“[…] Banks in Trinidad and Tobago have been practically pushing their customers to do their banking business online. But how can seniors and persons with disabilities do this when, for the most part, they have neither the knowledge nor the resources to do this?
“[…] Even after I made my disability known, a staffer at Scotiabank had the temerity to tell me to do my mobile banking through their website, in spite of my repeatedly telling her that the website was inaccessible to me as a blind/vision-impaired person…”
The following Letter to the Editor discussing her attempts to conduct banking services at Scotiabank and the subsequent response by that bank and the Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC) was submitted to Wired868 by Donna Jodhan, a visually impaired person:
The recently publicised issue relating to the difficulties of attorney Veera Bhajan has convinced me that I also need to share my story. I am hoping that others will be willing to share theirs so that we can fix a horrible hole in the system affecting the differently abled and senior communities, in terms of how little recourse they have to either proper banking service or redress.
I am a visually impaired (blind) person living abroad. In early January of this year, I started a journey to find a way to help my mom, a senior without any technical know-how, computer or Internet connection, to be able to continue her banking despite the Covid restrictions.
For several months now, Scotiabank (where my mom and I have been banking for over 30 years) has been proudly advertising its ability to be a top-notch banking institution and has not been abashed to display the customer service awards that it has received in support of its claims.
However, I remain shocked that they have the nerve to lay claim to these awards while continuing to disrespect, humiliate, and ignore the needs of seniors and persons with disabilities.
Banks in Trinidad and Tobago have been practically pushing their customers to do their banking business online. But how can seniors and persons with disabilities do this when, for the most part, they have neither the knowledge nor the resources to do this?
Online banking, along with ATM systems, is practically inaccessible to them.
My experience with my own bank has shown me that their banking staff are simply incapable of supporting banking services because they have not been trained and do not even have adequate knowledge of the products and services they offer. Moreover, they do not seem motivated to even try to help and, quite frankly, their attitude leaves much to be desired.
I ran into insurmountable difficulties when I decided to try and help my elderly mom (with whom I have joint accounts) to do the basic banking transactions, such as transferring funds and checking on account balances.
This should not have been too difficult to do. All I wanted was to be able to do this through Scotiabank’s phone banking services. However, it turned into a nightmare and even now the saga continues!
Now I am not just facing the condescending and disrespectful attitude of Scotiabank, I am also facing an inept and unfair attitude on the part of the Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC). In short, these two entities continue to make my life a living hell because they refuse to address my cries for help.
Even after I made my disability known, a staffer at Scotiabank had the temerity to tell me to do my mobile banking through their website, in spite of my repeatedly telling her that the website was inaccessible to me as a blind/vision-impaired person.
I asked for us to discuss further but she never even had the courtesy to respond!
The main challenge that persons like myself are facing with remote banking is that, broadly speaking, the systems being offered are simply not workable for us. In addition to the fact that many of this community are simply not au courant with smart technology, among other shortcomings which are detailed below. the services are only accessible from certain devices—such as a PC—but not others.
I have been an accessibility consultant who continues to work with the Canadian Federal Government re making their websites and services more accessible to Canadians with disabilities. And I continue to sit on several Canadian Federal Government departmental advisory groups for persons with disabilities.
I also have extensive working experience as an accessibility advisor/consultant working with such companies as Air Canada and Elections Ontario and now with the Apple Corporation.
I approached Scotiabank both as a so-called valued customer and as an experienced accessibility consultant, offering my professional services but they have chosen to ignore all of my advances. They rarely respond to emails and almost never to phone messages.
In March 2021, my lawyers hand-delivered a letter to Scotiabank’s Head Office seeking to talk with them; to date, they have not responded.
In April, I took my concerns to the Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC), which accepted my complaint.
The EOC gave Scotiabank two months to respond but, right on the deadline, which was 23 June, Scotiabank asked for and received a month’s extension, claiming that the Covid restrictions were preventing them from dealing with my complaint.
On 23 July, Scotiabank wrote to the EOC saying that they needed more time because they were awaiting a signature of approval from someone within their ranks.
On 6 August, they finally submitted their response to my complaint. But here comes the horror!
My lawyers have been told that they cannot, in accordance with EOC rules, receive any electronic or written copies of Scotiabank’s response. What the EOC offered was to provide a summarised version of Scotiabank’s response. My lawyers accepted this offer and the EOC provided their summary on 16 August.
However, my lawyers can only see written material from Scotiabank’s response if they visit the offices of the EOC in person. And even then, they will only be able to take notes. Nothing more.
However, the EOC’s offices are currently closed to in-person traffic.
On 17 August, I provided my response to the EOC’s summarised version, noting the following points:
- Scotiabank failed to address my issues pertaining to online banking via a computer.
- At no time did I ever discuss mobile banking with them.
- They alluded to a claim that I wanted my attorney to access my account. This is completely false; I only wanted my attorney to assist me to set up my online banking on my computer.
- I respectfully note that there is a huge difference between mobile banking and online banking carried out on a PC computer.
- Voiceover only applies to being used on an i-device or on an Apple computer. It does not apply to a PC Windows computer.
- Even if voiceover were used by Scotiabank as they stated to access their website, accessibility is only possible if the website itself is accessible.
It is a very sad reflection on this banking institution that they don’t even deign to have a conversation with me, far less begin to fix the problems. Currently their website is down again. Amazingly, they even had the audacity to tell me that no other blind person has complained!
Do they see no value in reaching out to individual customers to try and understand their problems and offer solutions?
How does a bank which supposedly prides itself on service dismiss its clients so readily? Do they not know that if they do not have properly accessible systems, it will lead to problems such as people having to seek help and possibly having their confidence breached (as happens regularly at ATMs) and thus making themselves more vulnerable?
Further, I ask this sobering question: How can it be fair for the EOC to show my complaint to the bank and to give them oodles of time to respond while, on the other hand, my lawyers are unable to see the bank’s full response and are being forced to work with an EOC-summarised version?
With due respect, it leads me to believe that the EOC is unable to provide equal treatment to complainants. Their explanations and actions are simply unacceptable and hardly reflect those of a developing country.
Readers wishing to share similar stories or relevant information should feel free to contact me at email@example.com.
Editor’s Note: Wired868 reached out to Scotiabank for a response to Ms Jodhan’s complaint. Via email, we received the following response under the name of Cindy Mohammed, manager—communications and corporate social responsibility and general manager—Scotiabank Trinidad and Tobago Foundation:
“As a financial institution we are unable to comment or offer a direct response to complaints, however, at Scotiabank we are committed to putting our customers at the forefront of all we do as we seek to be the best relationship bank in Trinidad and Tobago.
“Guided by our purpose: ‘for every future’ we help our customers, their families and their communities achieve success through a broad range of advice, products and services.”