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Banking accessibility

With so many innovative goings-on in the world of banking, finance and tech (often times simultaneously enmeshed with each other) it can be surprising to realise that banking accessibility on a human level is still not where it should be.As hackathons, mass tech-hire events, blockchain innovations and technological implementations occur to better equip banking, there are still many left on the sidelines, too often untouched by developments that improve how the majority of people — executives, consumers, merchants, developers — engage with the financial ecosystem.Those with disabilities of various kinds are one group that springs immediately to mind.Something as simple as withdrawing money from an ATM is an activity that too many of us take for granted. However, BBVA's launch of its BBVA For Everyone app back in early March reveals quite a lot about how starkly different the banking experience is for the visually impaired, for example.Developed alongside ILUNION TecnologĂ­a y Accesibilidad and engaging with specialist financial technology solution provider GFT's Innovation Lab from late 2017, the new app aims to facilitate the simple cash withdrawal process for customers in Spain. All throughout its pilot phase, which involved 30 people with disabilities, GFT worked to figure out how customers could preprogram cash withdrawals from ATMs, as well as how the visually impaired could more easily locate the ATMs.In January 2018 it was fully launched, with Luis Javier Blas, director of Engineering at BBVA Spain, stating that customers with a disability would be able to "use any of BBVA's ATMs" to avail themselves of the service.In Spain, customers can now use the app to locate the specially modified BBVA ATMs. The app works with Google Maps to plot the quickest and most convenient routes and interacts with the ATM, following a sound emitted by the ATM in order to locate it. After inserting the bank card, the client completes a few more steps via the smartphone before collecting the cash.It's a pretty innovative solution to a neglected problem. People with visual impairments often have to wait for someone trustworthy to become available to help them withdraw cash from an ATM (due to the sensitivity of the information potentially being revealed); this app navigates around that obstacle quite nimbly.The app facilitates a marriage of privacy and convenience that has the potential to make a big difference to the lives of many people.In fact, considering that almost ten percent of the Spanish population have a disability, it's clear just how vital a development like this one is, and it paves the way for further, similar improvements."The new app makes banking a lot easier for blind people like me. We can look for an ATM and specify the details of the transaction in advance. Then, when we can navigate to the ATM, and the transaction is completed automatically. It is an enormous improvement, not only for blind people, but also for older people and those who find it difficult to use the standard ATM at a traditional branch", said Daniela Rubio who worked as part of GFT's multidisciplinary development team.The link-up between BBVA and GFT will certainly not benefit every customer, but it could prove to be the catalyst that changes the mentality that has seen disability neglected by innovative bank thinking. Those with disabilities can be considered as a type of 'underbanked', and their financial inclusion deserves more consideration as exemplified by BBVA.Elsewhere, in the United Arab Emirates, people with disabilities (known as people of determination) are being afforded greater inclusivity, with Emirates NBD introducing new services to ameliorate customer experience. braille-enabled account opening, tools to cut out unwanted background noise for those with hearing problems, and staff trained in basic sign language are all positive steps by the major lender.Each of these are only waves in the ocean that is the financial services industry, but if firms such as BBVA, GFT and Emirates NBD continue to propel similarly inclusive ideas into the current of everyday user experience, the ripple effect could take hold until the rest of the big banks have no choice but to react and emulate.

Jernberg Danish
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Danish Banks exodus

It looks like the Danes are losing confidence in their big banks.According to a recent Voxmeter customer survey, almost 45,000 customers switched from big banks to smaller ones last year — almost three times more than the previous year.This is a significant development according to Voxmeter CEO Christian Stejr. "The clients lack closeness, security and trust, and there is an expectation that you will get these in smaller banks", he added.The pattern has been the same for all Nordic bank surveys. The direct banks and the smaller local banks beat the big ones, with the exception of Handelsbanken. This is mostly likely due to Handelsbanken's decentralised strategy. (Handelsbanken began building its decentralised system in the early 1970s and it is a principle the bank still holds dear today — as you can see from Lafferty News' 2017 interview with its CEO Anders Bouvin).Another rating firm — EPSI Rating — has been conducting annual Pan Nordic customer satisfaction surveys since 1999. According to its 2017 Nordic report, digital bank customers are missing personal relationships they get from brick-and-mortar banks.I define myself as a digital customer. I have not been in a branch for many years. But I do have a personal banker I can call from time to time to discuss financial matters.Paradoxically, my main bank — DNB — has shown all-time high profits despite the fact their customer satisfaction index is only under-performed by Nordea. The two big banks have had the least satisfied customers in Norway for decades.The strategic question is to what extent does customer satisfaction affect market shares and profitability? Digitalisation is increasing accessibility and reducing cost at the same time.But how many branches do banks have to close? Is it sufficient for customers to be in contact only with unknown personnel at call centres? How does having a personal banker affect a customer's loyalty?With the latest news from Denmark I guess these are matters which banks have to carefully consider if they want to keep their clients.Frank Jernberg is a former banker and writes for Lafferty News on Nordic affairs.

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Lessons from Latvia fiasco

As readers will recall, Latvia was rocked by a high-profile scandal in February as ABLV Bank was accused by the US Treasury Dept of having facilitated money laundering. The country's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) even went so far as to declare that the financial institution had "institutionalised money laundering as a pillar of the bank's business practices".The laundering scandal has resulted in ABLV being hung out to dry, following the combination of a wind-up order and voluntary liquidation — but this is far more than a cautionary tale for banks, because there are plenty of lessons here for regulators, watchdogs and supervisors.Internal monitoringThe criticism levelled at ABLV is that it disregarded AML safeguards, despite the fact that most banks employ large numbers of people in risk and compliance — yet as other recent scandals such as the CBA multiyear money laundering scheme showed, the automation of many procedures can allow banks to claim that compliance departments missed signals because of software glitches. Fingers were pointed, and questions asked, about who exactly should be to blame for banks not complying with AML — the ECB was scapegoated in the immediate aftermath of the ABLV scandal by some, with Reuters' Balazs Koranyi saying that, although AML oversight is not part of that body's function through the Single Supervisory Mechanism, it "could have spotted clues"."AML/KYC controls seem to have been deficient in the Latvian case", explains Lafferty Group senior researcher Patrick Houlihan."While nominally the ECB is in charge of this, in practice these controls are delegated to member states. One suspects that corruption is relatively high in Latvia, which may go some way to explain this."One upshot of this scandal is that the ECB may be forced to take a more hands-on approach to AML/KYC controls in member states."A second lesson to be learnt is that this is the second time in five years that a new member of the EU has been embroiled in a financial scandal."Indeed, there are question marks about deep-rooted corruption; whether the banks' disregard was due to negligence or strategic ignorance is yet to be decided. Regardless, it is important that all proper authorities work together to improve the situation. The best way to do that is to proactively make wise decisions. Government on the front footTo this end, Latvia's Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis recently confirmed that there would be a clampdown on shell companies which have been used to shroud the source of illegal funds in mystery, thereby facilitating the practice of money laundering. The Finance and Capital Market Commission (FKTK) has prepared draft amendments to legislation which would see banks banned from interacting with these shell companies.It's a step in the right direction for the country's financial sector and reputation, but considering that shell companies have long been a favoured tactic for money launders and shady financiers, it is surprising that it has taken this long to see such a measure proposed.

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