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Voices

This client community isn't underserved. It's ignored.

The last words of the email stood out the most. “… the thing is … we are deaf.” This is how the prospective client closed her message to me in 2017.

When I agreed to meet with the woman and her husband, I was feeling uncertain about how to best communicate with them. To prepare, I added captions to my usual video presentation. But halfway through, I realized the couple was completely overwhelmed with the financial vocabulary I was using, which was entirely new to them. Improvising, I pulled up a blank Word document and started typing which allowed us to converse back and forth. I felt completely inadequate and regretted not preparing more, but did my best to connect with the couple.

To my surprise, the meeting concluded with the wife rejecting my handshake and instead grabbing onto me tightly as she began to cry. “Matthew, thank you for what you have done,” she said. “We have sat with five advisors, and none have come close to helping us like you have. I know we have missed out on financial opportunities because we are deaf.”

I left that meeting thinking about these clients and the likelihood that this may be a common occurrence for our deaf community. I discovered that there are more than 2.2 million people who are considered deaf living in our country and more than 800,000 of them live in the greater Los Angeles area. However, my research only uncovered one firm in Texas able to effectively serve their local deaf community. The conclusion was staggering. My industry does not underserve our deaf community, it ignores it.

I recognized very early that communication is the biggest hurdle. I was able to connect with American Sign Language professor Daniel Blair and RISE Interpreting CEO Phil Carmona, two of the biggest advocates for the deaf community in the Southern Californian region, for help. What most people don’t realize is that communication is dependent on a gamut of variables. For one, it may depend on whether the person was born deaf or lost their hearing later in life. Additional accommodations should be made when working with a couple where one is deaf and the other is hearing.

My industry does not underserve our deaf community, it ignores it.

It quickly became clear to me that written communication or closed captioning isn’t sufficient. The deaf community typically uses ASL, which is very different from spoken English — or any other language. Additionally, many of the common terms and concepts we use in our industry do not exist in ASL.

I’m trying to change some of that. Professor Blair and I are developing an ASL class specifically for financial advisors that will likely become accredited at the local university. I am currently producing five ASL-interpreted videos that will provide the basic concepts of saving, investing as well as choosing/working with an advisor. I am also coordinating a financial workshop for deaf families. My financial planning firm, Trilogy Financial, was able to secure interpreters for my meetings with deaf clients and a team of Trilogy advisors has formed to support these efforts.

My hope is that we’ll soon be able to provide our financial services on a national basis to deaf families who feel comfortable and secure with our assistance. My intention is not only to improve each deaf family’s financial future, but to push the industry to stop failing the deaf community and other ignored demographics.

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