Case Study: A Bank Committed to Accessibility

By Ernie Crawford

Individuals with vision loss can be expected to select their banking establishment based on whether or not they can access its services. Their bank needs to make it easy to access financial documents using an assistive device or some other method, such as braille or large print. Neglecting this population (many of whom are older and have significant spending power) may result in losing customers—or not attracting them in the first place. And banks that take a proactive approach to accessibility are more likely to gain and keep loyal customers in the growing population with vision loss.

Here’s the story of one such bank.

Headquartered in the South, this super-regional bank has been vigilant about making its branches and its communications accessible to customers with disabilities of all kinds.

As required by the Americans with Disabilities Act, the bank’s branch offices have taken care to design parking lots, entrances, lobby areas and safe deposit spaces for easy physical access, and they are friendly to service animals. To support customers with vision-related disabilities, ATM machines are equipped with speech-output and voice-instruction capabilities—including a jack for earphones so that customers can conduct transactions privately.

These days, however, a majority of customers prefer to do their banking online—and website accessibility has become a growing concern among banks. So two years ago, the bank adopted software to create digital financial documents that are specially formatted to be consumed by blind and partially sighted individuals over any channel: smartphones, tablets and desktop computers. The software makes it possible for accessible PDFs to be formatted for use with screen readers and other assistive devices. Formatting includes coded tags that render the text, tables and other graphic representations accessible to blind and partially sighted individuals. Yet they look graphically identical to a PDF used by a sighted person.

Banks can take two approaches to making documents accessible.

1. The first approach is to format individual documents for accessibility by manually inserting the necessary tags when the documents are created. This is a time-consuming task and is often done by third-party suppliers. Each document must then be stored separately for future reference. Any archived documents must also be individually tagged using a different process. These files tend to be enormous in size and costly to store.

2. The second option is to deploy a dynamic conversion solution that works almost like a lens or a filter online. Normal documents are dynamically converted into accessible PDFs when selected for viewing or downloading. Users need only click on a screen button to call up a document that will be specially rendered for use by a blind or partially sighted person using assistive devices and software, such as screen readers. A key advantage to this approach is that the tagged documents do not need to be stored individually, and customers can call up virtually any stored document, from statements to correspondence in the accessible format.

The regional bank initially tried to achieve document accessibility through its incumbent document composition software, but the results were error-prone. In the end, it moved to a dynamic conversion solution that allows customers who are blind or partially sighted to consume the documents themselves—without asking a friend or relative (or the bank’s customer service representative) to read the sensitive information to them.

Marketing for accessibility.

Document accessibility also becomes a marketing tool by providing a point of differentiation—and the best customer experience possible for every customer. The fact is that while 15 to 20 percent of the population needs websites and documents to be in accessible formats, alternate format service bureaus estimate that only 3 to 4 percent of documents are actually rendered in accessible formats. All consumers, disabled or not, tend to seek out businesses that are easy to work with and are sensitive to their customers’ needs.

Since implementing its document accessibility solution, one of the benefits the bank has seen is an increased public awareness of what it has done to welcome customers with disabilities of all kinds. As the population of baby boomers continues to age, the growing number of consumers who need accessible documents represents a new market for regional and community banks. Banks that can demonstrate their inclusivity toward those with disabilities will have a powerful message.

And as the success of fintech companies has demonstrated, convenience matters. Customers with vision loss want—and will increasingly expect—to work with businesses that understand their needs and make it easy for them to engage in transactions. Ensuring that loan documents, statements and other important financial documents are readily accessible is an important way to demonstrate excellent service to your customers. And ultimately, it’s the right thing to do.

An electronic document industry pioneer, Ernie Crawford is President/CEO and founder of Crawford Technologies. One of only a small number people worldwide with M-EDP (Master Electronic Document Professional) designation, Ernie has more than 30 years of senior marketing and management experience in the customer communications management market.