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Barclays taps beacons to streamline bank visits for disabled customers

Barclays is tapping in-branch beacon technology for a series of trials to streamline and personalize bank visits for consumers with disabilities.

The trial, which is launching at the British bank’s Sheffield branch on Dec. 3 in conjunction with the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities, enables beacons placed within a bank to alert employees via a mobile application when a customer with special needs arrives at the bank. Customers have the ability to opt in and select how much information about themselves they feel comfortable divulging.

“Traditionally, beacons have been used to send shoppers information, but through this test beacons are being used to identify people – this is a tactic that can be translated into many other business verticals,” said Esha Shah, manager of mobile strategy at Fetch, San Francisco. “Customers with disabilities should respond positively to the beacons, as long as the app is easy to use, and the sales people within the retail locations are trained on how to use the system effectively.

“The biggest barrier to wide scale adoption of beacon technology has been the several layers of permissions customers have to go through, which include turning on Bluetooth, accepting location services on the relevant app and opting in to receive notifications. Therefore,  Barclays will need to have a solid marketing plan in place in order to inform its customers of this program.”

Innovative service
The trial marks the first time a financial institution has employed iBeacons to aid customers with disabilities. Barclays hopes that the initiative will reduce customers’ needs to explain their accessibility requirements before each visit to a branch, and that it will help colleagues assist consumers more effectively.

Interested individuals can opt-in to use the service via the Barclays mobile app and can pre-register the required information, including accessibility needs and a photo for identification.

Once the consumer arrives at the branch, a bank employee will be notified via iPad.

Employees can then offer a more personalized service to ensure the customer’s comfort.

Customer-based initiatives
Barclays has ongoing efforts act as a leader of financial institutions in regards to customer accessibility in banking. With one in five consumers having an impairment, the bank seeks to make life easier for those with special requirements.

Over the past year, over 50 of its employees have donned the Barclays Elderly Stimulation Suit, which was designed for staff to test the facilities and personally understand the issues that elderly consumers may experience on a daily basis. Barclays hopes that insights gained from wearing the BES suit will be implemented to streamline assistance options.

The bank has offered high visibility debit cards for the visually impaired, enabling those customers to spot their cards more easily in hectic environments. Barclays was also the first bank in Britain to leverage Audio Cash Machines.

Designed for consumers with vision problems, the machines enabled the customer to be guided through the services available at the automated teller machine via headphones.

With airports such as Miami International beginning to use beacons in public areas to target passersby with customized offers and relevant information, banks are poised to get the same treatment (see story). Many consumers feel they would benefit from receiving a welcome message upon their arrival at their local bank branch.

Contextually relevant push notifications from beacons could range from a summary of services available to a special offer based on the visitor’s personal history. However, permission-based beacon technology is still key to reaching the greatest amount of potential consumers.

“We could definitely see banks and financial institutions start to adopt beacons in the future – not only for consumers with special needs but also for the general public,” Ms. Shah said. “Beacons offer the potential for banks as well as all businesses to create highly personalized experiences for its customers.

“Once a business is able to identify who has walked into their vicinity, they can profile that person and then address them appropriately. This opens us up to a whole new realm of possibilities. Businesses are able to profile users into certain categories – this is similar to what facial recognition and thumb print technologies accomplish.”

Final Take
Alex Samuely is an editorial assistant on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York