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Advancing Accessibility: A Dual Perspective on Inclusion at NatWest Group

As proud sponsors of the Business Disability Forum’s 2023 annual conference, NatWest Group is actively engaged in fostering a culture of accessibility and inclusion. In an exclusive discussion with Oliver Holbourn, CEO of RBS International and the executive sponsor for disability, we delve into the initiatives and philosophies that underpin NatWest's commitment to becoming an accessible bank by design.

Holbourn, who has been the sponsor of Enable NatWest Group’s employee-led network for colleagues and customers with impairments and disabilities for the past three years, emphasises the personal connection to the cause. As a parent of two neuro-diverse children and someone grappling with a back condition since his mid-20s, he is acutely aware of the importance of creating a bank where accessibility is embedded in every aspect.

"I’m extremely passionate about NatWest reaching its ambition of being an accessible bank by design, by which I mean a bank where everyone asks themselves whether the customer or colleague journey that they are a part of thinks first about whether everyone can access that journey in an easy, fair, and safe way.” says Holbourn.

Moving the Dial: NatWest's Initiatives

Holbourn outlines specific measures NatWest Group is taking to make a tangible impact. One key aspect is demonstrating care through actions. Last year, the bank revamped its carers leave policy, allowing a more flexible approach - four weeks unpaid leave can now be taken a day at a time, offering greater support to those with caregiving responsibilities.

Keeping customer journeys at the forefront, NatWest is proactively enhancing accessibility in various ways. For instance, the Chatbot Cora is now more customisable, enabling users to adjust the interaction speed and font size for a personalised experience. Mobile apps are continually reviewed and updated to align with evolving accessibility standards.

Crucially, Holbourn highlights the importance of collaboration and knowledge-sharing. By engaging with external entities like Microsoft and implementing insights gained from such interactions, NatWest created a new learning module on disability. This proactive approach led to 38,000 colleagues completing the module, fostering a more informed and inclusive work environment.

Sharing stories is another impactful strategy. Holbourn points to the transformative effect of a senior data and technology colleague self-disclosing as neuro-diverse. This disclosure catalysed the creation of the Neuro Diversity Alliance, a sister employee network with 700 members, amplifying the voice of neurodivergent colleagues.

Embracing passion within the organisation, Holbourn notes the 2,500 members in Enable and the concerted efforts during key events like Global Accessibility Awareness Day and International Day of Persons with Disability to engage and educate.

While acknowledging the progress made, NatWest Group's commitment to continuous improvement, stating, "We know there is much more we can and need to do before we meet our ambition to be an accessible bank by design. We're committed to keep trying to be a little better and more accessible every day."

Digital Accessibility: A Core Focus

Transitioning to the digital sphere, Becks Brindley, the new lead of NatWest's Digital Accessibility Team, sheds light on the bank's efforts to make digital experiences more inclusive.

Becks Brindley: NatWest Group’s Digital Accessibility Team Lead

Brindley emphasises the importance of creating banking experiences that work seamlessly for all customers. In pursuit of this objective, NatWest is empowering users by granting them increased control over their interactions with digital services.

NatWest is also at the forefront of mobile app accessibility, going beyond industry standards. The introduction of dark mode on mobile apps, a first among UK banks, reflects a commitment to accommodating neurodivergent customers and those with low vision, reducing eyestrain and enhancing usability.

The Role of the Digital Accessibility Team

Brindley outlines the pivotal role of the Digital Accessibility Team in raising awareness and championing the needs of customers with disabilities. Working with a dedicated group of individuals passionate about accessibility, Brindley underscores the importance of the social model of disability.

By adopting an 'accessible by design' philosophy, the team aims to embed accessibility into the cultural fabric of the bank. Inclusive design, where products and services are intentionally designed for accessibility, is a key component of this approach. The Inclusive Design panel, comprising customers and colleagues providing feedback on new ideas and products, ensures that accessibility is considered in every aspect of development.

Brindley acknowledges that designing for accessibility is an ongoing process, necessitating constant learning and adaptation. With digital interfaces playing a significant role in modern banking, NatWest places accessibility at the heart of its digital strategy, understanding that getting digital accessibility right removes barriers for customers.

Bridging the Gap: Employee-Led Initiatives

Recognising that colleagues are integral to the organisation, Brindley highlights the efforts of the Enable Network and the Neurodiversity Alliance. These employee-led networks actively promote awareness of disability, celebrate diversity, and advocate for better inclusion and accessibility.

Brindley, personally understanding some of the barriers faced as someone with dyslexia, sees the potential of digital solutions. Listening to customer feedback sessions, she emphasises the real impact of getting accessibility right for them.

In conclusion, NatWest Group's dual approach - led by an executive sponsor's passion for inclusion and driven by a dedicated Digital Accessibility Team - exemplifies a commitment to accessibility that goes beyond compliance, aiming to create an environment where everyone can participate fully and independently. As the bank progresses on its journey to becoming an accessible bank by design, the stories of individuals and the collaborative efforts within the organisation will continue to be powerful drivers for change.

AUTHORNatWest Group

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