Online banking is one of the most valuable features of the modern digital experience. The ability to check balances, pay bills, and send money from almost anywhere has drastically changed how we manage our finances.
All this being said, the online banking experience is far from seamless for assistive technology dependents like myself. I am a blind technology user who relies on screen readers to access the digital world. Unfortunately, I have encountered a variety of barriers to accessibility that have prevented me from fully utilizing all of the great benefits that online banking offers. While accessibility on all sites is essential, it is incredibly impactful on banking sites. If I cannot effectively manage my finances, it dramatically limits my independence.
In this blog, I share some common accessibility flaws that I find on banking sites and a few pointers I would like to give banking sites to help them be more accessible to screen reader users like me.
Opening an Account
Most banks allow customers to open a new checking or savings account through the website. When a user visits a bank's home page, one of the most prominent features is the ability to compare the different types of checking or credit card account options. This functionality is important to would-be customers and site visitors because most banks offer various account choices with additional perks, benefits, interest rates, and yearly fees. While the account comparison feature is helpful, it, unfortunately, is seldom designed with screen reader users in mind. Often bank websites will present the different account options in a tabular format. While visually pleasing for organizational purposes, tables and charts are not usually screen reader-friendly. To work for screen readers, attributes like accurate column and row heading labels must be present in the code. Unfortunately, this is not usually the case.
Comparing Credit Cards
When opening a credit card account, I tried comparing the different credit account options on a big bank website. Comparing credit cards is common; rewards, fees, and new card member offers can differ from card to card. While this information is readily available to sighted users, I could not get the information online because of how it was formatted. My screen reader only read a confusing jumble of random words and numbers. It would have been helpful to have the exact comparison details conveyed another way. For example, a list-based plain text format or a narrated video verbally explaining the different account options and what separates each one from the rest could have helped.
The most powerful features of the modern online banking experience are available after the customer logs in. Unfortunately, the simple process of signing into an account takes work. It begins with locating the login button. Many banking sites will place the login button on a banner at the top of the page. For example, the bank might display the button as an image of a person, a person's head, or another similar symbol that conveys the message of "Sign In Here" to sighted users. Unfortunately, many banking sites do not label this button in the code. As a result, my screen reader either cannot find the button or only reads it as simply the nondescriptive "button" or "link."
Another common design practice is to put the sign-in button in the site's navigation menu. The problem here is the same. If the site does not have a sign-in button labeled in the code, neither is the menu button.
Even if I can successfully find the account sign-in button, the login screen is susceptible to accessibility problems. Unlabeled text fields for username and password input, undetectable or mislabeled "Continue" or "Sign In" buttons. Inaccessible captcha verifications are among some of the most common accessibility shortcomings I have discovered with the login experience of banking sites. While these symptoms also occur on other sites, they are even more concerning on banking sites because I can't get to what I need to manage my finances until I can log in.
Accessibility while Banking: the experience behind the login
Though not public facing, the post-log-in experience on banking sites and mobile applications are crucial to assistive technology users. For someone like me to independently manage my finances, a well-optimized, accessible, and usable account experience is necessary. One of the most important things to pay attention to is account statement PDFs. My screen reader can't read a regular pdf; it has to be accessible.
Another area of concern is stylization. I had an issue when my bank used a heavily stylized period when displaying monetary amounts, causing my screen reader to ignore the period entirely. For example, if my credit card balance is $200.00, it will read as $20,000. At first, I did not realize that it was an accessibility bug and thought my card was compromised. I also sometimes need help tracking my spending because there are problems with how my screen reader announces items on the list of recent transactions.
5 Tips for Banks from a Blind Customer
From my experience, I created a list of helpful tips and pointers on how to create a more accessible online banking experience.
1. Whenever inaccessible formattings such as charts and tables are used, always include an alternative accessible version of the relevant material, such as a simple text list or verbal narration.
2. Ensure that any icon or symbol-based action buttons have text labels in the code to be located and read by screen readers.
3. Pay particular attention to fonts and stylization. Screen readers can sometimes miss a heavily stylized text.
4. Though not public facing, ensure that the post-sign-in part of the site complies with accessibility requirements to the same degree as the public-facing site. An accessible and usable online banking experience is essential for people like me to have the most significant degree of independence.
5. Consider engaging an external accessibility partner to help with all aspects of digital accessibility
.Though digital accessibility is pertinent on all kinds of websites, the need for online banking platforms to be universally accessible is perhaps an even bigger deal. I want financial and personal independence, so I need access to online banking features. I hope banks will optimize the public-facing and account management experience to be universally accessible.
To learn how to plan your digital accessibility initiative- download the digital accessibility checklist for free here.
Editors note: This is a guest post from our marketing intern, Michael Taylor. This post reflects his opinions and experiences. Read more about Michael and some of his other posts on his experience online here.