Some 80pc of the 4,800 ATMs and in-branch cash and deposit machines which are branded NatWest or Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), its sister bank, will be speech-enabled over the next couple of years.
The upgrades will start early next year and should be completed by the end of 2015, meaning that people will be able to plug earphones into the machines so they can be verbally guided through their transactions.
Barclays launched a similar system last year.
RBS and NatWest have been working closely with the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) on the plans over the last year. The upgrades are intended to help anyone who prefers to take on information through speech rather than reading.
Ross McEwan, the head of RBS and NatWest retail banking, said: “As one of the largest ATM providers in the UK, we want to help our customers bank with us in the simplest and most convenient way possible.”
Lesley-Anne Alexander, the head of the RNIB, said she was “delighted” with the announcement and called for more banks to follow suit.
The RNIB launched a Make Money Talk campaign in September 2011 calling for banks to provide ATMs with audio facilities for customers.
Around 370,000 people are registered blind or partially sighted people in Britain. The RNIB said almost half would use ATMs if they were speech enabled.
Lloyds Banking Group is also introducing talking cash machines. “We will have around 1,000 by the end of 2013 in our Lloyds, Halifax and Bank of Scotland branches,” the bank said. “Our roll-out will be an ongoing programme with the long-term aim of rolling them out to our entire Lloyds’ estate of about 7,000 cash machines across the UK.
“This is part of a wider programme looking at how we can improve the service we provide to our customers with disabilities, including being the first financial services provider in the UK to offer deaf customers an online British Sign Language service to enable them to talk to our customer services departments via a sign language interpreter using webcam.”
NatWest’s announcement came on the same day it was disclosed that the Financial Conduct Authority, the new regulator, had started an enforcement investigation into an IT meltdown last summer which affected RBS, NatWest and Ulster Bank customers.
The hitch saw payments go awry, wages disappear and home purchases and holidays interrupted. RBS has already taken a £175m hit to cover costs and compensation relating to the hitch and promised that no one would be left permanently out of pocket.