Innovation designed to assist blind people: new app developed by GFT for BBVA in Spain


BBVA recently unveiled a new mobile app designed to help blind people, the physically disabled and those with mild learning difficulties to use the bank’s 6,000+ ATMs throughout Spain. BBVA chose GFT as its technology partner to develop all of the mobile features of this pioneering project. GFT’s Digital Innovation Lab provided the ideal space to conceive and develop the app without any restrictions, before putting it to the test in an environment that closely mimics the real world.

After several months of customising, the app was unveiled by BBVA (the world leader in mobile banking services according to Forrester), ILUNION Tecnología y Accesibilidad (working on the inclusion of people with disabilities into work life) and GFT. More than 30 disabled people took part in this pilot project. The new tool can geo-locate the nearest ATM, find optimum routes for the user and allow bank customers to contact their physical ATM network. The app will be available for the banks’ customers during the first quarter of 2018.

The initial challenge for GFT

It all began more than a year ago, when BBVA presented GFT with the challenge of helping to facilitate the operation of an ATM by visually impaired customers of the bank. GFT took a proactive approach, engaging their Digital Innovation Lab in Barcelona, eventually presenting BBVA with a working prototype for an innovative mobile solution that met the banks’ requirements. BBVA went on to ask GFT to develop the mobile elements of a project that was very demanding in terms of both accessibility and usability.

GFT’s initial aim was to make withdrawing cash from BBVA’s ATMs a simple, multi-channel and accessible task for all bank customers, especially the visually impaired. Customers should be able to use their mobile phone to locate and select an ATM, pre-programme their cash withdrawal, set a route to reach the ATM, notify the bank of any incidents, and keep a record of the transaction.

To achieve this aim, GFT made a brief study of the use of radio proximity ‘beacons’ in an accessibility-related context in a financial environment and in other areas. At the same time, it researched the use of text-to-speech technology as a means of interacting with the bank’s mobile app. Workshops were held to identify new ideas and to create a framework to pull the complete new service together. As a result, GFT was able to design a user experience for visually impaired customers and launch the implementation phase whilst still adding the final touches to the design of the experience and visual materials. BBVA’s systems were used to identify ATMs and prepare the requested cash amounts, Google’s services were used to guide customers, and beacons were used to indicate customers’ proximity to the nearest ATM. Finally, the prototype was demonstrated to BBVA at the GFT Digital Innovation Lab.

Manuel Lavín, Executive Director for Banking at GFT Spain commented: “Utilising our ‘state of the art’ GFT Digital Innovation Lab meant that the multidisciplinary team working on the project were able to closely simulate the environment in which the users of this app will find themselves on a daily basis. This practical reality helped to accelerate the development of an app that will provide a great step forward in the independent use of an ATM for the many people who have until now been excluded”.

GFT’s multidisciplinary development team included Daniela Rubio, a consultant specialising in accessibility for the blind, who played an important role in the project by contributing not only her professional knowledge of the subject, but also her personal perspective as a blind end user.

Daniela commented: “The solution developed by GFT simplifies and improves the way in which visually impaired customers interact with their bank. Like any other customer, we do not want to be forced to visit the branch if all we want to do is withdraw cash. The new app makes banking a lot easier for blind people like me. We can look for an ATM and specify the details of the transaction in advance. Then, when we can navigate to the ATM, and the transaction is completed automatically. It is an enormous improvement, not only for blind people, but also for older people and those who find it difficult to use the standard ATM at a traditional branch. The fact that we can now make these transactions independently also helps protect our privacy and makes things quicker – currently we have to wait until someone we trust is available to help us, since the information is highly confidential”.

Advantages for the visually impaired

Thanks to BBVA’s new app, visually impaired customers can conveniently and securely withdraw cash from a modified ATM:

  • Customer begins the process of withdrawing cash using their smartphone, and is directly informed about the closest ATM that provides the service
  • After selecting the most convenient ATM and specifying the amount to withdraw, the app uses Google Maps to provide the quickest route to the ATM on foot or public transport.
  • When the customer approaches the ATM, they can use the app to identify its specific location by following the sound emitted by a beacon installed in the ATM.
  • After the inserting their bank card, the ATM connects to the customers’ smartphone in order to guide them through the different stages of the process and complete the transaction

Luis Javier Blas, Director of Engineering at BBVA Spain commented: “This new service is the first of its kind in Spain and represents a step forward in helping blind people manage their finances. It lets them access their money without outside help and thereby boosts their personal independence. From January onwards, disabled customers will be able to use any of BBVA’s ATMs and make transactions using the channel that is most convenient for them at the time”.

Conclusion

This new app developed for BBVA with the support of GFT is a great example of how new technologies can be used to help bank customers, and how a bank’s digital transformation is also a great opportunity to be more inclusive, literally making the banking process more accessible to more people. The launch of this app will improve accessibility for more bank users and make it easier for them to manage their money.

Customers who are blind or physically disabled, or with learning difficulties will be able to take control of when and how they withdraw their money. By not having to depend on others, they will gain greater independence. This is undoubtedly a pioneering project in Spain that GFT anticipates will be of great interest to many financial institutions in other countries, and is one that the company is very proud to have been part of.

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