Young man with disability, artificial leg/prosthesis, pays cashlessly with credit card and laptop
#Payment Technology

A Path toward universally accessible banking

Global Trends
5 Mins.

More than one billion people – around 15% of the world’s population – have some level of disability. A growing elderly population is adding to that number, so banks know they need to do more to make both their digital and physical services more universally and easily accessible.

Awareness of the importance of diversity and inclusion is growing in most countries around the world, but when it comes to extending wider societal inclusion to people with disabilities, there is clearly much more that can be achieved.

One in every six people in the Asia-Pacific region1 and one in four in the US2 and Europe3 live with a disability. Globally that amounts to over a billion people, the World Bank estimates, with those with disabilities more likely to experience adverse socioeconomic outcomes, from less education and poorer health outcomes to lower levels of employment and higher poverty rates.4

In almost all cases, they also face many more challenges when accessing the kind of important and highly convenient financial services that many other people take for granted.

Making banking services increasingly accessible

For several decades, banks have worked to ensure that physical access to their branches has been enhanced to support accessibility, through ramps and handrails, power-assisted doors and elevators, hearing induction loops, talking ATMs, and more.

But with the growth of digital, the challenge of creating services that can be used by everyone through web channels, mobile apps, payment cards, and digital wallets is a formidable one. And it’s a challenge that is becoming more urgent. With an aging population in many countries, the number of people with disabilities – and vision impairment in particular – is increasing dramatically. Indeed, some predictions point to a 55% rise globally in the number of people living with vision loss over the next 30 years.5

According to Thomas Foley, Executive Director of the National Disability Institute, “When it comes to inclusion of people with disabilities, the first and most important step is one of intentionality. For a long time, people with disabilities may not have been seen as [a suitably important] part of the customer base for banks and other financial institutions.” Fortunately, he adds, “this is beginning to change.”

And that is reflected in accelerated action by banks, both on a digital and on a physical front.

Many are already addressing the payment card issuance journey for people with disabilities to make it a lot easier – especially for those with sight impairment:

  • Identification bumps on payment cards help signal to a user the difference between their cards, such as when they are holding a credit versus a debit card
  • The addition of an accessibility notch – a crescent-shaped cut-out at one end of a card – can help customers to orient a card for insertion into an ATM or card reader
  • Biometric cards, an advanced option offered by some banks, include a fingerprint reader, so users don’t have to remember or enter a PIN at checkout
  • Braille-embossed cards, larger fonts, and high-contrast text can also make cards easier for visually impaired users to read, particularly when making payments online or via telephone

Solutions have also been extended, in many instances, to the physical delivery of those cards: by scanning a large QR code on the letter that accompanies a card, users can hear (rather than read) instructions on how to activate their card, obtain a PIN, and find out about the rewards and benefits associated with the card, also in their preferred language.

Enhancing the accessible digital experience

Young African American businesswoman using a wheelchair, working online, and telephoning from home.

Arguably, an even bigger change is underway in the digital sphere.

When paying with a mobile device, biometric recognition can make transactions easier for people with disabilities, by eliminating the need for them to enter PINs or passwords, while still retaining high levels of security.

Applications such as G+D Assist enable visually impaired users to activate a listening service as they check out, so they hear transaction information on their phone and know whether to accept (or question) transaction amounts. 

At the same time, the digital onboarding of vital services is also being enabled to enhance accessibility. By identifying themselves via a secure ID process and facial biometrics, users seeking to open a new bank account, for example, don’t to need to present themselves at a physical branch or get a notary public to confirm their identity – a highly useful service for people who have mobility issues or who live a significant distance from a branch.


“Payments inclusion can play a key role in ESG strategy. We support our partners with products and services that help them provide access to the unbanked and ensure prosperity is more widely shared.“
Ashwini Pandey
G+D ESG representative

Innovation for good

These kinds of approaches can also help extend financial services to the unbanked. “At least 1.5 billion people in the world are still unbanked,” highlights Ashwini Pandey, G+D ESG representative. “In a pyramid of development, this bottom-most layer needs to be strengthened through payments inclusion, thus improving their purchasing power – something that has been identified as an enabler for seven of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals.”

Pandey continues, “At G+D, we believe that payments inclusion can play a key role in strengthening ESG strategy, hence we support our partners with products and services that help them enable and provide access to the unbanked. This not only promotes growth but helps ensure prosperity is more widely shared.”

Investment in innovation that enables payments inclusion is welcomed by observers such as Foley. And, he says, it also makes financial sense for banks. “Besides being the right thing to do, and ensuring that they can be inclusive of people with disabilities in the most effective ways, this is also an opportunity for banks and [other] financial institutions to broaden their customer base and tap into a market that comprises one billion people internationally,” he says.

What that thinking, and accelerated action, underscores is that every touchpoint along the customer’s banking and payments journey needs to be made as inclusive as possible, and for good reason.

With corporate and government initiatives in many countries designed to improve disability representation in the workplace, the disposable income controlled by this community, already estimated at $12 trillion6, is only going to rise.

As Foley summarizes, “Many forward-thinking banks and financial institutions have recognized that inclusion is good for business,” but it’s a recognition that now needs to be embraced ubiquitously.

  1. Disability in Asia and the Pacific, UN ESCAP, 2022

  2. Disability Impacts All of Us, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020

  3. Infographic – Disability in the EU: facts and figures, European Council of the European Union, 2022

  4. Disability Inclusion, World Bank, 2022

  5. Magnitude and Projections: Projected Change in Vision Loss 2020 to 2050, Vision Atlas, 2020

  6. 2020 Annual Report: The Global Economics of Disability, Return on Disability, 2020

Published: 09/09/2022

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