Being deaf from birth did not stop Lee Kramer from becoming a successful financial advisor.

Now, after decades in the business, Kramer, who just turned 60, runs a firm consisting of deaf advisors who serve mostly deaf clients.

Kramer grew up in a deaf family. When the family played Monopoly, he would ask questions about the real estate and financial transactions going on in the game, but his parents and their friends had few answers.


“I realized there was a lack of understanding about finances in the Deaf community,” Kramer says through an interpreter at the firm, Lisa Dewing, during a recent telephone interview.

That sparked his lifelong desire to try to correct the situation, he says. He founded Kramer Wealth Managers in Frederick, Md., in 1985. The firm now has four advisors and a satellite office in Austin, Texas.

Frederick and Austin were selected because, being home to good schools for the Deaf, they have substantial Deaf communities.

Kramer was the second deaf person in the United States, as far as he knows, to earn a Series 7 and Stephanie Summers, an advisor with the firm, was the first deaf woman to earn a Series 7.

They both say they love finance and got into the business because the deaf community is underserved in the financial industry.

Communications, obviously, is the most challenging part of the business for deaf advisors and clients. Many deaf people in the U.S. consider their first language to be American Sign Languge, which has its own grammar and usage, rather than English.

“Being able to communicate in the client’s first language is obviously an advantage,” Kramer says.

Videoconferencing also has made transactions much easier, he says.

“When we started in 1985 we used Teletype and everything was written. You can imagine trying to explain a financial plan by typing.

“Even for a client to call with a simple question, it took forever,” Kramer says.

In the early years, Kramer says he was traveling at least one week a month to meet with clients. Now, with video conferencing, he travels much less.

“It was hard to get accepted in the Deaf community at first. But once the word started to spread that we were good, business grew,” he says. The firm now has $300 million in assets under management and Kramer says he has no plans for rapid expansion.

There are some unique issues that pertain to deaf clients. For instance, deaf people can claim Social Security disability benefits before full retirement age.

On a practice management level, the firm's clients also have to get used to the involvement of an interpreter when discussing financial matters. Eighty percent of the firm's clients are deaf.

Trades must be done through a video relay service that allows deaf people to communicate through the telephone using American Sign Language through a sign language interpreter. Advisors need to be aware of deaf people’s sensitivities and needs and make the client feel as comfortable as possible, Kramer says.

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