Discover the increasing concerns surrounding bank branch closures and their negative impact on consumers, particularly those with disabilities, as more individuals embrace digital banking practices over the past decade.

As more consumers switch to digital banking practices during the past ten years, thousands of bank locations have shuttered. Although concerns with having access to money have been frequently mentioned, they seem to have become worse. According to consumer advocacy group Which?, branch closures have a negative impact on more than half of bank clients who are disabled.

According to the Equality Act of 2010, banks and financial institutions are required to remove obstacles for disabled customers and make sure they are not excluded. In an effort to ensure that vulnerable clients have outcomes that are as good as those for other customers, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) also establishes criteria for financial firms to adhere to when dealing with vulnerable customers.

The consumer champion conducted a poll of 2,723 bank customers with disabilities or impairments and discovered that 52% of them believe that bank branch closures have negatively impacted their ability to obtain essential banking services.

The Lending Standards Board’s Anna Roughley, head of insight, emphasized the significance of including all banks customers. According to Roughley, inclusive design is crucial even before a product or service has really begun to take shape. Although the shift to digital offers opportunities to clients, some may not be acceptable for them.

“For instance, there is a greater push for customers to interact through mobile banking apps, but it has been discovered that persons with disabilities own fewer smartphones than people without disabilities. The only way to accurately analyze the risks and opportunities and make sure no one is left behind is to guarantee a varied variety of opinions are involved in the design and sign-off process.

Customers select their favorite banking encounters

Respondents were asked to rank banks using the following five criteria: branch locations, telephone banking, branch locations, online banking, and mobile banking.

A Which? ‘Customer Score’ was created based on respondents’ likely to refer and their level of current satisfaction with the service.

With an 82% customer score, First Direct came out on top in the consumer champion survey. The company received a perfect five stars for its online banking services, but the majority of the compliments provided by respondents focused on their phone support.

Nationwide was the only company to obtain four stars in this category and received the best rating for branch banking. The building society received a 75% rating and five stars for its internet banking system.

In the rankings, Halifax, Santander, and Lloyds came in third, fourth, and fifth place, respectively. Halifax received four stars for both its online and mobile banking offerings, while Santander and Lloyds each received an astounding five stars.

However, Lloyds received just two out of a possible five stars for its regard for consumer choices in terms of communication methods.

Barclays (48%) and TSB (47%) came in last place, on the other end of the spectrum. They were criticized for having subpar automated phone systems.

Alternative services frequently fall short of expectations

According to Which?’s poll, substitutes put in place to cover any gaps left by physical branches closing are not always effective. Twenty-one percent of respondents claimed they have trouble remembering passwords or using card readers, and 35 percent find it difficult or impossible to speak with their bank over the phone.

Strong customer authentication, new security measures for online card payments, has also presented challenges for 39% of respondents. 17 percent of respondents attributed this to running out of time, while 14 percent said a weak mobile signal prevented them from receiving security codes.

Which? also got in touch with a few banks, who acknowledged that the most recent iterations of their websites and applications had not been put to the test by people with disabilities. AIB (UK), Danske Bank, Revolut, Starling, The Co-operative Bank, and Virgin Money are some of these. Starling did say that study on vulnerable consumers is ongoing, though.

The findings’ significance was further outlined by Sam Richardson, deputy editor of Which? Money: “Bank branch closures can have significant impacts on local communities and in particular those living with disabilities, who are among the most likely members of society to rely on both cash and in-person banking services.

Which? thinks banks should take into account how closing physical branches may affect disabled clients’ access to essential face-to-face banking services because alternative services are frequently subpar, according to our research.

“With the implementation of the new Consumer Duty regulations less than two months away, the regulator must not be reluctant to impose strict enforcement measures against companies that fall short of the necessary standards of customer care.”

Negative impact on more than half of bank clients who are disabled
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