‘Rapid digitisation’ of banking causing issues for vulnerable customers

Older people, Travellers and migrants face ‘disproportionate’ barriers to financial services, adult literacy agency says

The rapid pace of digitisation in the financial services sector risks leaving certain “vulnerable” customers behind, the National Adult Literacy Agency (Nala) has warned, with some bank customers feeling pressurised to move online despite not having the necessary digital skills.

A report compiled on behalf of Nala by the think-tank for Action on Social Change (TASC) found that older people, Irish Travellers, migrants, people with disabilities and the prison population face “disproportionate barriers” to accessing online banking services.

This is due to the fact that they are more likely to rely on cash transactions, more likely to have unmet digital literacy needs and because they have less access to or cannot afford digital services or broadband.

A survey of 100 consumers classes as vulnerable found that many feel pressurised to move to online banking despite the barriers they face.


Others reported feeling intimidated because they lack digital confidence while some respondents said they felt excluded because of local branch closures and reductions in customer service staff.

Nala has asked financial institutions to support customers transitioning from offline to online services by providing better phone support and better training for staff to equip them to deal with vulnerable individuals with unmet literacy, numeracy and digital literacy.

It also wants the Department of Finance to implement a cross-sectoral financial literacy strategy that adapts EU and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) financial competency framework to an Irish context.

Commenting in advance of the report’s launch, Mairead McGuinness, European commissioner for financial services, said the Nala report “highlights the importance of financial literacy.”

She said: “It also points to some of the difficulties facing people who do not have access to fast internet connection or the right device. Nala’s research contains vital recommendations for financial service providers and policymakers.”

Colleen Dube, chief executive of Nala, said: “As we all grapple with the cost of living crises and rapid digitalisation, the Government and financial services must design and deliver appropriate responses to ensure the most vulnerable citizens can access services to avoid further marginalisation and exclusion.”

Ian Curran

Ian Curran

Ian Curran is a Business reporter with The Irish Times