Improving access to banking services

Having a bank account is critical for so many things we take for granted, including paying bills or shopping for food. But for some, access to banking is a much more complex process with additional barriers.

Having a bank account is critical for so many things we take for granted. From receiving payments, whether welfare benefits or a salary, to purchasing food and paying bills. While access to banking is essential, it doesn’t always feel accessible to everyone.

Many people face additional barriers when trying to open or manage a bank account.

That might be because someone doesn’t have a passport or driving licence which are so often asked for when opening an account. Or it could be because of language barriers, difficulty understanding complex documents or health conditions.


Main barriers people face in access banking services

Barriers due to lack of documentation

Perhaps the greatest challenge we hear about from charities we support is opening a bank account without a passport or driving licence. In reality, you can open an account without them – but banks will need some other way of identifying customers. Most banks list some alternative forms of ID on their website (if you search for ‘proof of ID and a bank’s name, you should be able to find their lists easily) and many will also encourage you to speak to the bank if a customer doesn’t have those forms listed as there may be other types of identification that could be used. It can be helpful to tell the bank what sort of ID could be obtained and use that as the starting point for the conversation to see whether that could be appropriate.

Unable to access banking due to language needs

Language barriers are another key challenge that we hear about. Customers can normally be accompanied into branches to help with translation but banks do need to be sure that customers understand what they are signing up for. It’s often helpful to call your local branch in advance to find out how best a customer can be supported.

Knowledge of accessibility and disability needs

Banks will typically have some information available in different formats too – whether that is Easy Read, large print, braille or information printed on different coloured paper. Customers just need to ask for these formats. Again, the more the bank knows about the customer, the more chance there is for support to be put in place.


Building relationships is an important cornerstone to overcome exclusion

In many cases, banks have processes in place to try and improve support to people who face additional barriers but too often, awareness of this support is low.

Banks don’t always know what additional challenges a customer might be facing either so don’t know when or what kind of support to offer. It can be hard for customers to disclose this information to their bank, but it can be a really important first step. This will help branches understand a customers’ needs so that they are better able to make sure the right support is in place. Charities can accompany customers into branches. If customers would feel more comfortable speaking privately, you can ask if there is a private space available for the conversation.

Sometimes support options may be industry-wide – like the new Debt Respite scheme which provides ‘breathing space’ for people who are in financial difficulty and are receiving debt advice. In that scheme, customers can be given up to 60 days’ respite where interest, fees and charges on debt are frozen, alongside collections and enforcement action. In other cases, different banks might have different levels of support available – but you’ll typically need to speak to them about what a customer might need so they can understand how the bank could help.

Improving access to financial services often, like so many things, comes down to relationships. Being able to build a relationship with a local branch can help to build understanding between charities and those they support and the bank. Similarly, if customers are able to build relationships with colleagues in branches, this can help colleagues to better tailor services and support. No doubt there will still be challenges in some cases, and there will always be more banks could do to further improve support, but trying to start with a conversation with a local branch can be a helpful start.


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