by the big banks and digital players.

Accessibility at the Big 4

This is by no means an exhaustive list of accessible features and many other banks certainly may be offering them. But since the Big 4 do have a ‘big’ customer base, we thought we should start by highlighting which ones are at least promoting specific initiatives to the public. Then you’ll have a baseline to compare against other banks and lenders.

Making language more approachable

Banks often refer to ‘easy English’ in their accessibility actions. This basically means they’ve cut back on all the legal jargon and language only a finance professional could interpret in product documents so more customers can understand exactly what they’re signing up for.

This is useful for people who speak English as a second language, younger customers and people with dyslexia or any other learning or cognitive disabilities and their support people. Of the major Australian banks, CommBank and NAB have most clearly identified offering this.

Updating tech for users of all abilities

The digital world is constantly changing, and accessible banking needs to follow that same path of technological innovation to remain relevant and useful. In that mission, the Australian Banking Association (ABA) advises all institutions to follow the universal design principles recommended by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). This is in line with the Australian government web standards and the Australian Human Rights Commission recommendations.

The principles centre around providing alternative website functions which allow people with vision and hearing impairments to use the platforms with ease. This includes things like voice activation and audio capabilities, as well as adjustable text sizes and colour contrast. 

ANZ, CommBank, NAB and Westpac all actively promote the audio elements on their websites, and otherwise refer to meeting or aiming to meet the government ascribed website standards. NAB goes into the most detail regarding both.

Other tech-focused services the big banks offer include:

- Accessible ATM maps online. There’s a higher level of accessible feature filtering through CommBank and ANZ, with NAB next in line and Westpac at the back of the pack.

- Auslan interpreters for video-conferencing and other services. Commbank, Westpac and ANZ advertise this option more extensively.

- Signature only cards. This is an initiative led by ANZ for customers with restricted ability to use a PIN.

Customising a personal profile 

This may exist in some capacity in many banks, but CommBank outlines the idea well. It involves opting-in to create a profile with all your accessibility needs that can be changed in line with personal circumstances or preferences.

This can help customer service representatives meet the needs of people with disabilities more efficiently. It also enables more independent banking for people who might otherwise require support person or career assistance.

Financial independence and literacy training 

A lot of banks are now offering (often free) financial education services, especially in the online learning space. 

The Westpac-funded Davidson Institute is one of these larger learning and research hubs, as is ANZ’s MoneyMinded program. NAB couples an education initiative with accessible financing by partnering with Good Shepherd Microfinance. The program provides learning support to individuals and communities struggling with financial literacy, as well as grants and a no-interest loan scheme.

Things get a little tricky if these kinds of programs are aimed at kids, though. There has been criticism of banks promoting brand loyalty and growing lifelong customers through school programs like CommBank’s Dollarmites. 

So when it comes to financial literacy, a broad curriculum from multiple sources – including non-bank educators – should always be the building blocks.

Digital banks: Are they more or less accessible?

The concept of a digital bank is centred around providing more convenient service online or over the phone, since there often isn’t a physical branch to visit. 

This could be a more accessible option for various groups who see going to a branch as an inconvenience or harmful to their health. Plus, since these players can focus solely on the digital experience, they may have greater expertise in this area.

As such, you’ll often find digital providers coming up with innovative large-scale approaches to broaden accessibility options. For example, in 2020 UBank released a program to analyse all provider app accessibility, not just their own.

The freely downloadable UBank Accessibility Kit highlights issues users with disabilities might encounter in an app, like text types, colour contrast and touch points. Then other provider’s developers can create user-friendly adjustments catering to people of all abilities.

Check out some of the bank accounts below then head to their websites to investigate their approach to accessibility.

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