In 2013, 8.7% of U.S. citizens 18 and older were reported to have a visual disability. In the three short years since, the world has welcomed six new iPhones, driverless cars, hoverboards, and observed the launch of the first reusable rocket. While many of these technological advancements also included exciting accessibility features – like Apple VoiceOver – even more have not. But that trend is about to change.

You’ve probably heard that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) will be enforcing new ADA-compliance website regulations for public and private businesses by 2018. While the DOJ has yet to hand down its updated website accessibility rule, that doesn’t mean businesses have two more years to make their websites accessible. Already, suits have been brought by individuals (and the DOJ itself) against big names with big results. Harvard, MIT, Peapod, the list goes on.

When it comes to compliance and security, financial institutions already have a myriad of requirements on their plates. Putting money into a project two years early may not seem like the soundest investment, until you realize just how much could happen before 2018. (Remember the hoverboards?) Here are three ways ADA-noncompliance could put your financial institution in the red today:

In Court

With new technology comes new accessibility responsibility. While the ADA has been enacted for decades, it is only in the past few years that the spotlight has turned full force onto websites. Close to 65% of lawsuits and settlements involving financial institutions over web accessibility were filed just in the last two to three years. And it doesn’t take much to warrant a suit – in the case of the Bank of America (BOA) settlement, just two people, a husband and wife, discovered the barriers in BOA’s online resources. Lack of accessibility doesn’t have to be a heavy burden of proof; it can be as devastatingly simple as missing closed captions or a keyboard trap.

Why are so many accessibility legal battles on the rise? Other than just being the right thing to do, website accessibility issues can easily engulf physical accessibility lawsuits.

In one blogger’s example, “surf by” plaintiffs dwarf “drive by plaintiffs.” Basically, discovering a website is inaccessible takes much less time than discovering that a bank’s parking lot doesn’t have handicapped parking spaces. Instead of driving to your local branch, they can just pull up your website on their laptop or phone. If you aren’t paying attention to compliance on your website, you’re leaving your website open to a lawsuit. It’s just a matter of time.

With Customers

Until very recently, digital expectations for accessibility had yet to equal accessibility expectations in the physical world. We always expect buildings to have elevators, but we don’t always expect technology to be innately accessible. For example, most major banks include accessible ATMs, which provide audio instructions and Braille keys. However, ATM usage dropped 15% between 2010 and 2015, and is projected to keep deteriorating 2-5% annually in the continuing years.

Like the estimated 81% of people using online banking, users with visual disabilities aren’t solely relying on accessible ATMs anymore. Instead, they’re relying on websites, which need to be just as accessible as physical ATMs. The American Foundation for the Blind suggested the following to account holders with a visual disability:

“If you bank with a smaller institution and have trouble using their website or mobile app, ask customer service for accessibility guidance. If that fails, ask to have your issue escalated to someone more knowledgeable about screen reader access. If they are unable to do this, give serious consideration to switching banks.”

It doesn’t just matter how beautiful your website is on the newest iPhone or your mobile banking app’s latest tech features. If you don’t provide accessibility services to your customers, they’ll find another financial institution that does.

Among Peers

With high-profile settlements and new web accessibility ADA rules looming, accessibility is rapidly becoming a requirement for financial institutions, not an option. Even around the world, banks are taking charge and putting their accessibility best practices front and center. Not sure what your financial institution’s “best practices” are? Showing effort is better than having nothing at all, and the leaders are standing out.

The Australian Bankers’ Association publicly announced its web accessibility standards were under review, noting that “these voluntary standards were introduced in 2002 and there has been significant changes in retail banking, technology and customer expectations over this time.” BOA also has a link to its accessible banking overview directly on the homepage. If you aren’t taking a proactive approach to website accessibility, you’re taking a reactive one. By joining other institutions in taking a proactive approach to website accessibility, you’re able to be part of the conversation on your terms, instead of staring down at the terms of a legal suit.

So, back to the beginning. Why is ADA-compliance vital for financial institutions?

Barclay’s accessibility policy sums it up perfectly: “We truly want Barclays to be the 'Go-To' bank. For everyone.”

Want to learn how to make your financial institution's website accessible for all customers? Get started with our free guide, "The Must-Have Web Accessibility Handbook."