Meeting the Needs of Disabled Customers is Good Business

Customers with disabilities provide a large and valuable market that is currently underserved by the financial services industry. Building a strategy for people with disabilities can improve both your firm's image and bottom line.

With a population of over 56 million individuals, people with disabilities (PWD) are the largest minority group in North America. Yet they are underrepresented in the traditional banking system. According to recent findings from the FDIC National Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households, more than 5 million households headed by working-age adults with a disability are currently unbanked or underbanked.

Creating sustainable, long-term relationships with this large, untapped market is an opportunity that banks and credit unions can no longer afford to ignore.

Limited financial knowledge has resulted in an unstable relationship between people with disabilities and financial institutions. As institutions work towards enhancing their overall customer experience, there are three areas marketers need to consider in order to build deeper relationships with the PWD market, and inspire trust and confidence in their brands.

Creating Products for PWDs

People with disabilities have reported that their financial needs are not being fully served by the traditional banking system. Financial institutions would benefit from creating and offering banking and insurance products that better meet the needs of this huge segment of the population.

These may include ABLE (Achieving a Better Life Experience) accounts, the tax-advantaged savings accounts for people with disabilities and their families. Bank of America also offers auto loans for customers with disabilities to facilitate the purchase or refinancing of an accessible vehicle. Even more conveniently, applicants can fill out the form online and receive a decision within a minute.

Inclusive Marketing Approaches

Creating specialized products and services for people with disabilities wouldn’t be an effective strategy for inclusion without the backing of a strong marketing and communications plan that builds brand affinity and promotes product adoption.

People with disabilities are eager to fully participate in the brand experience. As such, financial brands should be leery of portraying them as a special-interest group in advertising and other visual marketing materials.

There are a number of institutions that have made disability a part of their inclusive advertising strategy. Examples of this include Wells Fargo’s “Learning Sign Language” and SunTrust’s 2016 Super Bowl commercial, which features a man in a wheelchair and a girl with Down Syndrome. Inclusive advertising sends a clear message to people with disabilities – you are a valuable part of our brand. Financial services brands can signal their commitment to the PWD market by placing a recognizable and interactive icon in a prominent location on their homepage.

Another way to show commitment to the disabled market is to develop a presence on the Brand Disability Channel. On the channel, financial brands are presented with the opportunity to spotlight products and services relevant to PWDs, such as loan programs, support that is available to customers online, at a call-center or in-branch, and communication around diversity and inclusion.

In-branch marketing is another important component in engaging people with disabilities. When customers go into a branch to conduct transactions, open accounts or apply for loans, they may need information in an accessible format. These include but are not limited to:

  • Providing brochures and other information in braille
  • Sign language interpreters
  • Talking ATMS that provide voice-output instructions
  • Human assistance in reading and filling out forms

When customers with disabilities are made aware of the products and services available, it becomes easier for them to do business with financial institutions, and trust that their needs will be met.

Digital Accessibility

The FDIC report notes that Americans are more likely to be excluded from the banking system if they have a disability. Customers with disabilities might have difficulty using a bricks-and-mortar bank or credit union because of travel barriers or time restrictions.

Digital technology has the potential to be a great equalizer. Mobile financial services are a convenient “anytime, anyplace” option. But if that technology is not accessible, it only further excludes people with disabilities from engaging with your brand.

Given the digital nature of today’s engagement, financial service institutions can implement the following to remove barriers and provide a seamless experience online:

1. Accessible Channels: Building websites and mobile apps that follow Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. These technical requirements help organizations ensure that every element of their digital properties are accessible to people who have limited dexterity in their hands, have vision or hearing disabilities, use assistive devices to go online, and much more.

2. Assistive Technology: Offering assistive technology for people who are unable to use a traditional mouse, keyboard or touch-screen smartphone. With the technology, they can conduct online and mobile banking transactions, research products and services, and engage with your organization.

A Disability Friendly Image

When a bank, credit union, investment firm or insurance company commits to inclusivity, and demonstrates the value it places on people with disabilities as customers and employees, it creates brand loyalty with this segment. An institution’s public image as a leader and strong corporate citizen resonates not only with the disability market, but also with their friends and family.

By following the three keys outlined above, organizations can get on the path to accessibility and create a space where customers with disabilities are confident enough in a brand’s ability to meet their needs and openly engage in purchasing mortgages, Special Needs Trust administration services, retirement savings plans and other financial products and services.

Brands that do make these efforts are creating material shareholder value and outperforming their competitors in long-term stock prices. Therefore, financial institutions need to step-up and be inclusive because it helps to drive the bottom line.

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