financial-inclusion

Bankers, stakeholders, policymakers and people with disabilities met in Seattle to discuss how to engage more people with disabilities in the banking process at the first ever Financial Inclusion Summit held on Sept. 16.

The meeting was called by the National Disability Institute, a non-profit organization focused on creating a better economic future for people with disabilities. According to NDI’s findings, nearly one fifth of households headed by working-age people with disabilities (18 percent) were unbanked and more one fourth (28 percent) were underbanked.

Why such a disparity?

The people who attended the summit relayed a number of reasons, including a lack of money, banking services being too expensive, a lack of trust in the banking system and finding other alternative financial services like money marts and pawnshops much more convenient without realizing they are also more expensive.

“We’re learning there’s a large gap in knowledge and understanding among people with disabilities to make informed financial decisions and that’s another major reason they don’t deal with the banks,” says Michael Morris, executive director of the National Disability Institute.

A number of big banks are trying to address this issue. Bank of America offers a free Better Money Habits course, while Wells Fargo has Hands On Banking, which is a free financial literacy course offered through American Job Centers. But this isn’t the only reason many won’t deal with the banks. For many it’s because they don’t see themselves reflected in the industry and they don’t get adequate help when there’s a problem.

“They asked that banks hire more people with disabilities to change their culture, which then ultimately might change their customer service, sensitivity and those customers’ access to products and services,” Morris says. “They also recommended every bank have a point-person who could do rapid response either over the phone or in-person should a person with a disability have a problem.”

JPMorganChase is trying to meet that demand with an elaborate training program on sensitivity and awareness on disability issues and every major bank has a ADA compliance officer that is charged with looking at accessibility in all its dimensions.

“A number of legal settlements had been brought against the banks in the past over the issue of accessibility that I think is bringing this issue under their close attention. Of course, there’s always more that can be done,” says Morris.

The Sept. 16 summit at Seattle City Hall was only the first of three designed to increase communication and collaboration between the banking industry and people with disabilities. The second was in Chicago on Oct. 25 and the final one will be held on Nov. 16 in Columbus, Ohio. The results of the implemented recommendations in each of those cities will be released to the public. The results from Seattle will see publication in early November.