Technology can accelerate financial inclusion for people with disabilities, Mastercard study finds

According to Mastercard’s latest white paper, a compassionate approach to the financial needs of people with disabilities, supported by innovative technology solutions, has the potential to meet the needs of the most vulnerable members of society in the Middle East and Africa.

The study, Closing the Disability Gap: An Opportunity to Make a Positive Impact, reveals that digital inclusion is the pathway to financial inclusion for people with disabilities. As governments adopt and prioritize policies to improve service accessibility, this paves the way for public and private sector financial institutions, mobile network operators (MNOs), fintech providers and others. organizations to develop and apply solutions.

Umar Hashmi, Vice President, Global Product and Engineering, Mastercard, said:

“At Mastercard, we are a purpose-driven organization and practice our belief of ‘doing well by doing good’. Diversity, equity and inclusion are part of who we are, and we bring life to this by deploying products, services and partnerships that are aligned with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), based on ‘leaving no one behind’.

According to the latest available data, one billion people, or 15% of the world’s population, suffer from some form of disability, constituting the largest minority group in the world. Types of disabilities include visual, hearing, speech, mobility, cognitive, and psychosocial disabilities.

A combination of physical constraints in accessing financial institutions and services prevents many people with disabilities from banking independently. Depending on the type of disability, this includes the inability to reach and enter a financial institution, branch or ATM, not perceiving and understanding what is written on paper or electronic devices, being unable to hear, understand and communicate with banking service providers and not being able to access paper or digital content.

The document includes real case studies of people with disabilities who have to depend on others to complete simple financial tasks. One respondent said, “You should be able to access financial services in privacy; nobody should know the details of your bank transactions, your balance and how much you spend. Others spoke of how access to digital services would make a significant difference to their financial independence.

A 2019 UN report cites data that shows people with disabilities consider 28% of banks in developed countries and between 8% and 64% of banks in some emerging economies to be inaccessible.

However, steps are being taken to address this, both at government and corporate level. The UAE has implemented a federal law regarding the rights of persons with disabilities. Emirates NBD Bank provided disability equality training to more than 2,100 of its employees and also taught them American Sign Language. The bank’s Disability Friendly Branch project, set up in 2016, aims to facilitate and streamline the banking experience. The three-phase transformation integrates infrastructure, technology and services to enable and improve accessibility.

According to the Mastercard white paper, in the Middle East and Africa, using digital inclusion as a pathway to financial inclusion for people with disabilities must involve closing the smartphone ownership gap , mobile Internet use and digital literacy.

Around 63% of the world’s population is now online since the pandemic. Research from selected low- and middle-income countries in the Middle East and Africa shows that despite a large mobile disability gap that widens at every stage of the user journey, 62% of adults people with disabilities own mobile phones and 21% own smartphones.

Emerging technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution – such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics and the Internet of Things – have the potential to be delivered through web-based applications and services. This makes it possible to make up for the lack of accessibility of financial services.

Because a wide range of factors contribute to lack of financial access for people with disabilities, financial inclusion requires that each form of disability be addressed through innovative solutions, formulated for specific use cases.

While solutions from stakeholders with an international presence, such as Mastercard, have the potential to be applied globally, the varied landscape of opportunities and challenges across regions requires a localized approach. For example, in much of the Middle East, Africa and South Asia, a mobile approach to financial inclusion has proven effective. Some suggested solutions are:

  • The use of mobile banking services – especially in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and the emergence of the “new normal” – has given rise to clean, simple and distilled user interfaces for displaying basic information of friendly way. .
  • Artificial intelligence (AI) and chatbots are bridging the information gap by helping customers navigate banking tasks using conversational interfaces.
  • Contactless payments promote greater empowerment, not only in stores but also at ATMs. Users can choose to interact with a familiar device such as an accessible smartphone rather than the kiosk when requesting cash withdrawals.
  • Text-to-speech or speech-enabled digital processes based on natural language processing (NLP) have profound accessibility implications for people with sensory limitations. Intuitive, personalized tools such as those that implement debit card spending controls and transaction monitoring can prove invaluable for financial independence.

Hashmi further stated that Mastercard’s Product and Engineering division takes a customer-centric approach to resolving issues. Labs as a Service, for example, hosts innovation teams working on new solutions and experiments. Using ideas and concepts, the team helps distill solutions and develop prototypes that can be tested for real-world scalable applicability.

The approach is designed to integrate as many people as possible into the digital economy. By addressing the needs of people with disabilities, there is a clear opportunity for industry to work collaboratively to positively impact millions of lives around the world.

Read the full white paper here.

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