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Unlocking the value of digital accessibility in the financial sector

Published on November 6, 2023 by Mohamed Nuski Sally

Accessibility has emerged as a cornerstone of inclusivity and responsible business practices in today's digitally interconnected world. From websites and mobile apps to online services and communication platforms, every digital interaction should be designed to accommodate users of all abilities. Roughly 1.3 billion people have a significant disability, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), making it vital to focus on providing this group with digitally accessible platforms. This imperative is particularly significant in the financial sector, where accessibility not only ensures compliance with regulations, but also unlocks a myriad of benefits for businesses and customers alike.

What is digital accessibility and how does it affect the financial sector?

Digital accessibility refers to the broad practice of designing and developing digital content, platforms and technologies in a way that ensures they can be easily accessed and used by individuals with a wide range of abilities and disabilities. This technological enhancement aims to eliminate barriers that might hinder people from fully engaging with digital content, regardless of their physical, cognitive, sensory or technological capabilities.

In the financial sector, comprehending the nuances of digital accessibility has become absolutely vital. In an era where online banking, trading and financial resources are the norm, integrating digital accessibility is not just a legal obligation stemming from regulations such as the Americans with Disabilities Act or Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, but also a strategic move towards expanding access to financial services. This involves meticulously crafting digital interfaces, websites and applications that seamlessly mesh with assistive tools such as screen readers, voice command modules and keyboard navigation setups. By embracing digital accessibility, financial establishments can empower individuals with disabilities to confidently navigate personal finance management, execute well-informed investment choices and retrieve critical financial insights. This creates a more level playing field and promotes a diverse financial landscape. For instance, financial institutions such as Capital One have implemented a comprehensive accessibility initiative by focusing on a digitally accessible footprint that combines seamlessly with their search engine optimisation (SEO) capabilities. Such new ventures into accessible spaces can only be beneficial for an organisation looking to the future.

Web accessibility vs document accessibility: key distinctions

Web accessibility focuses primarily on making websites and online content usable by individuals with disabilities. This involves designing websites with features that accommodate various impairments, such as screen readers for the visually impaired or keyboard navigation for those with mobility challenges.

In contrast, document accessibility refers to ensuring that financial documents, such as reports, statements and contracts, are equally accessible to all users, regardless of their abilities. This involves structuring documents with proper headings, alternative text for images and sufficient colour contrast, enabling screen readers and assistive technologies to accurately convey the content. While both web and document accessibility share the goal of inclusivity, they require tailored approaches to address their respective challenges.

Compliance and regulatory landscape

Compliance with accessibility laws and regulations is a major concern for financial institutions. Legislation, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in the US, mandates accessibility for individuals with disabilities. Non-compliance can result in costly legal consequences, including lawsuits, financial penalties and damage to the institution's reputation. The US reported a record number of 10,982 web accessibility-related lawsuits filed in 2020, with the likelihood only of an increase in the coming years. To mitigate risks and ensure compliance, financial institutions must stay informed of evolving accessibility guidelines and regulations, such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). These guidelines serve as a roadmap for web developers, designers and content creators to make their websites and digital content usable by everyone. WCAG is structured into three different conformance levels: A (the lowest), AA (mid-level) and AAA (the highest). Each of the higher levels represents a progressively more comprehensive set of accessibility requirements that define specific success criteria for digital accessibility.

Essential accessibility features for financial services

To ensure digital accessibility, financial institutions should integrate essential accessibility features into their digital platforms. These features align with the globally recognised WCAG. The key WCAG standards include the following:

  • Perceivable: Provide text alternatives for non-text content, such as images and multimedia, and ensure content can be presented in different ways, such as through captions or transcripts. For example, a financial institution that displays an infographic chart with pivotal data could have a feature enabling the user to read every element of the chart’s information and trends, giving them a broader perspective to the information.

  • Operable: Make websites and applications accessible via keyboard navigation, provide sufficient time for users to read and interact with content and avoid designs that could cause an unfavourable physical reaction. This feature could include financial reports that have the option to switch from the usual elaborate designs to a more simpler design view.

  • Understandable: Use clear and consistent navigation, provide readable and understandable content and help users avoid and correct mistakes. For example, a financial services organisation would need to ensure that its website has clear text, appropriate button positioning and coherent routes to different sections of the site.

  • Robust: Ensure compatibility with a range of assistive technologies, future-proof digital platforms and comply with evolving accessibility standards. This standard can be met by financial institutions that enable digital accessibility on all devices at the root level of content creation. It can also be maintained by providing sufficient training and knowledge transfers about the newest accessibility requirements.

Benefits of a digitally accessible approach

Digital accessibility enhances the overall user experience. Websites and applications designed with accessibility in mind are easier to navigate, quicker to understand and more efficient to use for all users. This improvement is not limited to individuals with disabilities; it improves the user experience for everyone. According to the Bureau of Internet Accessibility, 58% of the world’s banks fail to meet customer needs due to not fulfilling the basic digital accessibility requirements. By proactively addressing these gaps, banks and other financial institutions could elevate the customer experience. Additionally, highly accessible websites vastly improve SEO, as they help the algorithm understand the content quicker and improve a website’s searchability.

Focusing on digital accessibility demonstrates a business’s commitment to social responsibility. This fosters brand loyalty and attracts customers aligned with these values, bolstering reputation and customer trust. Furthermore, incorporating accessibility principles during the development phase could lead to substantial cost savings over time. Creating inaccessible digital platforms is not only resource-intensive but also financially burdensome. By embedding accessibility from the outset, financial institutions can avoid expensive redesigns and adaptations in the future. People who are differently abled make up almost one-fourth of the world’s population. Disposable incomes of working-age Americans with disabilities reach roughly USD490bn a year, according to the American Institutes for Research (AIR). This indicates a clear advantage to adopting digital accessibility – financial institutions that expand their customer reach would create new revenue streams.

How Acuity Knowledge Partners can help

We understand the unique challenges financial institutions face in the digital age. Our Financial Marketing Services can help you achieve digital accessibility goals and stay ahead in the competitive landscape.

  • Digital accessibility audits: We conduct comprehensive audits of your digital platforms, including websites, applications and documents, to identify accessibility gaps and provide actionable recommendations for improvement. We follow WCAG guidelines, including AA and AAA standards, to ensure compliance and inclusivity.

  • Accessibility strategy and implementation: We work closely with financial institutions to develop customised accessibility strategies aligned with their goals and compliance requirements. We can guide you in implementing accessibility features, ensuring adherence to WCAG standards and integrating accessibility into your digital design and development processes.

  • Document accessibility services: We specialise in making financial documents accessible to individuals with disabilities. We transform financial reports, statements and other documents into accessible formats, such as tagged PDFs, accessible Word documents or HTML versions.

  • Ongoing support and monitoring: Our partnership does not end with audits and implementations. We provide continuous support and monitoring services to help you maintain and enhance digital accessibility. We keep abreast of evolving accessibility standards and technology trends, ensuring your digital platforms remain accessible and compliant.

By leveraging our Financial Marketing Services, you would enhance digital accessibility within your organisation, foster inclusivity and create a positive user experience for all your customers. 


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About the Author

With up to 4 years of experience in digital marketing, Nuski specialises in web content management, web accessibility, content marketing, interactive content creation, analytics, and project management. He is an active part of the firm’s Financial Marketing Services (FMS) vertical, where he primarily focuses on providing end-to-end digital marketing solutions to clients.

He has been at the forefront of his client’s transition into digital accessibility, with over a year of experience in executing the W3C standards and accessibility guidelines. He currently heads the North American region of a client account and contributes by co-heading the Colombo FMS internship..Show More

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