Empathy and Inclusion: Bridging Literacy Gaps for Financial Inclusion

In the heart of the Himalayas, where stunning landscapes meet the challenges of modernity, a growing call for enhanced assistance to the illiterate is resonating across the nation. The focus has shifted to the poignant stories of individuals grappling with the complexities of form-filling when dealing with financial institutions.

Among the many narratives, a 65-year-old woman’s recent journey from Samrupjongkar to Thimphu for medical services with her husband stands out. Their experience underscores a universal struggle among the less-educated when navigating the intricacies of financial transactions. The seemingly simple task of depositing money into a newly issued account becomes an hour-long ordeal due to the language barrier.

The struggle extends across generations, as highlighted by Tshering Dorji, a 25-year-old residing and working in Thimphu. Coming from a farming background, he sheds light on his parent’s difficulties in dealing with banks, relying on literate family members for paperwork. Even as the younger generation grows up and works away from home, sending money becomes a challenge for both the sender and the receiver.

While acknowledging the presence of assistance in banks, Tshering Dorji insists that it is not enough. He emphasizes that the lack of English literacy should not be a barrier to essential services and opportunities. “It’s not their fault that they lack the education to read and write in English; therefore, they should be helped more with patience and grace,” he adds.

The role of financial institutions in this narrative becomes crucial, with varied approaches to assisting illiterate customers. Bhutan Development Bank Limited (BDBL) has committed to helping customers fill out forms, recognizing the rural background of most customers. However, other banks, including the Bank of Bhutan, the Bhutan National Bank, and PNB Bank, maintain different policies. Privacy concerns often limit active assistance with form-filling, although instances of staff stepping in to help have been reported.

Customers express a shared sentiment for more substantial assistance. Kezang, a bank customer, acknowledges the desire to help but points out the challenges faced by working individuals with time constraints. Similar sentiments are echoed by Dorji Wangmo, highlighting the impact on daily tasks when unprepared requests for assistance arise.

Illiterate individuals, like Yangchen, shed light on the intricacies they face when attempting to navigate form-filling independently. The process, often overwhelming, raises questions about the feasibility of completing entire forms without assistance.

Crucially, many illiterate individuals are unaware of available customer care services, exacerbating their challenges and leaving them to grapple with forms alone. There is a collective wish for customer services to be more interactive and inclusive.

As the nation marches towards progress, the call for empathy and inclusivity in financial institutions grows louder. Bridging the gap for the illiterate population is not just a matter of convenience; it’s a step towards a more equitable and accessible financial landscape for all.

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