Millions of people in the UK and around Europe are excluded from essential banking services. From challenges with managing money to physical accessibility barriers, more needs to be done by building societies and credit unions to ensure all citizens are able to utilise cutting-edge financial tools.
Nationwide Building Society recently introduced new bank cards that are the first to show the RNIB’s ‘Tried and Tested’ logo. These cards are embossed with a ‘dot and notch’ that enables blind members to differentiate between credit and debit cards, as well as understand the way cards have to be inserted into ATMs. Simple changes like this are important for those customers with sight loss with a similar push for inclusive digital tools equally vital.
Some credit unions, such as the East Sussex Credit Union (ESCU), are innovating in this area and harnessing the power of digital to support their most vulnerable members. Earlier this year, all ESCU members gained access to the Quo Money App that boosts financial management and skills.
In just a few minutes, users of the Quo Money App can receive a comprehensive tailored financial plan that offers daily nudges to reduce debt and increase savings. By focusing on ease of use and simplicity, initiatives like this can make a practical difference in the lives of people who are facing money challenges.
Emma Norledge, Deputy CEO at East Sussex Credit Union commented on the app, ‘By offering our members a tool like Quo Money, we are helping our members look at their spending habits and make real changes that can improve their lives as well as accessibility to financial products. One of the goals with Quo Money was to help people that were being declined loans for affordability reasons, to see how they can change their spending to ultimately put them in a position so they would be approved for affordable credit.’
Newer technological solutions like chat-bots and voice-based assistants are a valuable part of any effort to improve inclusion by offering more ways for members to engage with their finances, at a time that suits them. However, some customers may not feel comfortable using these services or not possess the tech savvy required to make the most out of their benefits.
Mick McAteer highlights that in order to improve financial inclusion, we have to ensure that technology is used in the right way. He comments, ‘There are great expectations that technology can be harnessed to promote financial inclusion and resilience. But, it all depends on the motives of those using the technology. Tech and big data could obviously exacerbate exclusion and discrimination. However, in the right hands, digital tools can enable access and help build financial resilience.’
With older women being more likely to be digitally excluded, the needs of this group should be considered as a priority. According to figures from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), among people older than 75-years-old, 28% of men are digitally excluded with this figure growing to 44% of women.
Samantha Seaton, CEO of Moneyhub believes that technology, specifically open finance, can improve access to financial services for those who have previously been excluded. She comments, “It has become close to impossible to operate within society without a bank account, and therefore everyone – not just the majority- should have the right to access financial services. The ability to manage your money allows integration within society, and while steps have been made by the government and the industry to level up there are still too many hurdles. Technology can play a significant role in reaching a much broader audience at low cost, so there are now no excuses for exclusion. At Moneyhub it is our mission to use Open Finance technology to improve the financial wellness of everyone, and through our work with OneBanks we are tackling the issue of financial inclusion by ensuring everyone has access to banking services on their high street.”
The first ambition for building societies and credit unions should be to provide an uncomplicated and essential digital service to all members. While it’s also important to provide a suite of more advanced services, these shouldn’t overwhelm or confuse users who simply want to perform basic banking services.
Technologies like voice biometrics, face ID and fingerprint ID can be incorporated into conventional bank apps to reduce friction for members with mobility issues and help encourage people to use digital banking tools.
Financial inclusion and digital tools can go hand-in-hand. Building societies and credit unions have a central role to play in not just constructing effective digital tools but also supporting the most at-risk groups in using these solutions. Digital education for both younger and older people can make a major difference in their financial lives and help ensure they have the capability to use all the technologies at their fingertips.
Written by Finbarr Toesland, Editorial Contributor, VC Innovations
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