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first direct and HSBC announce launch of British Sign Language service

30 Mar 2016

Nearly a third of deaf or hard of hearing adults surveyed say a lack of access puts them off using day-to-day service providers

HSBC and first direct are launching a British Sign Language Video Relay Service (VRS) in the UK. The move will make it easier for the deaf community who use British Sign Language (BSL) to communicate with the banks through their telephone banking service. This comes as new research shows a significant number of deaf and hard of hearing adults are put off from using service providers, like banks, building societies and utility companies, due to a lack of access (29%).

VRS is an online video interpreting service which from today can be accessed through the HSBC and first direct websites. It enables deaf BSL users to contact their bank via an on-screen interpreter who communicates using BSL with the customer and then relays the conversation to the customer service adviser in spoken English.

HSBC’s UK head of customer contact, Joe Gordon said: “Research has shown that many members of the deaf community are put off from using essential day-to-day service providers due to a lack of access and some believe they have even been financially disadvantaged as a result. Financial inclusion is extremely important to us and we believe everyone should have the tools they need to help them take control of their finances. This roll-out of the BSL Video Relay Service will make it much easier for deaf BSL users to contact us directly, manage their money and communicate with us.

“Digital innovations allow us to improve every aspect of the customer experience and this launch is no exception. It is another example of technology being introduced to make sure customers can access their finances more easily, safely and securely.”

Tracy Garrad, chief executive of first direct , said: “At first direct we always want to provide the best possible service for all our customers. We are investing heavily in digital innovation and while we already provide Text Phone and Text Relay services, introducing BSL Video Relay Service means we are going one step further and making it easier for BSL users to talk to us.”

The launch of VRS is supported by new consumer online research findings from YouGov, commissioned by HSBC, which reveal that the telephone is the least accessible mode of communication, of those listed, for deaf or hard of hearing consumers, with 44% agreeing it is a difficult channel for communication. Nearly one third (29%) are also put off from using service providers (e.g. banks and utilities companies) due to a lack of access.

Paul Breckell, chief executive at Action on Hearing Loss said: “It is great to see that the banking industry is giving attention to inclusion and accessibility among its customers with hearing loss, which affects 11 million people in the UK. Accessibility influences customers’ purchasing decisions and if a customer feels they are not able to get the experience they want and need, they are likely to vote with their feet. The launch of this VSR service is a step in the right direction for HSBC.”

Encouragingly, almost one quarter of those surveyed (23%) believe that progress is being made by companies to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard of hearing communities.

For more information about the service and a demonstration of how it works please visit or

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