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What is Bank Zero?

In short, Bank Zero is a mutual digital-only bank offering its services via a smartphone app to businesses and individuals in South Africa.

Currently, the mutual digital bank is adding potential customers on a staggered basis. New customers interested in joining will be placed in a waiting queue which, according to Zero Bank, the team is clearing up ‘at lightning speed’.

According to Fin24, Bank Zero didn’t want to launch with basic banking accounts only, and instead launched with separate offerings – one for individuals and one for business customers. The business-minded offering comes with built-in accounting software integration. For individual bankers, the company added features like a patent to prevent card skimming, and a social media-like ability to befriend accounts – a feature that could appeal to stokvels.

Introduction

As blind and visually impaired people, we are many times excluded and sidelined when it comes to being provided with access to products and services by various providers in South Africa.

Morally, companies have not yet adopted a meaningful stance on providing accessibility to their products and services and universal design is a concept that most CEOs really don’t care for.

Legally, there is currently very little that we as blind and visually impaired consumers can do to force the various entities to provide us with accessibility and reasonable accomodation.

Personally, I prefer approaching entities, like banks, restaurants, shops, transport providers, etc. in a solution driven manner, i.e. not only presenting the problem but, also to assist them to resolve it as well or, at the least, pointing them in the right direction.

Testing the Bank ZERO App for Accessibility

I sent an e-mail to the folks at Bank zero on Tuesday, 21 May 2019 at 13:43, offering to assist them regarding accessibility of their digital channels.

I wrote:

“I would like to know if it is possible for you to put me in touch with the relevant party in order to discuss accessibility of your applications and digital platforms to people who are blind or vision impaired.”

I got a reply on Wednesday 30 December 2020 at 13:14. Yes, I know; better late than never.

They did not respond to my offer to assist but, said that they were

“Just popping you a mail to confirm that you are still on our Beta testing database.”

I responded on Monday 04 January 2021 at 08:04 saying:

“As I will be testing for accessibility for blind users and universal design to some extent, I humbly request you to include me rather sooner than later in testing.”

I finally received a reply on Monday 18 January 2021 at 14:09 from Bank Zero. The response was noncensical, as before.

“After speaking with my supervisor, I have feedback that we are starting up with an incredibly simple offering. This excludes credit of all kinds, certain business accounts and even cash deposits. We are therefore currently unfortunately not blind friendly.

As time passes after our launch, we do intend on incorporating these facilities I have mentioned we will launch without and I’m positive blind friendliness will be one of those that are introduced after launch.”

Apart from the fact that universal design should not be an afterthought, this really seemed like a very uninformed response and honestly, I lost hope at this point.

I wrote back on the same day at 14:45 making my position quite clear in my e-mail saying that:

This is truly unfortunate and regrettable as universal design would have catered to our needs, if coded following standards.

We do not need special treatment with regards to accommodation and I find it saddening that such a forward looking entrepreneur would be at the helm of an entity that thinks in this manner.

Yes, dictation sucks. LOL. But, I was really disappointed.

Finally, on Tuesday 10 August 2021 at 07:54, I received an email with the iOS Testflight invite to test the app.

It is interesting to note that I was not included in the closed beta at all even though we, as the South African National Council for the Blind, myself heading up the Assistive Technology Centre, offered to assist them, with ensuring that their system would kater to those who are blind or visually impaired.

Financial independence is critical for those who are living with disabilities, in realising their full capacity but, Bank Zero management obviously does not agree with me on that.

As my week was somewhat full, I only install the app a little later that same week.

Below, you will find my quick overview of the process and the stumbling blocks that I have faced in registering, accessing and using the app from Bank Zero.

  1. On Thursday, 12 August, 2021, I installed BankZero Ver. 1.1.2 (292) via the Testflight app on my iPhone 7 running iOS 14.7.1. I do have access to both my iPhone 11 Pro and an iPhone 12 however, they never requested me to specify a prefered e-mail address for testing so, I used an older phone that wasn’t critically important and setup an Apple account for the purpose of testing.
  2. Upon opening up the Bank Zero Beta app for the first time, I was prompted to grant location access to the app. I granted this access.
  3. On the next screen, I was asked to grant permition to the app to send me notifications and I allowed this as well.
  4. On the next screen, I was requested, as part of the “special access group”, to send any reports of bugs to the Bank Zero team. Accessibility and universal design was obviously not important enough to be part of the beta testing group. After reading this request, I doubletapped on the next button.
  5. The next screen was still part of the usual Apple Testflight screen that you find when testing beta apps so, I dismissed this screen, by doubletapping on the start testing button.
  6. The next screen was a welcome screen with a button labelled “ic validate shieled”.
    As I am a curious individual, I doubletapped on the button but, it did not do anything detectable.
  7. Just below that, the numbers 1.1.2 [292] were displayed. I am assuming that this is the version number.
  8. I also found three formfields that were labelled correctly, prompting me for my preferred name (no surname), cell number and ID number. I entered the requested info and doubletapped on the submit button.
  9. I was prompted to enter an OTP that was sent to my cell number.
  10. I entered the OTP and doubletapped on the confirm button.
  11. I was then prompted by the app to grant access to my camera. I did so by doubletapping on the OK button.
  12. I was then prompted by the app to grant access to the microphone. I did so by doubletapping on the OK button.
  13. On the next screen, I encountered a button labelled “ic back button notail, back”. Quite confusing but, I am sure that they wanted to write “back”.
  14. This screen was entitled “My selfie and voice”. Some instructions were displayed. Essentially it said:
  • Keep your head in the circle and follow the instructions
  • Look over your right shoulder until you hear the shutter
  • Tips:
    Use a quiet room with good lighting
    You’ll be required to show both sides of your face
    Remove any headgear but glasses are ok
    If camera struggles to pake pic, remove your glasses
    Your voice is required – we’ll tell you what to say
    I then doubletapped on the next button.
  1. From here, I had no control as I had to get a sighted colleague to assist in registering my face, looking at the camera, blinking slowly and reading out a sentence to capture my voice. Very frustratingly though, when you click on the back button, you have to start with the registration all over again. Very annoying as I now had to expose personally identifiable information to a third-party in order to register, automatically opening me up to being taken advantage of by others. I also had to submit a pic of my ID and this process was 100% inaccessible as I could not initiate the camera or any kind of dialogue box.
  2. I was then requested to upload a proof of address, [POA]
  3. I also had to select a profile picture that Bank Zero will show in the app and print on my card.
  4. I also customised the text on my card, with two lines available.
  5. Finally, I created a 5 digit pin. Luckily, this step was accessible without having to deal with requesting for assistance from a sighted person.

Conclusion

The fact that you cannot save your application at any point is really frustrating and again, opens one up to be taken advantage of as a person with a disability as the ability to save your application would allow you to get assistance from others on certain aspects whilst you complete other parts on your own.

As of this writing, I have not received confirmation that my FICA documents were verified. This may take a few hours up to a few days, depending on the volume of applications that the bank is processing.

With the clear disinterest in making sure that their app is accessible to users with different abilities, I cannot recommend Bank Zero to any blind person at this time.

The concept is interesting but, no accessibility, no usebility.

This post will be updated once my FICA documents has been verified.

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