Fintech can help improve the lives of people with disabilities

Fintech companies, with the support of governments, can lead the way in making technology a tool for people with disabilities to have better access to financial services.

One in six people live with a disability in our world today. These people suffer from a range of auditory, cognitive, physical, speech and visual impairments that can impede access to financial services. Indeed, when they are blocked by mobility limitations, they are more likely to live in a “financial services desert” with inadequate or non-existent access to traditional financial services.

Yet the invisibility of most disabilities makes it difficult for these people to be financially included, as many choose not to speak openly about their struggles. Visual impairments, for example, are not just due to mild to severe vision loss in one or both eyes. The color blind may also experience a lower or complete lack of sensitivity to specific colors.

Hearing impairments include partial hearing loss or hearing impairment in one or both ears. Cognitive, learning and neurological impairments can range from mild reading disabilities to severe impairments. Physical disabilities can include paralysis, arthritis, poor coordination, tremors and missing limbs.

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The proliferation of fintech innovations has enormous potential to expand access to finance for many of these people. For example, in the United States, Purple, a niche mobile banking app for people with disabilities, combines a tax-efficient bank account with a debit card linked to a financial platform using state-of-the-art algorithms. Thus, customers can not only make contactless, easy and secure payments with a smartphone, but also manage their wealth and retirement accounts.

A new mobile app developed by Kasikornbank helps visually impaired and elderly people in Thailand conduct financial transactions on their smartphones via touchscreens, voice and vibration systems. Users do not need to watch the screen during the transaction. Instead, with intuitive, simple finger gestures and non-location-based interface technology, multi-sensory feedback guides users through every step of the transaction.

All Life has developed life insurance and disability cover for people living with HIV and diabetes in South Africa. Affordable insurance policies are offered using data-driven algorithmic pricing for previously uninsurable segments. However, clients agree to adhere to an ongoing program of health monitoring and treatment.

Tencent’s WeBank has enabled accessibility features on its app to ensure visually impaired Chinese citizens have easy access to banking services. The WeBank application integrates biometric authentication, face anti-spoofing, artificial intelligence-based voice synthesis and real-time image processing. Additionally, the application’s open-source development framework allows WeBank to share its experience with the wider industry to help improve accessibility.

Accessible smartphone apps provide convenience, financial records and security to customers with disabilities; they reduce costs, increase transparency and convenience, and improve customer control over finances.

Yet progress towards these goals is not uniform. There is a large disability gap in mobile phone ownership, where people with disabilities are less likely to own a mobile phone than people without disabilities. Bangladesh has the largest gap, with 55% of people with disabilities not owning a mobile phone, and Pakistan the lowest, at 11%. With the smartphone ownership gap exceeding the overall mobile phone ownership gap, they are more likely to experience a digital divide.

Smartphone adoption is hampered by a perceived lack of appropriateness, affordability, safety and security, with low digital literacy, skills and broadband accessibility affecting mobile internet usage.

Even for those who can afford smartphones, the poor understanding, navigation and interaction of digital financial products remains a formidable challenge. Embracing inclusive design and rethinking the status quo are key to empowering people of all abilities.

Financial institutions and fintech companies must ensure that customers with disabilities can access the same financial services as people without disabilities. They should therefore have a good understanding of the unique needs of people with disabilities and barriers to technology accessibility.

Today, developed countries such as Australia, Canada, United States and United Kingdom stipulate web/digital accessibility guidelines. If a fintech product is not accessible – simple, structured and easy to navigate – financial services companies can expose themselves to lawsuits.

The characteristics of a financial product must be perceptible, usable, understandable and robust. For content to be accessible online, information and user interface components must be made available to users in an easy-to-perceive manner. All content should be able to be presented in multiple ways and easy for users to see and hear. These include large print, symbols or other plain language, speech and braille.

User interface components, including navigation, should be usable and not require human intervention when the user cannot perform a task. Users should also have enough time to easily navigate through any content using inputs from different devices.

Ideally, the user should understand all aspects of the operation of the user interface and the information available on the site. Therefore, web content should be easy to read and understand.

In addition, it must incorporate features that allow it to prevent users from making mistakes and even correct them. It must also accommodate a range of user agents and technologies, including assistive technologies, as they evolve.

Errors and missteps inadvertently create barriers to the accessibility of digital products. However, when fintech players commit to overcoming these obstacles and learning from their mistakes, inclusive financial products will become a reality in Asia and the Pacific.

The author is the Senior Financial Sector Specialist in the Sustainable Development and Climate Change Department of the Asian Development Bank. China Daily

  • Keywords: disability, fintech

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