Nationwide Building Society (www.nationwide.co.uk) will be trialling autism-friendly hours to make the experience more comfortable for autistic customers.
The quiet hours, with reduced background noise and greater availability of office space, are going to be offered to make the banking experience less overwhelming for customers with the developmental disability. Nationwide will also be sending out information to customers to let them know what to expect in their branch to help them prepare for a visit. Staff are also receiving training on how to better assist autistic customers.
The building society’s Worcestershire branch piloted the initiative, which is supported by the National Autistic society, and will be rolled out across the entire network if successful.
Nationwide have 15 million members nationwide, and recognise that a good number of customers will be affected by autism, either personally or through friends or family.
If the pilot is a success, participating branches will adopt a range of approaches:
- Publication of quiet times for each branch so that there is less football and background noise, and less need to queue
- Rooms will be available for customers who find the experience overwhelming
- Noise will be reduced as much as possible
- Reduced fluorescent lighting or harsh lighting
- Specialist training for staff to enable them to support autistic people and their families at any time – not just during quiet periods.
Nationwide hope that the quiet hours will be of use to members who prefer their banking needs at a quieter time, such as people with partial hearing loss or brain injuries.
Mandy Griffin, Director of Membership Propositions at Nationwide Building Society, said:“Autism is very much a hidden disability and often you will not know if someone is autistic. By making a few adjustments in our branches, we can make them a less daunting space for our autistic members and their families. We are also looking to provide more detail online to allow members to plan their visit and know what to expect when visiting a branch, something that is important to many autistic members.”
Mark Lever, Chief Executive at the National Autistic Society, said: “We are delighted that Nationwide Building Society is introducing regular autism friendly hours in its branches. We know that as many as 64% of autistic people avoid going to shops and businesses due to feeling overwhelmed by noise, environment and because staff don’t understand their autism. I am confident that many people will feel relief that Nationwide is offering this crucial initiative.
“In early October, we organised the first UK-wide week of Autism Hours with nearly 5,000 shops and businesses across the country. We hope that more organisations, including other financial services providers, will follow the example set by Nationwide and do their bit to help make sure autistic people and their families have the same opportunities as everyone else.”