Healthy Banking: The way towards increased financial inclusion
The Bank of Mauritius’ initiative ‘Banking Your Future’ to promote a fair and inclusive banking sector has been launched in June 2014 to investigate the 100 possible ways in which the banking sector could be improved. Based on the above project, this report aims at analyzing the nature, dynamics and degree of financial exclusion of people bearing a disability and examines the significance of access to banking facilities within this group of people that is more often than not marginalized. Thus, this study further explores Pillars 1, 5 and 6 of the eight pillars set out in the Task force produced by the Bank of Mauritius in June 2014. These include, accessibility of banking to all, fair treatment of customers and customer protection respectively. In simpler terms, this report explores how the delivery and operation of banking facilities could be developed and/or improved to attend to the constant needs of people with a physical or learning disability with the view to promote their financial inclusion in the banking sector.
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Banking is a fundamental part of the fabric of routine life for most people, nevertheless certain people in Mauritius are deprived the access to a bank account and to fair banking services due to the difference they present. Indeed, 4.8% of the Mauritian population has been recorded as having a disability in 2011. With an ageing population, the statistics look set to grow further. This group of people therefore embodies a substantial segment of any bank’s consumer base and it is in the interest of these institutions to satisfy the needs of their clients.
People with a disability require access to banks and their services in order to become autonomous by managing their finances as well as to keep track of their regular benefit remittances. For many of them, finance issues are a substantial source of worry and stress at the time when they should be concentrating on their health rather than their financial stability.
Sadly though, some providers are not very effective when dealing with people having health difficulties.
To this issue, this research aims at promoting the financial inclusion of the disabled population by identifying how banking institutions could improve their services to alleviate the problems faced by this minority population that is too often left behind. Supporting disabled people is not just about doing the right thing for consumers facing hardships but can be beneficial for banking businesses as well. Not only will such an initiative reduce debt, improve staff contentment and breed customer loyalty but will also guarantee regulatory compliance. It is to be highlighted that banks are in a good posture to help make a change since they have the tools to provide support to these people.
Therefore, throughout this report some measures that could be implemented by banks to help and support disabled people pertaining to their personal finances will be discussed with a view to stimulate accessibility of banking to all, fair treatment of customers and customer protection.
The recommendations throughout this report will be subdivided into distinct sections relating to a specific health impairment namely sight, hearing and physical limitations.
The Population Census conducted in 2011 showed that approximately 14000 people had a sight problem even when wearing glasses. This situation undeniably has a severe impact on their everyday lives and with years going by like in the blink of an eye this number is certainly on the rise.
Indeed banks are not oblivious to such an issue for they have invested in talking ATMs, whereby what appears on the screen is read aloud by the machine to facilitate the daily transactions of people suffering from sight impairment. However, not all banks in Mauritius have taken such an initiative thereby penalizing their clients. Thus, these speech enabled ATMs ought to become more pervasive throughout the island while providers not extending such a service to their clients need to consider this enhancement that could make easier the lives of people having sight problems. JAWS and earphones could be introduced in Mauritius so that blind and low-vision users can conduct ATM transactions in such a way that they have a feeling of privacy and security during the process.
It is to be noted that navigating around an ATM pad is facilitated by the fact that the number 5 has an elevated dot so that the central number on the number pad can be located by touching it. This is the case with most if not all ATMs found in Mauritius. Moreover, some ATMs also have other tactile support for instance an elevated circle that indicates ‘OK’ thereby confirming the transaction while an elevated cross denotes abortion of the transaction. However, certain ATMs lack these latter facilities as the ‘OK’ and ‘Cancel’ buttons both have a slit rectangle on the pad making the difference between both imperceptible.
Moreover, it should be highlighted that people having sight problems, especially those affected with blindness, may not even be able to get to a branch on their own. To such an issue, banks could send booklets, bank statements and pamphlets, whenever these are required by the client, in larger text prints for those whose eyesight is damaged, Braille for those who can read Braille – as it should be noted that not everyone can read Braille, particularly if sight problems have developed in a late stage of life- , or simply as an audio CD so that those concerned do not have to provide additional effort on their own.
Visually disabled users also encounter barriers such as access to internet banking transactions. It will certainly sound pretentious and expensive to include to these recommendations facilities like computer voice recognition softwares to facilitate the use of online banking services by people having sight impairment. Such an initiative may lead to a tradeoff between easing the use of online banking and the bank’s security system. However, what is more accessible to banks is changing the formatting of their websites by altering the display in such a way that the websites are more easily read. This could be in the form of text size where propositions at the top of the page could include normal, large and extra-large which could spearhead into a change in the text size throughout the website.
Visually impaired people require patient human contact and continuous customer care. Implementing the above recommendations will not only promote the financial inclusion of people suffering from sight impairment but will also provide a competitive edge to the banks providing such facilities.
According to the population census of 2011, there are more than 4000Mauritians with some form of hearing problem. Banks are considered as service providers, according to The Equal Opportunities Act 2008, and are consequently required to take actions to make sure that their services are as accessible and fair as possible to customers suffering from hearing loss so that the latters are not given a less favourable treatment as compared to non-disabled customers.
Deaf customers report that banks tend to discriminate them against other customers, consequently making them feel aggrieved and embarrassed by banks’ indifference to their hearing limitations. The plight of deaf bank customers include banks’ over-reliance on telephone use for security issues, unfair treatment, the absence of hearing aid systems and poorly trained, dismissive and discourteous staff. Also, deaf customers protest that their communications frequently go unanswered and that they are requested to call in to discuss their issues. Recommending a relative or friend to address the bank on their behalf is not always the best solution due to confidentiality matters and this will not promote the financial inclusion of deaf customers but will make them over-dependent on third parties.
It is to be highlighted that measures taken by banks in Mauritius to satisfy the needs of people with hearing loss are apparently inexistent. To this issue, in order to increase the financial inclusion and promote the fair treatment and welfare of people with hearing loss, the following measures could be considered with the hope that these recommendations do not fall on deaf ears.
The text relay service can be a crucial aid for people with hearing problems. It is a service whereby the customer can call any of the bank agents’ numbers using text relay and when the call is answered, an operator will join in and communicate the request of the customer- received in written-form – to the bank in oral form.
As wisely said by Israelmore Ayivor (Shaping the dream), “Don’t despise little things that contain tiny miracles. Enjoy little actions!” Similarly banks need not take noticeable actions to help their customers suffering from hear loss. Indeed, an efficient Note Writer at the counter could facilitate the communication with an individual that cannot communicate orally. This particular teller could jot down the transaction’s purpose, fees and issues on paper so that the customer understands what the transaction consists of and what is required from him.
Similarly, when dealing with people having hearing impairments simple actions that may seem futile could facilitate the transaction between both parties. Indeed, the bank staff should make sure they are in a well-lighted zone where the deaf customer can see their faces during communication. Looking directly and speaking directly to the disable person instead of his interpreter will make him feel valued during the transaction. Staff at the counter ought also to avoid putting their hands or any document in front of their face or mouth when speaking.
Moreover, counter staffs could be initiated to sign language. If at least two counter staff trained for sign language are present at counters, this will undoubtedly be an advantage for the client but this will also be a serious competitive gain to the bank itself. However, notice often need to be given if the service is needed.
In the same optic, since disabled people prefer transacting from home, an online service could be implemented whereby with a computer and a webcam, the disabled customer is able to speak to a bank staff that is trained for sign language and can thereby communicate a request or make a bank transaction.
Pertaining to advertising campaigns made by banks, visual advertisements ought to be subtitled so that deaf people don’t feel excluded and can thus understand the advertisement with the same ease a non-disabled customer does.
Hearing loss is an emergent problem so it is vital that banks take actions to ensure people having hearing disabilities can access their services without hindrance for if only a few thousand of the population suffering from hear loss took legal action against the pitiable treatment they receive, these financial institutions could end up paying substantial compensation to customers with hearing impairments.
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There exist several types and degrees of physical disabilities. It is widely thought that people with physical disabilities require a wheelchair. However, this is not always the case since people suffering from arthritis, heart or lung conditions and those having undergone amputations also have difficulty with moving, sitting or standing. Indeed according to the population census conducted in 2011, a rough 42% of the disabled population are physically impaired and require assistance in their routine life.
Banks in Mauritius do cater for the needs of people with such difficulties. For instance, the large Mauritian banks design their branches in such a way that their services are more accessible to their customers having physical disabilities. Indeed, ramps have been included in their architectures to facilitate access to wheelchairs and some banks make it a must to provide level access to their clients while meeting spaces are large enough to accommodate wheelchairs. Sadly though this architecture is not found in smaller banks. Therefore, ramps should be available on bank premises where steps are the only means of access.
However, there are still gaps that ought to be filled in order to promote the financial inclusion of having physical problems.
In a first instance, queuing aisles should be designed wide enough for wheelchairs for some of the aisles present in our banks are rather narrow. Moreover, banks should consider investing in providing comfort to people in physical discomfort. Wheelchair lifts could be installed where client service is not done on the ground floor while specific washrooms should be accessible to the public for some people may be physically unwell when attending a bank branch.
It should be noted that certain people do not suffer from apparent physical disabilities but are naturally short in height without mentioning those born with dwarfism. For them and for the disabled population using wheelchairs, banks should consider low level teller counters in their branches as well as at least a low-level ATM machine that could be easily accessed by such people with measures that assure privacy and security during the transaction process.
Given that all these recommendations are taken into consideration in a near future, people with physical difficulties will certainly feel more included financially and will find banking services more accessible and fairer bearing in mind that customer protection ought to be one of the prime objectives of a bank.
Barriers are hindrances that prevent people with disabilities from doing many of the routine activities, like daily banking transactions, that most of us tend to take for granted. A disability can occur to anyone at any time. In fact, as the Mauritian population greys, many of us could eventually face some kind of physical or mental limitation. This foresight report therefore, looks out to banking in the future years and defines the revolution that could ultimately lead to healthier banking practices.
To this issue banks are called to recognise the needs of disabled clients and use judicious endeavours to improve their access to banking services. This report thus sets out potential actions that banks could and should explore and adopt for a brighter future. These changes will certainly present increased facilities for the disable population while presenting opportunities for the Mauritian banks to develop competitive assets, but they will also present considerable challenges to these institutions.
It will be essential for the Mauritian banks to make a collective step to forge new policy frameworks and develop actions so that people having some kind of disability can feel financially autonomous thereby rebalancing fairness among clients in banking activities. Not only will such measures promote Pillars 1, 5 and 6 of the eight pillars set out in the Task force including, accessibility of banking to all, fair treatment of customers and customer protection respectively but these will fundamentally help meeting essential human needs.
As from tomorrow and ever after, open your eyes to the world surrounding you, hear the cry of those who need you and walk together towards something new, something true: Healthier Banking- the way towards increased financial inclusion.
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