Research conducted by the consumer group Which? has found that disabled customers are struggling to access bank services due to branch closures and poor access to buildings, ATMs and online banking.
The consumer champion surveyed nearly 1,500 disabled banking customers about their experiences, and spoke to case studies from the Disability Horizons community.
Bank branch closures and switching to online banking
Which? research has found that four in 10 (41%) of disabled consumers are suffering as a result of bank branch closures. This makes it increasingly difficult for them to access cash and vital everyday financial services.
By the end of the year, the situation could be worse as nearly 4,300 UK branches will have closed since 2015.
With bank branches closing, customers are being advised to switch to online banking, but many disabled people find this difficult.
One in ten (11%) told Which? that they find it ‘fairly’ or ‘very difficult’ to navigate their bank’s website.
One in five (18%) people find it difficult to use their bank’s security measures, rising to one in three (30%) of those with memory difficulties.
There are many reasons why disabled customers may not be able to access online banking:
- Assistive technology, such as screen readers and magnification, isn’t compatible with the website.
- Security checks are done by card readers that are inaccessible for many disabled customers to use independently.
- People with learning disabilities or memory loss may have difficulty reading and navigating the site without support.
Telephone banking accessibility
The findings also highlight issues with telephone banking as a quarter of disabled consumers in Which?’s survey (27%) said they find it difficult speaking to their bank over the phone.
This is likely to impact disabled customers who have difficulty typing on the phone keypad, hearing loss or speech impairment.
Bank branch accessibility
Aside from the concern of bank branch closures, for disabled customers who still use bank branches, they often encounter accessibility issues.
A third (34%) of survey respondents told Which? they find it difficult to use bank branch services.
Separate Which? research into the accessibility of individual banks found that wheelchair access is particularly limited at Barclays branches.
Only eight in ten (85%) of Barclays branches have wheelchair access, while deaf or hard of hearing customers can only access hearing loops at 94% of branches. For all other banks Which? looked at, it was at least 98%.
Trying to access ATMs and getting out cash is another difficulty disabled customers face, particularly if they are wheelchair users or have sight loss.
For example, Which? found that only 3% of Allied Irish Banks’ cash machines are audio-enabled, and just three quarters (73%) of HSBC ATMs are accessible to wheelchair users.
Bank accessibility ratings
Individual banks were also rated by their disabled customers in the Which? survey.
First Direct came top of the ratings, with more than nine in ten (95%) of customers saying they’re ‘fairly’ or ‘very satisfied’ with their bank.
Nationwide, in second place overall, was the top-rated provider with a branch network.
Despite being parent bank to First Direct, HSBC received the lowest level of satisfaction from customers (62%), followed by TSB (65%).
TSB earned just two stars for both online and branch banking, with HSBC earning an average of three stars across the board.
As a result of its research, Which? is concerned that access to banking services is being severely curtailed by the rapid rate of bank branch and ATM closures, and this is hitting the most vulnerable in society hardest.
Do you have good or poor access to your bank as a disabled customer? Share your experiences in the comments box or on Facebook and Twitter @Dhorizons, and email Which? with your experiences at email@example.com so it can continue to campaign.
By Emma Purcell
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