Bridging the literacy gap: Calls for increased assistance in form-filling at financial institutions

A growing chorus of voices is urging financial institutions to enhance assistance to the illiterate individuals struggling to navigate the intricacies of form-filling.

The spotlight falls on the moving stories of individuals like a 65-year-old woman, Pema, from Samrupjongkar who recently ventured to Thimphu for medical services with her husband.

Pema’s story resonates with a universal narrative among the less-educated populace, particularly when dealing with financial institutions. With her husband by her side, they found themselves in a stressful situation with the seemingly impossible task of depositing money into their newly issued account.

Pema shared her frustration. She said, “It is our first time to deposit the money, and looking at the form, it seems like a minimal task; however, due to the language barrier, we cannot speak the language or write. What could have taken just a few minutes for literate individuals is like an hour of work for us.”

Tshering Dorji, a 25-year-old residing and working in Thimphu, shed light on the generational struggle. Hailing from a farming background, he told of his parent’s difficult attempts to deposit money in banks, always relying on a literate family member to navigate the paperwork. “Now, all of us have grown up and are working far from home. If I send them money, it also becomes difficult for them to take it out,” he said.

He rejoiced at the fact that there are people in banks to assist them. However, he feels that it is not enough.

Tshering Dorji emphasised that the lack of English literacy should not deprive individuals of opportunities and essential services. “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 added.

Financial institutions play an important role in this narrative, with varying approaches to assisting illiterate customers.

Bhutan Development Bank Limited (BDBL) affirmed its commitment to helping customers fill out forms. A BDBL official said, “We usually help anyone to fill out the forms because most of our customers are from rural areas, and we make sure to assist them.”

However, the policies of other banks, such as the Bank of Bhutan, the Bhutan National Bank, and PNB Bank, differ. While they may help customers without assistance, they generally refrain from actively assisting with form-filling due to privacy policy concerns. Nevertheless, instances of security guards, interns, or staff sometimes stepping in to aid individuals in need have been reported.

Sentiment among customers is the need for more considerable assistance. Kezang, a bank customer, acknowledged the desire to help but expressed the challenges faced by working individuals with time constraints. “People stopping you just to fill out forms becomes a hassle, especially when we have curfew timing to return to the office,” Kezang said.

Kezang said that if he had all the time in the world, he would have helped, but given the time constraints, he cannot.

Similarly, Dorji Wangmo emphasised the impact on daily tasks when unprepared requests for assistance arise. “When we have lots to do and people come requesting us to help them, we cannot deny, and things get delayed for us,” she said.

Yangchen, an illiterate individual, shed light on the intricacies faced by those attempting to navigate form-filling independently. “Writing ‘a’ and ‘b’ is not impossible, but how can we fill out the whole forms?” Yangchen questioned, highlighting the overwhelming nature of the process.

Crucially, many illiterate individuals are unaware of available customer care services or struggle to locate them due to their limited reading and writing abilities. This lack of awareness exacerbates their challenges, leaving them to grapple with forms alone.

Many wishes for the customer’s services to be more interactive and inclusive.

Most of the banks said that they do not have any plans as of now to hire someone specifically to assist the customers with literally filling up their forms. However, they are hopeful they might have one in the future.

As Bhutan progresses towards greater financial inclusivity and services, the plea for increased assistance in form-filling becomes a pressing issue. Many of them argue that financial institutions, should take proactive measures to bridge the literacy gap, ensuring that no one is left behind.

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