Braille Monitor                          November 2019

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Leadership, Partnership, and the Pursuit of Financial Accessibility

by Doug Marshall

Doug MarshallFrom the Editor: Doug Marshall is the executive vice president and chief digital and product officer for BECU (the Boeing Employees’ Credit Union) in Tukwila, Washington. As President Riccobono said during his introduction, “BECU is one of many organizations we are partnering with to further better accessibility. When we came to them with our concerns, they did not protest; they said yes, we need help, and it is on this foundation that we began to build a relationship. Here is what Doug Marshall had to say to the convention on Wednesday afternoon, July 10:

Thank you, President Riccobono. It is a pleasure to be here this afternoon on behalf of BECU. We are one of those companies that Eve was referring to [Eve Hill proceeded Mr. Marshall’s presentation.], so we’re pleased to be here today to share our journey toward digital accessibility. Before I do that, I’d love to share just a few things about BECU because, other than our Washington contingent way in the back, my guess is that most of you don’t know anything about us. As you know, we are based in Washington. We have about 1.2 million members. We have about $20 billion in assets, and that makes us about the fourth-largest credit union in the country. We have about 2,100 employees, and we’re really pleased about our place in the market out there in Seattle.

As I move into why we did this work, I think it’s important for all of you to understand the why as well as the what, so first we will talk about the why, we’ll talk about the how we did it, and then we’ll talk about where we are right now so you can get some sense of how this journey unfolds.

For us the why starts with our values, and probably a lot of the organizations you work with talk about having values. We do that, but the three that are most relevant to this discussion are these: we have a value called members first. Our customers are called members because we are a cooperative. We are owned by members, not by shareholders. Our second value is called people helping people, which seems very relevant to this discussion as well, because ultimately we’re all just people. Finally, and maybe the most important one for this discussion, we have a deeply, deeply embedded sense of doing the right thing, and as President Riccobono alluded to, that’s what really prompted us to move forward in doing the right thing. It started as a legal issue; it rapidly became a moral issue for us. So that is some context. [applause]

Again, most organizations have values, so the second part of the why for us is the fact that we actually try to live those out. I could talk with you all day about examples where we try to live those values every single day with every single member, but I won’t. Just trust that our culture has those values deeply embedded.

The third thing that is behind the why is our history. Just to go back for a moment, we have a long history of solving problems. We were founded in 1935, so over eighty years ago, in the depths of the Depression. I think our founding story is relevant to this discussion. We were founded by eighteen machinists who pooled fifty cents each to raise nine dollars. We are worth $20 billion today, so we started with nine dollars. They then made a loan for $2.50 to a fellow machinist at Boeing because back then you had to buy your own tools. So in order to have your job, you had to buy tools, and in order to have tools you had to have money. Our members raised that money so that person could have a job. That’s the very first problem we solved, and ever since we’ve been trying to solve problems, sometimes successfully, sometimes not as much.

So with that history we thought it was important to listen when we heard from our members that we were having some problems around accessibility. It started in 2016 when we heard from some members directly in our call centers. They said they were having difficulty using our online banking tool. In 2017 we then made an enhancement or two or three to our mobile app. Most of you know what a mobile app is and how important it can be to people’s lives. We made some fixes that helped some of our members, but inadvertently we made our mobile app much less accessible for our blind and sight-impaired members. That was a mistake. So we started to hear from some of our members, and in fact some of them are in the back of the room, so they can attest to this. Things weren’t working. We were starting to take some action to address that, and then, as President Riccobono alluded to, we heard from him, Eve Hill, the attorney general, and at least as importantly, some of our members who were in the room that day. I’ll never forget that day. It was in early 2018, and I had not had a lot of exposure to the blind community. Some of our members shared their stories. We didn’t actually ask any questions because we knew it was important that we try to understand where we should start. They told us that, rather than being able to use our mobile app to make a check deposit, for them it would require a two-hour plus trip to get to one of our branches. They would get on one bus, get on another bus, and they would have to walk a ways and catch another bus. So as we heard that story, again it made it very, very clear to us that we did not have the time to wait to get this addressed.

That’s a little bit behind the why of why we tackled this. What you may be caring more about—I know I would—is how do we tackle this? We drove back down from Seattle to beautiful Tukwila, sat down right away, and began to plan how we were going to tackle this. Ultimately we ended up with six different things. Frankly it was a lot that we had to do. First of all we worked with our internal team and laid out a plan, and that plan included, first and foremost, how we would prioritize the work. I know you’ve talked a lot about websites, and they are critical. But in our case we had digital properties including our mobile app, our online banking—sort of our desktop experience—and then, of course, our site itself. We collectively agreed that it was important to tackle the mobile app first because that actually allows you to bank. Second would be the online banking experience for the same reason. Finally we would tackle the website itself. All of these other things were important, but we had to make some choices and prioritize.

The second thing we did, and this was even without pressure, was to develop detailed plans. We ended up with eighteen different bodies of work that we identified, and each of those plans had committed dates and specific efforts to make sure we met those dates.

The third thing we did was to invest resources. Again, you’ve heard that sometimes this work is not that expensive and that it doesn’t have to be. In our case we had to invest significant resources. We added some user experience resources. In fact one of those resources is right here in the room today. We added some outside development teams. We have a development team who does that work, but we had to bring in outside help because again this is relatively new to us. I can go on, but basically we invested a lot to make this happen.

We then engaged our vendors. What you may not know is that in many cases in addition to doing the work ourselves, we work with outside partners. I talked about our values earlier, and the great news for us is that when we vet our vendors before we select them, one of the things we look hard at is whether they share our values. So when we showed up and said that we have an issue here, that being to improve accessibility, and you need to help us, the response wasn’t, “No we don’t.” The response was, “Well, of course we have to.” They have been a really, really important part of this puzzle, and we’ll talk about that in just a minute.

Finally (almost), we developed policies and procedures to ensure that once we got this work done, it would be sustainable. The last thing we want to do is invest in this effort, get accessibility where it needs to be, and then go backwards.

As you heard me say, we are a members-first organization, so along the way, as the sixth initiative, we had our members help us test. We worked with them to see if the changes we had made had in fact made things better or perhaps worse. This is very important because along the way we discovered that sometimes we got it right, but a couple of times we got it very, very wrong. So we had to go back and make a change, make a change, make a change. It was really important to have our members involved all along the way.

That is the how, but many of you may be wondering (I know I would be) where are we: what did all of that work result in? I can start by saying that we’re not done yet. I guess you’re never ever done, but we’re not quite where we want to be but thought it was important to come today and share at least where we are now. We’ve made great progress on those eighteen bodies of work. About three of those eighteen we’re not quite done with, and again, thanks to the collaboration with Eve Hill and others, we know we have to get that work done, and we will.

Second, we realized that as we add new features—for example there is a product called Zelle that is very similar to Venmo, which some of you may use. I believe it is an accessible product, but I’m not 100 percent sure. As we add those products, we want to make sure that they are also accessible, so that’s the second thing we have embedded in our process and procedures so we don’t go backwards.

The next thing we are doing is that we are continuing to add resources. In fact, one of my colleagues is here today and attended the employment session. We’re actively looking for two people to join BECU to do quality assurance testing. They need to be blind to do the work right, so if you know someone, send them our way. We’d love to hire them. [applause]

We’re continuing to lead our vendors. Our vendors are not done, and they’ve actually told us that our work with them has forced them to go and do an even better job with some of their other financial services partners. So we think we’ve raised the bar for our vendors, and we hope we’ve done the same thing for other financial institutions. We’ll see.

Finally, and this is probably the one that has been most personally gratifying, we started with digital accessibility, because that is vital in an increasingly digital world. But what I love about our organization is that we have this deep commitment to getting better. As we started to think about it, we realized that the kiosks in our branches that are used to check in to make an appointment with one of our consultants are digital, and they’re not accessible. We’ve already realized that we need to get that fixed, and in fact we met someone today at the booth who is going to help us get that done. [applause]

We have realized that even some of our marketing material—I mean who doesn’t want to be marketed too—isn’t compliant. So we have embedded closed captioning and textual descriptions of pictures.

The last thing is the one that I’m most proud of. It’s a very small one, but it means a lot to us. As we looked around, we realized that the checks we provide to all of our members—including a large-font check for members who have difficulty using checks with the standard font size—were more expensive than they needed to be and should be. We went back to our check vendor and said, “Explain to us why a check that has a large font is more expensive than a check that has a smaller font. Clearly the additional ink you need can’t be that much more expensive.” And they said that we were right. Now we are charged the very same price for small font checks as we are for large font checks. [applause]

So again, we know that we are on a journey, but we feel like we have made tremendous progress and that we really embedded this more deeply in the organization. I’ve heard several of you today as I’ve spoken with you that it’s all about culture, and it is.

To wrap up, if I was thinking about tackling this issue from your perspective and I was going to approach an organization of any kind, I think I’d say this: First, enter into a dialogue: many of you have, and many of you will. Make sure you are involved in a conversation. Again, that first meeting we had was a conversation, and we are grateful for that. Don’t be afraid to share your stories. The entire meeting was great, but that story was a very powerful part of the puzzle for all of us who were in that meeting. Second is that, when you work with that organization, make sure that you understand the organization, the environment that they work with, figuring out whether they have vendors, whether they have a complicated architecture. Don’t let them off the hook, but do make sure that you understand. The third thing, as we did, is work together with that organization to help develop a plan. Make sure there are hard commitments, but work together with that organization. Don’t leave it to them, and don’t leave it to you. And then, make sure that plan is sustainable. Because, as you’ve heard throughout the afternoon, we can’t stop doing this stuff.

I want to offer just a couple of thank you’s. First, thank you again for the opportunity to be here on behalf of BECU to share this. We know we’re not done, but we wanted to share some thoughts along the way. I’d like to thank my colleagues who are here: Jessica Schultz, Mike Ryan, and Obaid Khan, who are a big part of why I am up here talking. They made it happen, so thank you to each of you. Thank you again to Eve and President Riccobono for being the prompt that got us to get this done, and we appreciate that prompting. Last, thank you to our blind members way in the back. On a personal level they made us a better organization, and we always strive to be better, so thank you for that.

I will end on a personal note. I’ve been at this a while. If you could see me, you would know that I am old. I love what I do, but I’m always trying to learn. This experience, on a personal and professional level, has been one of the most interesting and engaging. Thank you for helping me stay young at this late time in my career. [applause]

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