Financial Accessibility in a Digital World: Inclusive Design for Everyday Users

In 1971, the first captioned video technology was demonstrated in Nashville, assisting people with auditory impairment. Today, this technology has several benefits: language learning, improving children’s reading with television and boasting comprehension in distracting environments. Four years later, the birth of Dr Kurzweil’s reading machine for visually impaired users has become a highly diffused product to millions of everyday drivers listening to navigating instructions, or smartphone consumers using voice search results. Two decades on, George Kerscher’s e-book, designed through the synchronisation of text and audio, made information more readily available; a frustration that Kerscher himself experienced, as someone registered blind. Today, there are more than 6 million Amazon Kindle e-books available.

These are just three innovative examples of accessible designing that led to wider adoption, beyond the intended user subgroup. This very theme underpinned the keynote speech during this year’s Diversity Project’s Accessibility webinar on Global Accessibility Day and comes up, recurringly, in research, about improved experiences for diverse groups when we get the design process right for people with a disability.

Change and Transformation

Digital transformation in the investment and savings sector is recognised as being behind; attributed to a culture of traditionalism and inertia, due to a lack of industry diversity.  However, asset and wealth management firms have historically serviced very traditional investor and adviser communities – with their own inertia and habitual behaviours. Technology and regulation also play their part; legacy operating systems lack interoperability and agility, while mandatory post-MIFID changes have hindered more creative-led initiatives. Looking ahead, is change on the horizon as we navigate through a global pandemic and uncertain future?

In 2020, two significant changes brought with them new ways of thinking; mounting pressure on firms to commit to ESG policies and an acceleration of online investors. According to a US study, companies committing to accessible inclusion under their ESG frameworks achieved a 28% higher return, while investment platforms reported significant growth, particularly from home-based working millennials, during the pandemic and periods of market price swing – bringing down the average investor age. Either side of this demographic is a next-generation cohort entering the workforce under auto-enrolment pension schemes, within an ageing population. By 2037, 1 in 4 of us, in the UK, are expected to be aged 65 and over.

Intergenerational needs

This intergenerational spread is transforming and reshaping our population. Future digital engagement requires a coexistent, yet differentiated, model. With more conditions, including Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Dyslexia, being correctly identified, and diagnosed, demand for accessibility in younger generations is increasing.  Nearly 1 in 5 people live with a disability, with a household spending and saving power of £274 billion.

As our population’s median age shifts towards later years, inclusive design practice must address the contextual and everchanging needs of vulnerable savers and those experiencing ageing functional limitations. As older investors live longer and move through their later-life stages, many will be affected by undiagnosed conditions: visual and hearing impairment, deterioration of fine motor skills and cognitive decline. By 2050, visual impairment in the UK is estimated to affect 4.1 million people, currently 2.1 million. Those aged 55 to 64-years old today, will move into the older age category over the next ten years; many already digitally connected and engaged across social media platforms.  This will shift much of our future focus towards digital experience and retention of older investors.

Practical approaches

Despite legislation and guidelines designed to support protected characteristics, many users remain affected by accessibility challenges. Digital inclusion goes beyond a checklist and disclosure statement. Primarily, it’s about user interaction. Four core experiences that firms should empathetically build into their designs are:

  • Physical experience – all user movement as part of the interaction.
  • Cognitive experience – time to digest and understand content.
  • Auditory experience – sound quality, with alternative option experiences.
  • Visual experience – colour contrast/fonts, column structuring and logical ordering.

Accessible designing involves hours of work and effort to adapt formats and channels, across language jurisdictions. Integrating universal design principles from the beginning of a project is less costly and complicated than attempting to adapt post-live products, with a blend of human and artificial intelligence, optimising the investor experience. Prototypes across all media – chatbots, websites, apps, video, print and email – should contain inclusive functionality; while wider test groups will help to capture real-life user experiences, without biased or pre-determined outcomes.

Design concepts should be as much about connecting customer journeys, as they are about making individual touchpoints accessible. A single Customer Communication Management (CCM) platform, integrating multiple data sources, offers greater personalised experiences and, therefore, a higher opportunity for inclusion – from incoming-to-outgoing messages, for both digital and traditional media. While documents should be adaptable to the screen size of any device, the FCA’s newly proposed Consumer Duty principles question how digestible lengthy T&Cs are via digital devices.

The most effective design solutions can still fail to address non-physical barriers. Online mistrust and investment complexity can lead to financial exclusion. Of 3.8 million cases of UK fraud, 15% were committed via digital channels, as opposed to 1%  through postal correspondence.  Developing secure and easy-to-use authentication, email encryption and signposting safety techniques can improve security for retail investors. Language remediation and localised translation can powerfully enhance an investor’s understanding and increase the digestion of information through a simplified or converted format.  This includes the use of plain language, avoiding jargon and reducing heavily formatted content – across interactive, visual and auditory channels for communications including, Key Investor Documents (KIDs) and bereavement instructions.

Conclusion

Inclusive marketing and communications are about creating the right interactions at the optimal time, under an investor-centric approach. Overcoming industry barriers built around institutional practices and regulatory restrictions can lead to adaptive cultural change and harness innovation, as wider technology evolves and improves accessible functionality. Ultimately, this combination will create stronger outcomes across the diverse needs of everyday savers.

John Dovey, Paragon Customer Communications

John Dovey is Client Relationship Director – Asset Wealth & Pensions at Paragon Customer Communications, a leading provider of end-to-end omnichannel services for regulatory and transactional communication solutions for some of the world’s foremost financial services companies.

He has worked closely in the financial services industry for almost two decades, driving customer engagement and outcomes in communication and digital strategy. During that time he has worked with, and supported, various organisations and stakeholders across the industry to deliver outstanding experiences.

With a range of experience and an extensive knowledge in both client and vendor roles within financial services, John is equipped with a deep understanding of industry challenges and regulatory requirements, including changing consumer trends in the market.

 

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