GAC2023: Mahalo Takes the Lead in Neurodiversity
By John San Filippo
On February 15, 2023, Mahalo Banking, a Troy, Mich.-based CUSO (credit union service organization) that provides digital banking exclusively to credit unions, announced it had reengineered its platform to make it more inclusive for people with a wide range of neurodiverse conditions. These conditions include ADHD, dyslexia, and colorblindness, among others. According to the National Library of Medicine, approximately 15-20% of the world’s population experiences some form of a neurodiverse condition.
Mahalo claims it is the first digital banking provider to address neurodiversity to this extent. At the recent CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference (GAC) in Washington, D.C., Finopotamus took the opportunity to speak in person with Mahalo COO Denny Howell, who is himself colorblind, about this industry first.
Different Members Have Different Needs
According to Howell, forcing a one-size-fits-all user interface on a credit union’s entire membership does a disservice to both the members and the credit union. “If members [with these conditions] have trouble using online or mobile banking, they are left feeling frustrated and marginalized,” explained Howell. “For many consumers, digital banking plays a big role in the financial institutions they choose, so it’s extremely important for our team at Mahalo to ensure that every member has the same user-friendly experience. This, of course, benefits the credit union through greater retention and the ability to communicate more effectively with all members.” He added that, for example, decreased usage could lead to marketing messages missing members who could benefit from them.
Howell told Finopotamus that the new Mahalo platform has been significantly updated with new and enhanced designs for the backend and a completely new codebase for the frontend. These changes include many new functions, allowing customized user configurations to meet the specific needs of the widest range of members.
The Evolution of an Idea
Mahalo began exploring neurodiversity after Howell experienced his own issues while browsing online. “I have lived with colorblindness my entire life and often when online, I simply can’t see the text. Everyone assumes that if they just use two contrasting colors, that solves the issue. What most people don’t understand is that there are numerous variations of colorblindness and each type sees colors differently,” explained Howell. “When my co-workers heard me talking about this, they started asking more questions and the next thing I know, they are designing comprehensive colorblind support directly into our solution.”
Howell said that this initial focus on colorblindness led Mahalo down its path to helping address as many neurodiverse conditions as possible.
“After addressing colorblind functionality, we knew there was so much more we wanted to do to support a neurodiverse world at every possible level,” Howell noted. “Even something that seems as trivial as being left or right-handed actually makes a difference. Lefthanded members can now hold the phone in their left hand and use their left thumb to do all their navigation without having to reach across the screen.”
He continued, “For members with light sensitivity, we have light mode and dark mode. When we learned that people with epilepsy can have issues with online banking applications, we made sure to address that, as well. We also built the solution to remain consistent throughout all pages to reduce the anxiety often associated with ADHD.”
Leading the Way
Mahalo conducted extensive research on neurodiversity to make sure it was adding options that affected members would find useful. “We talked to many doctors in the field,” said Howell. “Several of them are from University of Michigan, but we also talked to a specialist at Harvard Medical to find where they see things going.”
Howell said that while Mahalo undertook this effort to make its platform more inclusive, he expects other providers will follow as this sort of functionality inevitably takes shape as a regulatory mandate. “Most companies just try to meet ADA compliance,” said Howell. “Our goal is to go far beyond that and actually meet the needs of every member that uses the Mahalo platform.” He added that eventually he hopes every company will follow suit and one day this will become a matter of compliance.
“Credit unions have always focused on being member centric. Our goal is to give credit unions yet another way to differentiate themselves from big banks and support every single member equally, continuing to embrace the credit union philosophy of people helping people,” he concluded.
Howell told Finopotamus that all upcoming Mahalo deployments will be based on the new platform and the company is upgrading all existing credit unions partners to this new platform over the next 12 months.