Natwest banking app first to get RNIB approval
NATWEST have redesigned their mobile banking app to make it easier for blind and partially sighted people to use.
Changes include boosting the app's contrast to make text clearer, and enabling information displayed on the screen to be read out loud.
The app is the first to have received accreditation from the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) - who helped the bank pinpoint flaws in the existing technology.
Natwest say that the updated app has had over 160 changes made to it, and as a result it will now be more useful for the roughly 15,000 of their customers who have some form of visual impairment.
Some of the new features simply change how the app exploits existing accessibility settings.
For example, there have been several changes relating to the setting that allows information within an app - whether visible text or the text labels assigned to buttons within the display - to be read out to the user.
The app will now tell users the names of individual pages when they navigate between them, making it easier for them to keep track of where they are within the app and what they can do on that page.
The way other information is read out has been adjusted - sort codes, for example, will now be read out as individual digits rather than as a set of whole numbers.
Other additions include a "get cash" feature which allows users to request a code that can then be entered into an ATM to get cash out, thus removing the need for a card.
Those with iPhones will additionally be able to use the device's fingerprint scanner to log in to the app, rather than having to manually input data.
Overall, the RNIB say that in trials of the app, people were able to view their transactions, transfer money and make payments without any issues.
Previously, these seemingly simple actions have proved difficult, or even impossible, using traditional banking apps.
An RNIB review of the available apps from the major banks has uncovered a range of problems.
The Nationwide app, for example, has been deemed "largely inaccessible" for Android users, because it cannot be used with TalkBack - a Google accessibility service that uses spoken word and vibration to help people interact with their screens.
Other apps - such as those from the Lloyds Banking Group and HSBC - were found to be confusing, in that they started "by reading information half way down the page".
Meanwhile some apps failed to read out account information correctly - in some cases not telling people crucial information such as whether the stated balance was in debit or credit.
This was the case with the First Direct app, and to a lesser extent, the original Natwest app.
Natwest's refreshed app comes as a welcome addition to a rather limited range of financial products suitable for people with visual impairments.
It was also Natwest who, little more than a year ago, introduced an accessible bank card - which they said was the first of its kind.
Specially designed for blind and partially sighted people, the card features a series of raised dots indicating whether it is a debit or savings card, and important information such as contact numbers on the back of the card where a larger font is used.
There is also a notch cut into the lower half of one side to help users get the card the right way around when using a cash machine or card reader.
Like the app, the card was produced in conjunction with RNIB and given their seal of approval.
Some might question why such apparently simple measures weren't introduced a long time ago - after all, cutting a notch out of a card is pretty low tech.
But as RNIB's Steve Tyler said at the time that creating a such a card was something of "an engineering challenge, particularly... ensuring that it doesn't disrupt machinery".
The UK Card Association - the trade body for the card payments industry - say they have been working with card companies to test whether credit and debit cards "can be adapted" to allow visually impaired people to use them more easily.
So far, only Barclays have introduced a similarly notched card to NatWest.
Available to current account holders, the Barclays debit card comes with the option for a high visibility background to make it easier to read, and coloured indicators to assist people find the leading edge of the card.
While the roll-out of accessible cards might take some time, there has been some success in making it easier to use some card-related services, such as withdrawing cash.
RNIB say that talking ATMs are now available at the branches of Barclays, Lloyds, Halifax, Sainsbury's Bank, TSB, Nationwide and Santander.
This type of ATM features a headphone jack that enables people to listen to instructions given by the machine - much easier than having to memorise sequences of button presses or asking a member of staff for help.