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The Innovative Money Management Tools Widening Access for All

January 31, 2018

Andre Louis can use the accessibility functions on his smartphone – and his musician’s dexterity – to type an email faster than the average teenager. He can cut jazz tracks on a laptop with the skill of a computer games coder. There is very little he cannot do – despite only understanding he was blind at all at the age of nine. But the ticket machines at big train stations still defeat the instrumental artist.

Louis books the tickets with an app but needs to enter a code to collect it from the station. “That’s all well and good,” he says, “but every time I go to the station, there’s a different machine, with a different interface, and I will always need assistance.” Sometimes, with minutes to spare before a departure, that assistance can also be slow to arrive.

It used to be the same for banking, Louis says. Cash machines were also always different and almost impossible to use without help. Branches were hard to navigate and, while telephone banking helped when it arrived, “all the prompts were so slow – I just used to get annoyed at having to deal with them.”

The digital revolution has since transformed Louis’ relationship with his money, if not – yet – his train tickets. And he is not alone; for a range of people with access needs, from physical and learning disabilities to mental health challenges, the advent of apps, contactless payment and other innovations has brought everyday tasks within reach, that many of us give little thought to.

If Louis wants to send his wife money for something he loads the Barclays Mobile Banking app using voice activation and uses fingerprint recognition instead of a password. Then he uses the text-to-speech function on his smartphone to enter the amount and select his wife, “and that’s it. It’s easy”. If he needs to get cash, Louis can plug his headphones into one of Barclays’ talking ATMs.

For one mother and her 18-year-old son, technology has made everyday life easier, helping him to overcome some of the challenges he faces. The teenager, who, along with his mother prefers not to be named, has autism spectrum disorder, which can make social interaction stressful for him, and also has problems with dexterity, including hand tremors, which can get worse in tricky situations.

“Say he wanted to get coins out of a purse or wallet in a coffee shop – if he was under stress, because he was in a queue and people were waiting, his hands would shake more and more,” says his mother. “Then if he dropped a coin, he wouldn’t have the verbal capability to laugh it off and pick it up, and he wouldn’t be able to pick it up anyway because of his tremors, so it builds up as this massive barrier. He refused to go out.”

Debit cards were not much help, because typing the pin was difficult, and he got paranoid about using a contactless card in case it got stolen and copied. At one point, she was repeatedly buying coffee shop gift cards for her son to use.

When she shared some of these trials on social media, Barclay’s accessibility team saw them and began talking to the family about solutions. Now her son uses a bPay fob by Barclaycard to make contactless payments. This is linked to his mother’s bPay account, so she can supervise his spending and offer reassurance. He also wears a bPay loop on a lanyard around his neck.

“Now he just leans forward and rests it against the terminal, and job done,” his mother says. Now that her son is able to independently use his bPay devices, it not only means that he goes out more, but he also engages in conversations with people who are intrigued by the technology when out and about. “So he has a chat with them and really enjoys explaining it, which is something he would never have done before. It’s given him something he can be an expert in and share with people,” his mother adds.

“It’s been a massive breakthrough,” she says, adding that a friend with MS who has mobility issues has also found bPay helpful.

Unique initiatives have similarly helped Shannon O’Neill manage often-fraught relations with her finances. O’Neill has complex mental health problems, including bipolar and a dissociative disorder, and has only recently started working again, in an NHS human resources department, after six years in which she was afflicted with mania and amnesia-like symptoms.

“I would get lost in time and space and get easily confused,” O’Neill says. “I might remember that I need to go and pay a bill but then forget what it was. Or I’d buy stuff online and forget all about it. A box would arrive and I’d be like: ‘Why did I order a rhubarb plant and two ironing board covers?’”

O’Neill would often spiral into debt and could not remember passcodes or other information required for online or phone banking. “At one point, I was literally freezing my credit card,” she says, “so that if I wanted to use it, I’d at least have to wait for it to defrost.”

Eventually O’Neill was hospitalised. Her brother helped her arrange a visit to a bank branch, together with a mental health nurse, where trained staff helped her get on top of her finances.

They worked with Barclays Digital Eagles, who helped her set up the banking app and fingerprint recognition, so she did not need to remember passcodes. She also gets a text alert every Friday to tell her how much money is in her account.

“I’ve got my spending under much better control now and I’m no longer in debt,” she says. “And if there is a bit of a problem, I can get help to fix it. For me, it means I can have a lot more independence and control over my money. I have a safety net.”

That added control means all three people can focus on what’s important. For Louis, that’s making music and raising his young family. And he’s optimistic that technological advances designed to benefit everyone will bring him greater freedom, as well as convenience.

Meanwhile, the growth of voice activation, among other innovations, is making banking tasks easier still. “We’ve already come a long way,” says Louis. “Even five years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to do half the stuff I can do today.”

Source: The Guardian

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