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Is online banking better for everyone?

Jessica Swan
ATM machine
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The financial landscape of Christchurch is evolving to digital dependency – but where does that leave people with disabilities?

The Palms Kiwibank recently closed its doors, after shutting down the Eastgate and Woolston stores a few years prior.

Now, their customers in the Eastern suburbs are being encouraged to use online alternatives.  

Kiwibank recognises change is difficult for many customers, so is providing free digital banking workshops, with their specialist Digital Angels helping tailor support for customers.  

Communications manager Kara Tait explained the decision to close paralleled with the growing preference for customers to use online banking services and a “significant decline” in the numbers of people visiting branches.

Instead, they’re revamping their online platform to make it even more accessible for customers.

“We have engaged a pan-disability digital accessibility consultancy to conduct a formal audit of our website to ensure it is accessible for different abilities, including neurodiversity.”

They’re also part of the New Zealand Bankers Association which helps design a banking code of practice for disabled people.

However, Pauline Melham is visually impaired and while she finds online banking convenient, she says it doesn’t suit everyone.

“Online banking is great but sometimes you just need to talk to someone and if you don’t have a branch to go into this can be very difficult.”

She also says many disabled people are overrepresented in lower socio-economic groups because finding employment is challenging. In its 2018 study, Stats NZ found only one in five disabled people are working.

Hence, Melham says it’s more difficult to rely on a computer, smartphone or reliable internet service when the finances aren’t there to afford it.


Disability access to technology v3

Stats NZ confirms there is a discrepancy in this accessibility. An average 89 percent of non-disabled people have access to the internet, an average of 81 percent for disabled people.

It also proved non-disabled people were three percent more likely to have access to a smartphone, one of the most common tools in accessing online banking.

So, while Melham feels fortunate to have the opportunity to be able to use online banking and have access to technology, she says some people just aren’t equipped.

The Christchurch City Council is also making small changes to how they process finances by stopping the use of cheques, contributing to the evolving landscape.  

Head of financial management Diane Brandish says pro-actively reminding customers is an important part of assisting people with change, and cheques have been phased out over the past four months.

However, they’ve maintained a variety of other payment methods to support people who want to use services in-person. 

She explains many of their services have been adapted to meet the needs of all people.

“Many of our older buildings have had work carried out to improve access and new builds meet the modern requirements to ensure there is good access for people with disabilities – for both those visiting and staff. The majority of service desks within our service centres are designed to include a lower desk to support helping our customers.”

The council endeavours to continue removing the barriers to participation and contribution to community life for people with disabilities and their whanau.