We can sometimes take for granted the little things in life, whether that be a decent commute to work, enjoying a coffee in a favourite café, or even something much, much smaller and seemingly insignificant, like being able to jump on our phones to quickly pay off one of our bills. It’s done in a flash, and unlike being surrounded by loved ones or enjoying our favourite hobbies, it’s unlikely something we feel grateful for on a day-to-day basis. Yet for some, the latter example I’ve given here may not be so straightforward, or even achievable at all. Anna Roughley writes on financial inclusion

The Lending Standards Board (LSB) is the primary self-regulatory body for the banking and lending industry and exists to drive good outcomes for customers of financial services. Our most recent piece of research looked at the importance of inclusion for disabled customers and those with other access needs who are trying to succeed in business.

Inclusion matters because it affects us all. When we exclude members of our society, we miss out on the vital contributions they could have made. Although this particular piece of work focused on SME lending for people with access needs, the practical considerations within it can be used across a multitude of different sectors to ensure inclusion for all.

Setting up and running a business is one of the most challenging things that a person can do. Yet for disabled customers and people with other access needs, there can be additional layers of complexity.

Let’s start at the very beginning: the design of a service or product. Before getting stuck into the design process, organisations should consider who is involved with the process to check there is a selection of diverse viewpoints being used to assess risks and opportunities. This reduces the likelihood of products or services going live that could be inaccessible or unsuitable. Let’s take the digital journey as an example. Whether it be accessing financial services, paying our bills, or making a complaint through a chat function, digital is a part of daily life for many of us. Whilst this presents convenience and opportunities, it has the potential to do the opposite for some customers who are at risk of being left behind.

Organisations creating digital products and services must consider those who aren’t able to use technology at all, those who find it challenging, and those who aren’t confident or comfortable using it. One representative we interviewed for our research raised concerns that the increased push by banks to interact through apps, could risk leaving some disabled customers without access to banking or lending services, as disabled people have been found to have much lower smartphone ownership than the non-disabled. We shouldn’t just be catering for the masses; we need to cater for all.

Lived experience shouldn’t be overlooked when it comes to designing and delivering a product. This is invaluable and difficult to replicate with training, and so for this piece of research, we highlighted that having disabled people and those with other access needs at all levels of a financial services firm could have many benefits. The key here is not just having a representative, diverse workforce, and a seat at the table, but actually giving people a voice. Hearing the views of your team members and their experiences, can help to shape products and services, ensuring they are designed with everyone in mind.

Lived experience can also help to inform training – a vital tool in ensuring consistently good outcomes for customers. Raising awareness of the difficulties customers could face should form part of an organisation’s training. Employees shouldn’t be expected to be experts in all disabilities and access needs, however, it was felt by those who contributed to our research that an understanding of the various ways that disabilities or other needs can impact customers would be beneficial. Where customers require additional support, specialist teams, which we know many of our registered firms do have, can make a big impact, both to the customer and fellow employees. Helping to educate staff on why a query has been answered in a certain way, for example, can help other team members to grow in confidence and enhance their understanding.

Keeping training up to date and not relying on business-as-usual training (especially when it comes to external factors and their impact, like the cost-of-living crisis) can help to ensure staff feel equipped to respond to customers in a helpful way.

We also highlighted the importance of good communication when it comes to being inclusive. Having communications such as advertisements, product and service material, or websites that are representative, is crucial. But being representative goes beyond simply showing images of disabled customers or those with other access needs. Instead, representation can be achieved by clearly outlining the types of support available, the commitment from an organisation that they are there to help and do the right thing, and encouraging customers to get in touch if they have any questions or concerns.

Having good training that is regularly reviewed, mindful product design, a representative team with lived experience, and clear communications, can all play a huge part in ensuring that your company’s offerings are as inclusive as they can be. If we all play our part, we can ensure no customer is left behind.

Anna Roughley is the Head of Insight and Engagement at the Lending Standards Board