Why insurers should lead in digital accessibility for people with disabilities

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Insurance customers want to feel that they’re in control and getting the best deals possible. Decisions about policies are often highly emotional— with customers looking to protect their life, health, family and valuables. Yet they are also complex, with policy language and coverage often difficult for the general public to decipher.

In order to be sensitive to these user needs, many insurance companies prioritize user experience when designing their websites. The best insurance websites are generally those that are easy to use, provide clear choices and present information in a simple, reassuring, and humanizing manner.

Many insurance companies are doing a great job at this, but there’s one critical user experience dimension to which they may not be paying sufficient attention: digital accessibility, or, making sure their websites, mobile sites and apps are usable to people with disabilities relying on assistive technologies.

QA Vector, the research arm of QA Financial (an independent information, resource and events company focused on helping financial services firms improve software quality), recently conducted a survey of these firms (including insurance companies, banks, asset managers and fintechs) and found that many of them are not adequately ensuring their digital properties are accessible. Specifically, the survey found:

  • Only 35 percent of software leaders across various types of financial services firms say accessibility is among their top strategic concerns.
  • Only 25 percent are embedding accessibility testing into software development. Attention to accessibility is usually driven by legal action or complaints.
  • More than 70 percent of financial services firms indicate no clear ownership of digital accessibility within corporate governance.
  • Fewer than 30 percent of financial services firms have reliable or meaningful key performance indicators (KPIs) for accessibility.

Failure to pay attention to accessibility can have several negative ramifications. First, there’s the sheer market size to consider: pproximately one in five people in the United States, or 64 million, have at least one type of disability. There is also potential brand damage to consider, with consumers’ decisions on with whom they choose to conduct business increasingly influenced by social justice causes. Finally, inaccessible digital properties may translate to legal risks, with the latest data showing the rate of ADA website lawsuits was neck-and-neck with 2018’s historic rates; by midyear 2019 (the latest statistics currently available), lawsuits were being filed at the rate of one per hour.

The good news is that it’s never too late to practice digital accessibility, including software that’s already in production. There are relatively simple additions and adjustments that can be made, such as captioning, using descriptive alt text to accompany images; and auto-filling passwords. Many firms find it helpful to work with digital accessibility experts, but new developments like automated scanning tools and open source rules libraries are empowering even non-experts to take the reins on accessibility, all while contributing to an ongoing best practices dialogue.

The ideal way to address digital accessibility, however, is by approaching it from the very earliest stages of the software design and development process. Using previous IBM studies as a reference, the cost of fixing a defect in production can be as much as 30 times higher than addressing it in the design or development phase. This doesn’t take into account the potential legal costs if the software upgrade stemmed from a lawsuit.

In their efforts to create websites offering a delightful user experience, insurance companies must prioritize digital accessibility, especially as existing and future customers age and the rate of disability increases. Many companies erroneously believe that achieving digital accessibility is too costly and time-consuming, when in fact, the risks and potential expense--loss of market share, higher operational costs and social justice blowback--of not addressing digital accessibility are far greater.

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