Everybody’s Changing

Persons with disabilities have limited access to financial services. This is because of the a) lack of awareness on the potential of persons with disabilities, b) social stigma associated with disability, and c) belief that subsidies and handouts, and not necessarily financial services is the best way to provide assistance to the disabled.

Government to Person (G2P) and Social Protection payments through financial institutions provide access to formal financial services to people with disabilities, unbanked communities by channeling a consistent flow of money into bank accounts. Branchless Banking (BLB) is another way to make such payments and services more accessible while decreasing the cost of transfer. However, transferring money to bank accounts alone does not necessarily ensure that the money is put to good use; such as for income generating activities that will enable the target group to achieve an increase in their household income. It is therefore essential that first time account holders are taught about savings, and financial management.

To date, Sakchyam has established 220 BLB Touchpoints in partnership with Nepalese financial institutions. These BLBs can serve as points to channel G2P and Social Protection and other allowances to the underserved communities, including to people with disabilities. The agents, who are from the community, also offer banking advice and encourage clients to save, an important factor considering these groups are also most vulnerable to natural shocks.

Bank branches in Nepal – which is already underserved in terms of access to formal financial services – are not designed for customers using wheelchairs. And the location of the bank branches can be confusing, especially for blind customers. The account opening forms are filled with the banks’ terms and conditions which extend beyond a few pages. These are often filled with legal jargons and so complicated that a person with a learning disability will not be able to understand the document.

At Sakchyam Access to Finance Programme, we have realized that the increasing use of technology in banking and financial services can be a major tool to provide services to the unbanked. Technology enabled services such as mobile financial services are therefore being developed in partnership with Nepalese financial institutions to bring the unbanked into the financial services space. If done right, services such as e-banking and mobile banking will offer an opportunity for persons with disabilities to access various services through multiple mediums. This should enable far greater access to services, including ancillary services such as insurance, tied to the borrowings.

What will Sakchyam do to reach out to people with disabilities in 2018?

Sakchyam’s pursuit of the use of technology in the delivery of financial services through ‘FinTech’ (technology for financial service delivery) is expected to reach out to persons who remain unbanked, including people with disabilities.

There is already an understanding that improving accessibility will improve access for all users and make it possible for them to make use of more services. A lot of accessibility issues (such as the physical access to branches, placement and number of ATMs; signature mismatches) are common to persons with disabilities.

In 2018, Sakchyam pledges to continue to advocate and encourage partners through the Challenge Fund application  process to incorporate disability inclusion to build stronger, inclusive environments and reach out to the individuals that continue to face barriers in accessing mainstream finance.As is the norm with market led programmes, we are once again looking for Nepalese private and public stakeholders to engage with and attempt to bring change.

On a lazy Saturday afternoon as I headed to the Laxmi Bank ATM, I realized that the keypads on these new shiny ATM machines were slightly elevated. Intrigued, I spoke to the manager to learn more about this. “This is the new keypad with the braille letters. It’s for the blind customers. While we’ve been receiving a positive feedback, we’re thinking of setting up a voice enabling system that will dictate the next steps so that the customers know what to do without any help”. Change, it seems, is already here.

 

Text by Prasanna K.C., Sakchyam Access to Finance Programme; Photo: iStock