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The need to make BFSI more 'web accessible'

A few days ago, The Register reported that a California court had allowed a class action case to proceed against retail giant Target. This set me thinking - how long before the websites (&, other, presences) of the BFSI (banking, financial services, insurance) sector are put under the scanner?

Web accessibility is not a new topic - the governments in most of the major countries have enacted rules & regulations to safeguard the interests of the differently-abled citizens and the W3C consortium has also defined standards to promote accessibility over a range of user agents (desktops, mobiles, etc.).

What has mostly been lacking is a concerted affect on the part of the industry to incorporate accessibility standards in their application designs coupled with the lethargy of the governments to strictly enforce the laws.

While the political reasons for not enforcing legislation(s) are not the scope of this commentary, I could think of the following techno-commercial reasons on the part of the industry:

1. BFSI players spend a major portion of their IT budgets on maintaining their legacy systems and therefore, have (relatively) little surplus available to invest in new applications;under these circumstances, the focus is on making the applications more "feature rich" rather than more "accessible"

2. New application development is, more often than not, outsourced to the IT backoffices, with India taking a lion's share. The programmers in these locations lack an awareness of the W3C standards and the knowledge of the tools that can be used; moreover, the outsourced vendor expects the client to clearly spell out all the requirements and will work only within the agreed scope

3. Security (or the lack of it) takes a lion's share of the top management attention; therefore, more funds are allocated to ensure that the websites are secure enough for the customers to want to transact online

Now, I sincerely believe that none of the above reasons have sufficient merit to condone lack of accessibility. By being more accessible, the industry will not only reap the financial rewards of expanding the customer base but, also, derive collateral benefit of making the user experience of all the customers more enjoyable. This can, in turn, lead to more customers transacting online & thus reduce the operational costs of the industry players. The classic example quoted on the W3C site in support of this argument is the use of audio alarms in the lift/elevators - these were meant to assist visually-challenged people but ended up being the primary source of information for most of the users.

There is another powerful "soft" imperative for the BFSI players to proactively adopt accessibility - it will send a very strong & positive message that the industry is sensitive to the needs of its customers.This may help the industry "win hearts"
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