Barclay's first to offer in-branch help for the deaf
BANKS are learning to improve their facilities for vulnerable people, with Barclay's SignVideo initiative leading the way.
Barclays have become the first British bank to provide in-branch support to help deaf customers by launching their new service in partnership with SignVideo.
Now when a hearing impaired customer walks into any branch of Barclays they'll be able to communicate with bank staff via a SignVideo online interpreter using sign language on an iPad.
SignVideo already provides a service to help deaf customers bank from home, both at Barclays and other financial institutions like Halifax and Lloyds. But this new initiative provides even better access to the hard of hearing.
Banks are getting better
Barclay's SignVideo is an example of how banks are slowly becoming better at facilitating services for vulnerable people.
The initiative has won applause from the deaf community. Dave Buxton, Director of the British Deaf Association (BDA) says it's "fantastic" that it helps deaf people to feel "valued and equal customers".
It's invaluable for making transactions where it's only convenient to come into a branch and communicate face-to-face with a member of staff.
This move shows how Barclays are taking steps to make themselves more accessible for people with sensory loss. But this isn't the only time Barclays have been the first to team up with a specialist to facilitate banking for customers with disabilities.
In December last year they announced an in-house technology trial for Beacon, an App that notifies branch staff when a customer with an accessibility need enters the branch. The idea is the customer won't have to explain their particular requirements every time they enter a branch.
SL First Magazine for the deaf and hard of hearing felt that, although the programme needed "fine tuning", it was exciting how deaf customers were at last being helped with their communication needs.
Reason for complaint
Barclays no doubt were grateful for the positive PR.
In the past they, like other banks, have been criticised for their inflexibility and lack of understanding about the needs of their more vulnerable customers.
According to a Times report banks as recently as 2012 were regularly failing to provide equal access to services for its customers with hearing loss.
Deaf people accused banks of being indifferent to their needs, and humiliating them by their insistence that security measures had to be carried out by telephone. And staff were accused of being poorly trained and unhelpful and there was criticism that the trend to replace tellers with machines and telephone banking made banking even more inconvenient.
Individual cases provided more evidence of banks poor attitude to vulnerable people.
Barclays specifically were singled out for their handling of deaf people in the Times report for their insistence that one of their deaf customers could only gain access to her money via telephone banking.
The Limping Chicken also highlighted an example where a deaf man was asked to pay a £25 admin fee by the Halifax to resolve a request to transfer money - a transaction which can be done for free over the phone.
Nudged in the right direction
Small wonder then that the FCA observed in a recent paper [pdf] that many people weren't receiving fair treatment from banks and other financial institutions and that accessing providers could be difficult.
Now the British Bankers Association has nudged the financial service industry into a more considerate direction with guidelines, aimed at helping people with long-term illnesses.
But Barclays bank have got it right this time with their SignVideo partnership according to Charlie Swinbourne, Editor of The Limping Chicken.
He told us he thought it would make a massive difference to deaf customers. But it wasn't just that the bank was facilitating them to resolve problems and buy products in their own language that impressed him. It was because for once a bank was thinking about their needs and valuing them.
Banks and other financial institutions still have a way to go to fully integrate with people who are deaf and other vulnerable customers. But Barclays SignVideo partnership is certainly a step in the right direction.
And as Charlie Swinbourne puts it "As businesses like Barclays take steps like this, others will follow."