Banking whilst you are blind is becoming ever more difficult as branches are closing all over the United Kingdom. This means there has to be more use made of Internet banking, telephone banking, and cash machines.
As I have mentioned in a previous article when I opened a new bank account recently there was a special department that dealt with people with disabilities and could understand the problems they were going to face with trying to use Internet banking. I found this very encouraging and managed to use certain aspects of Internet banking very proficiently but did return to using telephone banking for certain tasks. So here is my appraisal of the way banks within the United Kingdom help or hinder the blind in their day-to-day banking tasks.
For small tasks like making an individual payment such as when somebody has gone and bought food for me and I have to repay them. However I have to use my home phone for this task as I need to have a proper keypad to enter all the numbers that are required. You also need to have a good memory as they require such details as your bank account number and sort code or 16 digit bankcard number, the account number you’re paying the money from and the account number you’re paying the money to. Recently the system I use has changed slightly and there is a lot more voice input required and if you make a mistake when tapping in the required numbers it will put you directly into a queue to speak to a customer service agent. They will then ask you why you did not use Internet banking or mobile banking and then proceed to help you with the task you wanted to fulfil.
Logging into your Internet bank account is quite straightforward but depending on which bank you use difficulties can be faced from then on as banks seem to have a habit of loving pop-ups and screen readers seem to have a habit of hating pop-ups. When I started using Internet banking I asked a customer service agent what is the quickest way to get to certain parts of the screen to do the major tasks I would ever want to and this worked fine until a few days ago when I logged in to find they had completely redesigned the website so what would normally be a five-minute task took me 25 minutes as all the links and terminology had changed. I phoned the bank and told them of these problems and was put through to the Internet banking section and they did not even know what a screen reader was, I tried to explain and then they asked if it was specialist software sent to me by the bank to which I pointed out if they were using a Windows machine it was built into their operating system. You have to be very patient when this kind of interaction occurs.
Talking cash machines
When these first appeared a few years ago I discovered there were two quite close to me so I decided to have a go to see how much success I would have with them. The first one I tried was only about 200 m from my home so I went there early on a Sunday morning when it wouldn’t be so busy and prepared with a set of earphones with a 3.5 mm jack plug. I had to fumble about a bit to find the earphone socket and then where to put the card and where the money would be paid out and successfully made a small transaction, disconnected myself from the cash machine and went home quite triumphant. A few days later I went into the local town centre where there was another talking cash machine but this time I had my daughter with me and the whole system seemed far more complicated and I was glad when the transaction was completed and that my daughter was watching what was going on around me.
The second scenario has put me off using talking cash machines, especially if I am on my own. The reasoning for this being that I am standing in front of the cash machine with a long white cane hanging from one arm and a set off headphones plugged into the machine. This means I have no idea what is going on around me, I have no idea if anybody is looking over and watching me enter my pin code, and that when the money and the card are ejected is somebody going to push me away and grab both of them. In that case I would be powerless to do anything.
Card payment machines
New debit and credit cards are being designed so that it is easier to determine which direction they have to be entered into car payment machines found in most shops, pubs and café’s. And with the optional limit being raised to £100 for contactless payments I thought this would make life a lot easier but it seems that some car payment machines are becoming touchscreen so therefore impossible to use if you’re blind, makes redesigning the cards pretty pointless.
One of the most pointless additions to the UK banking infrastructure, in my opinion, is mobile banking. It does not matter whether you are cited or visually impaired it still makes no sense to me. The functions that mobile banking gives include applying to increase your overdraft, or your credit card limit, check the status of your account, take photos of any cheques paid to you and automatically pay them into your account and other similar features. I spoke to somebody at the bank about this as they were trying to push me to get mobile banking so I asked if there was anyone who would actually apply for an overdraft or a credit card increase whilst on the move or sitting in a pub or a betting shop and they said a lot of people do, which in my mind is the bank encouraging debt. Secondly, if I was going out shopping I would know how much money was in my bank account before I left home, and thirdly how many people actually receive cheques any more. I rounded the whole conversation off with that I would never use mobile banking in public anyway as my phone speaks to me due to me being blind so everybody in the local area would know about my banking status. They have never mention mobile banking to me since then.
Internet banking and telephone banking seemed the best options for me as they seem the best ways of adopting the cashless society everybody keeps talking about however there is one system I do wish the banks would incorporate in their package and that is a top up payment card that I can hand to my carer so she can do the shopping and purchase birthday and Christmas gifts on my behalf without me continually having to transfer money to her. The bank can only offer me a card that would give her full access to my account but she does not want that as if she did lose the card she will feel guilty for any money stolen or hassle caused during the cancellation and replacement of the card. I believe the banks are considering this kind of payment card but I do wish they would hurry up as similar systems are available in other European countries. .