Accessibility in Financial Services

Recently, we scanned the websites of 30 of the top US National and Community banks for accessibility. The purpose was to discover how easy these banking websites were to access and use for people with disabilities. As well as to highlight the biggest barriers to digital banking. The results revealed that there is work to be done:

  • None of the banks fully met Level AA of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). WCAG Level AA is the international standard for accessibility. 
  • Across all 30 banks, results found that  web content would be considered ‘Fairly difficult to read’. That is according to the Flesch Reading Ease Score.

Read on to discover our findings in detail.

Why did we carry out this research?

Financial services should be able to be accessed and used by people with disabilities. 1 in 4  American adults has a disability. When financial services fail to meet the needs of these users, it’s a problem.

When it comes to managing personal finances, research shows that 18% of households with a disability are unbanked. This compares to just 6% of those without a disability. 28% of unbanked households with a disability say that a lack of trust in banks is a reason why. 

Trust is built in many ways. As humans, we develop a gut feeling at first impression. In today’s digital-first economy, websites are often the first point of contact. Those that fail to meet the needs of people with disabilities risk leaving this audience feeling left out. Building trust begins to fail at the first hurdle. 

Not only that, according to the National Disability Institute, households with a disability are less likely to use digital banking.

Less than half access their accounts online, compared to 73% of those without disabilities. When financial services aren’t digitally accessible, freedom of choice in how users manage their personal finances is removed. Freedom and trust are 2 key areas to any good relationship.

Given the existing research, we wanted to discover how accessible banking websites were. We wanted to highlight common accessibility problems, and offer our support to help financial organizations improve.

An overview of our scan

We scanned 30 of the top US National and Community banks for accessibility (15 of each, based on revenue). To do this we used our web accessibility checker, the ReachDeck Auditor. It scans for accessibility errors, readability problems and broken links;

  • Accessibility errors are those that fail to meet WCAG 2.1.

    WCAG is a guide that helps organizations to create accessible websites and apps. It’s regarded as the international standard for web accessibility. WCAG has three levels that organizations can meet - level A, AA and AAA. The ReachDeck Auditor scanned for failures across all 3 levels.

  • Readability problems affect how easy content is to understand.

    Readability problems can be because content is written to a high reading age, uses jargon words or has long sentences. You may have heard of The Flesch Reading Ease Score. This is a formula used to measure readability. It takes into account the average length of sentences and the average number of syllables per word. Then, it gives you a score of between 0 and 100.

    Using the ReachDeck Auditor we were able to identify the readability score of the websites scanned. We also measured the overall reading age, and total number of jargon words and long sentences used.

  • Broken links are links to a webpage that doesn't work. With the ReachDeck Auditor, we were able to discover the overall number of broken links across the websites we scanned.

In September 2021, we scanned a total of:

  • 7,800 web pages across 15 national banking websites
  • Nearly 6000 web pages across 15 community banking websites

The results found that there’s work to be done to improve.

Key findings

Accessibility errors

When it comes to accessibility, our results found that none of the banks fully met WCAG Level AA. WCAG AA tackles the most common barriers for disabled users. As such, it’s recommended that organizations meet WCAG Level AA, at minimum. In fact, most legislation that mentions WCAG calls for compliance at this level.

National banks

Across the national banks reviewed, we found:

  • Almost 86,000 WCAG 2.1 AA errors (over 32,000 of these errors were found across 3 websites alone)
  • Over 203,000 WCAG 2.1 AAA errors

That’s an average of 12 WCAG AA errors per page. However some websites had far more errors. For example one national bank had more than 28 errors per page.

Community banks

Across the community banks reviewed, we found:

  • Over 79,000 WCAG 2.1 AA errors (almost 40,000 of these errors were found across 3 websites alone)
  • Almost 179,000 WCAG 2.1 AAA errors

That’s an average of 13 WCAG AA errors per page. Again, some websites had far more accessibility errors. For example, one community bank had an average of 52 errors per page .

Common WCAG AA errors discovered:

Across both community and national banking websites, there were common WCAG AA errors. These included:

  1. Color contrast failures.
    This means that the color contrast between an element and its background were not considered accessible. This can make it hard for web users to read content. Especially for those who are color blind or have visual impairments.

    One national bank had 10,000 failures for color contrast alone.
  2. Duplicate ID attribute failure
    Any element on a web page can have an ID. For example, a section heading or form labels. They define what the element is. IDs help users of screen readers to jump to different parts of a page. It makes navigation much easier, and helps them to get a quick overview of what the page contains. When it comes to these IDs, each should be unique. 

    One community bank had 1576 Duplicate IDs across their site.
  3. Missing iFrame title attribute
    Attributes are given to generic HTML elements such as an iFrame.  An example of an iFrame is a Google advert. This might be given an attribute such as "Advertisement", to help users of screen readers understand what it is. 

    One major national bank had 1178 errors of this kind.
  4. Missing submit button on forms
    In the same way that every field in a form should be given a label, a form button should too. If it’s missing, a screen reader user will physically not be able to send the form. 

    One community bank had 1306 errors such as this.
  5. Missing name attribute
    A name attribute is a label that explains what a control does, for example, a link or a form button. If it’s missing, someone using a screen reader will have no information as to what it's for.

Readability problems

Our results found that the web content across all 30 banks would be considered ‘Fairly difficult to read’. That is, according to the Flesch Reading Ease Score.

As we said earlier, the Flesch Reading Ease Score is a formula used to measure readability. A score of 100 means content is very easy to read. A score of 0 means text is very difficult to read. 

Community banks scored an average of 55/100 for readability. National banks scored an average of 51/100 for readability. With this score, their web content is written to grade 10-12 level. Considering that 54% of US adults are reading below 6th grade level, many Americans are being left out.

Not only that, the average American is likely struggling to read their essential information. Across all web content scanned, we found the average reading age to be 19 years. In the US, the average reading age is between 12-14 years old.

Sentence length & jargon words

Readability is affected by sentence length and the use of jargon words.

We found that, on average:

  • National and community banks used 11 jargon words per page
  • National banks used 12 long sentences per page
  • Community banks used 9 long sentences per page

Jargon words

Jargon words are buzzwords or over-complicated phrases. When these words are used, they can affect how well someone understands your content. In banking this can have a huge impact.

  • One national bank had 18 jargon words on their personal checking page. These include ‘herein’, ‘obtain’, ‘for the purpose of’. Another had 200 jargon words on their online banking agreement page. These include ‘amendment’, ‘components’, ‘erroneous’, ‘furnished’, ‘notwithstanding’, ‘transmitted’, ‘pursuant’.
  • One community bank had over 16,000 jargon words across their site, with one page having 168 jargon words alone. This is a terms and conditions page which readers are linked to from many places across the site. These include ‘adjustments’, ‘aggregate’, ‘discretion’, ‘construed’, ‘furnish’, ‘hereof’, ‘incurred’, ‘notwithstanding’. Another had 165 jargon words on their resources page.

By removing jargon words, financial organizations can make content easier to understand. This will help all visitors to feel more confident about using online banking services. Including those with low literacy levels and cognitive disabilities. 

Long sentences

Long sentences are sentences that are 21 words or more. The longer the sentence, the harder it is to read and understand. According to the American Press Institute, at 8 words long, readers can understand 100% of the content. At 14 words, they understand 90%. But at 43 words long, understanding drops to below 10%.

Our results found that:

  • One national bank has 37 long and complicated sentences on their homepage. They have more than 40,000 long sentences across their site, along with 28,000 jargon words. One of their web pages has 87 jargon words. These include words such as ‘aggregate’, ‘herein’, ‘dialogue’, ‘governance’, ‘thus’ and ‘deficiencies’. 
  • One community bank has a checking page with 9 long sentences. Not only that, it has a reading age of 20, and uses 24 jargon words. Words include ‘breaches’, ‘leverage’ and ‘streamline’.

By keeping content simple, short and clear, it’s easier and quicker to read and understand, for everyone.

Join our challenge. Drive inclusive digital banking.

We want to help you to make sure every user can access, understand and use your information. Join our challenge and improve accessibility in your organization. The first step? Discover the accessibility and readability of your own website. We’ll help! 

For a limited time, we’re offering financial organizations the chance to book a free, no obligation website audit.

"Digital accessibility is just as important as physical accessibility. It improves the entire user experience online. Improving accessibility for some usually improves the experience for all. I encourage financial institutions to improve their accessibility and readability to ensure all people have access to critical financial services. The Texthelp team wants to help them make this positive change. Together, we can make the digital world an accessible place for all." - Martin McKay, CEO, Texthelp

During the consultation we'll:

  • Give your website a quick accessibility and readability audit
  • Talk about the barriers that affect digital accessibility and usability, from technical problems to readability
  • Answer your questions around legal compliance and WCAG
  • Offer you our accessibility tool ReachDeck for 30 days to help you get started on improving your digital services