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Phonebased financial news for the blind

22 October 2004 For immediate release

ASB Bank teams with Blind Foundation to offer first phonebased financial news to members

Blind and vision impaired New Zealanders who have felt “disconnected” from financial and investment news can now reconnect independently using only their telephones.

ASB Bank is making the latest market information, news and financial reports available on the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind’s (RNZFB) Telephone Information Service (TIS), a popular service for the blind community that has recorded many “world firsts” in its nearly 10-year history.

The financial service, called ”ASB BankTalk” will reconnect many retired business people with the financial news they have longed for but haven’t had easy access to due to their failing vision.

Three TIS users quoted below call ASB BankTalk “vital”, “wonderful” and “almost a lifeline, like getting your blocked arteries cleared out – I’m alive again.” Mary Schnackenberg, who has been blind since birth, is the RNZFB’s Divisional Manager of Adaptive Support. She says accessing financial information that keeps members in touch with the “business world” they knew is possible, but until now has not been easy.

“Not everyone is keen to buy computers and expensive software that uses a synthesised voice to read what’s on the screen. Many people, especially older Foundation members – and two-thirds of our members are over 65 - are more comfortable using the telephone. The TIS service lets them do just that.

ASB Bank came to us earlier this year to see how they could help get more financial information to our members, and together we developed ASB BankTalk on TIS,” she said.

Jonathan Symons, General Manager Marketing ASB Bank says ASB Bank is focused on providing quality financial information to the community, and wanted to find a way to extend this information to the visually impaired.

TIS – ASB BankTalk, P2

“On meeting with the Foundation we quickly discovered a common link such as the TIS service. As we were the first bank to introduce Phone Banking to New Zealand, it was a logical fit to link our technology and financial expertise to strengthen the Blind Foundation’s own Telephone Information Service.

“We’re going one step further by developing the first bank product brochure for ASB BankTalk with a small Braille component. This brochure will be available on request in branches around the country and has information on the service for the visually impaired, their family and supporters.” ASB BankTalk will be the first service on TIS to be rolled out to members nationally. The new financial service will be launched to RNZFB members and volunteers from October 22nd.

“Many Foundation members, including those who were computer literate and worked in top management, are over the moon about ASB BankTalk. It’s totally appropriate that ASB is the first bank to come to the TIS party. They have always cared about people who are different,” says Ms Schnackenberg, who as a blind child opened her first account with ASB at the age of 13 because “they accepted a password rather than a signature in the days before I had learned to sign my own name.”

“TIS news is not a dumbing down of print. It gives blind and vision impaired people news and information that simply isn’t available on TV or the radio. TIS provides easy and immediate access to local, relevant and fast changing news, and members can access it easily from the comfort of their own home, using the family phone. They can go from menu to menu to find what they want to hear,” she says.

After dialling into one of 12 local TIS computer servers, Foundation members can now go to the ASB BankTalk menu. Using their phone’s keypad, they can choose the information they want and have the synthesised voices of “American Tom” or “English Helen” read it to them, fast or slow, once or several times. They can also listen to recordings left by other members in a “chat-room” like environment.

Ends

ASB BankTalk Fact Sheet and Quotes

ASB BankTalk is the first financial news service to feature on the RNZFB’s Telephone Information Service. It is the first service to be made available to all regions the TIS service is currently available from.

North Island:

• Auckland, Hamilton, Napier, Palmerston North, Wellington South Island:

• Christchurch, Oamaru, Timaru, Dunedin, Balclutha, Gore, Invercargill

• To access the service people must be a member of the RNZFB. Members can call regionally, or if they live outside these regions they call an 0800 number

• Once the service is accessed, members simply press ‘8,1’ on their phones to access the ASB BankTalk main menu.

List of Services

• ASB Bank Terms and Conditions

• ASB Bank Phone Banking – information on how this can help you manage your finances

• ASB Bank Foreign Exchange Rates

• ASB Bank Lending Interest Rates

• ASB Bank Weekly Economic Report

• ASB Bank Monthly Economic Article

• ASB Bank Quarterly Economic Report

• To connect to an ASB Bank Customer Services Representative

TIS User Quotes

• Auckland’s Ronnie Bruell, 63, was a company director with Rex Consolidated Limited, a public company with 20 subsidiaries and approximately 600 employees across six countries. Even after retiring, Mr Bruell continued to stay wired into business news thanks to ASB’s daily emails. But as his vision failed, so did his ability to stay current.

“Anyone in management has to stay informed to business news. It’s just vital. Being able to get that news again for myself is just wonderful.

I’ve only recently got a computer and JAWS (screen-reading software), but that’s in its infancy for me. TIS is available to me now, and I will use it.”

• Wellington-area’s Terry Fitzgerald, 70, was the Managing Director of National Westminster Finance before he retired in 1989. He continued to voraciously consume financial news until losing most of his vision three years ago, and the personal loss was significant. He uses a computer with screen-reader software, but ASB BankTalk has tempted him into becoming a TIS user as well.

“This is almost a lifeline, like getting your blocked arteries cleared out.

I’m alive again. TIS is so good I could spend the whole damn day on it.”

• Christchurch’s Bede Cosgriff was well known for operating successful lunch bars. He was very interested in financial news and was a “keen dabbler” in the share market before retirement. He has limited vision and can’t read print, so he increasingly relies on TIS for things like phone numbers, local news and, now, financial news.

“TIS let’s me get the information I want when I want it. I don’t have to rely on someone to read it for me. That’s wonderful.”

TIS History

TIS was launched just before Christmas in 1994 as the brainchild of Mary Schnackenberg and Clive Lansink, a blind software engineer then working for the RNZFB. (Clive has recently earned his LLB and continues to consult for the Foundation on a range of issues).

“Clive and I saw a similar service in Minneapolis in 1992. We dismissed purchasing it because we knew New Zealand couldn’t afford the $80,000 price tag and because we thought Clive could design a more flexible service that didn’t rely on backroom techheads to keep it going,” says Ms Schnackenberg.

Mr Lansink created a demo version on the smell of an oily rag, using basic software downloaded from the internet. The Foundation was impressed and agreed to fund development of TIS. In the end, Mr Lansink launched TIS for about $15,000. His version, probably unique in the world, allowed each “menu administrator” – the person responsible for managing content on that menu - to make changes using only their home telephone. They didn’t and don’t need access to a computer.

TIS Content and Services

• Local news and information not found on radio or television

• Hundreds of daily newspaper stories from the New Zealand Herald (and soon from many APN provincial newspapers across the country)

• Radio and TV programme listings

• News about RNZFB and its services

• Unique programming created by Foundation members - like the highly acclaimed and soon to be national TIS Programme “The Bones of Your Arts” (featuring music, humour, and more)

• News and gossip about member events and matters of interest

• The ability to conduct the equivalent of internet “chatrooms” by leaving voicemail messages in a group of mailboxes for others to access and comment on.

TIS Facts

Approximately 600 Foundation members logged 148,612 calls to TIS last financial year, amounting to 21,197 hours of listening. The cost of tolls to the Foundation alone was nearly $30,000.

Thanks to ASB BankTalk and increasing content from APN and other providers, the Foundation expects to triple the number of TIS users over the next six-12 months.

All Foundation members can access some TIS content over the tollfree national line. But to limit toll costs, members need to call their local TIS computer to access the most content.

TIS servers are located in Auckland, Hamilton, Napier, Palmerston North, Wellington, Christchurch, Timaru, Oamara, Dunedin, Balclutha, Gore and Invercargill.

Invercargill has the highest number of users per head of population in the country. “Invercargill have always been monster user of TIS, which is appropriate because Invercargill may have had the first telephone news service in the world. It was created by the late Arthur Cushen as soon as the telephone answering machine was invented,” says Ms Schnackenberg.

ends

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