Sunday, 22 March 2015

Review: RBS and NatWest
Accessible Debit Card

Royal Bank of Scotland and NatWest have recently revealed their first ever accessible Debit and Savings Card for partially sighted and blind customers, designed with ease of use in mind. They worked very closely with the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) to create the card.

The new cards address some of the most common problems faced when using standard cards and have implemented new features, including; Braille markings to identify which card is Savings and which card is Debit, a notch cut on the right side of the card to help customers insert their card into ATMs and PIN pads correctly, showing telephone numbers where they will be most clear and using a large font on the back of the card to make the phone numbers easier to read.

The launch of the card can be viewed in the video here.

I was very kindly sent an example of the Debit card to try out and I wanted to share my thoughts, in comparison to the Debit card I currently use with Lloyds Bank. The first thing I notice when placing the cards side-by-side and feeling their perimeters is the tactile carved 'notch' on the new RBS / NatWest Debit card, indenting at roughly the same size as the width of your finger, making it much easier to identify which side to place into a PIN machine or ATM - something I always struggle with.

Using the Braille cell located on the right upper-side of the card, it is now easier than ever to place your card into machines the correct way without the help of a sighted person. The Braille symbols (a full cell of six dots for the Debit card and just one dot for the Savings card), also mean that you can now differentiate between your cards easily.

As well as these features, the phone number on the back of the card has good colour contrast (bolded white numbers against a dark purple background) which is now 50% bigger in font size than before, for the partially sighted customers with some remaining useful vision.

I spoke with a member of the Media Relations team of RBS of how and why the cards were produced. She said, "A year ago our CEO Ross McEwan was doing a customer listening event in Edinburgh. One of our customers, who is blind, asked him what he was going to do to make it easier to differentiate between his bank cards. He showed Ross that he’d had to resort to using bits of tape to help him work out which card was which. Ross committed to doing something about it and approached our card design team. I’m sure you can appreciate it’s not easy to completely redesign a card whilst ensuring it’ll work in every ATM around the world!

In designing the Accessible Debit Card we worked extensively with our card manufacturer and the Visa card scheme to understand what was possible given the constraints. Visa suggested the notch size and its position since they had already done some tests which indicated that that location and size would not cause an issue for card use. What had never been done before however was adding an embossed identifier near the edge of the card.

Once we had a number of concept cards, which we knew would work, we took them to the RNIB and they supported us in conducting customer tests where blind and partially sighted people tested being able to identify them accurately and gave feedback on the design. We worked together with them to agree a final design which met the needs of our customers and also the card scheme requirements. One thing which came out of that research was that many blind and partially sighted customers don’t read Braille, so actually generic markings using a series of dots were the preference. We looked a layering ink to create ‘feelable’ markings but many blind or partially sighted customers also suffer from Diabetes which effects their ability to feel very well, so embossing was the preference.

One important consideration was that we wanted the card to work for blind as well as partially sighted customers, so using colours and ink to define an identifier or a card orientation aid was not an option. We also wanted our blind and partially sighted customers to be able to have the same card as everyone else rather than a special ‘disability card’ which perhaps labelled them as being different. So, for example, if a customer has a Black Account they get the same ‘Black’ branded card as everyone else but with the supple features added to help them use it."

From the press release, Ross McEwan, CEO of RBS, said: “We want to be recognised as a bank that listens to its customers and responds to their issues. It’s really important to me that we make banking as simple and easy as possible for all of our customers and our accessible cards are another step towards us earning back trust. This is the first banking product designed specially for blind and partially sighted people. RBS has worked closely with the RNIB in the development of this card and in recognition of this work the new debit and savings cards will be the first banking products to be awarded the new national quality assurance mark, ‘RNIB approved’.

Steve Tyler, Head of Solutions, Strategy and Planning at RNIB said, "We are delighted to have worked with RBS on making debit and savings cards more accessible. The very basic requirement of identifying the right card and quickly determining which way the card slots in to a machine or payment system has been solved by this development. Simple as it is, creating a card with tactile indicators that identify the card type as well as the way in which it should be used, is an engineering challenge, particularly to ensure that it doesn't disrupt machinery. We look forward to working with RBS in to the future and enhancing even more of the daily payment challenges that blind and partially sighted customers experience."

What I really like about the cards is that the new amendments are not too obstructive and apparent to the overall design; they are quite minimalistic, whilst still keeping their functionality. I hope that the launch of these new cards by RBS and NatWest will prompt other banks to release something similar to their customers - as I mentioned previously, I'm with Lloyds and would love to be offered something like this in the near future.

You can find out more information on the Accessible Debit Card by visiting the Royal Bank of Scotland and NatWest websites.