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September 5, 2007

Frost improves services for deaf

From: San Antonio Express - San Antonio,TX,USA - Sept 5, 2007

William Pack
Express-News business writer

Frost on Wednesday unveiled a videoconferencing product designed to give deaf customers uncommon access to the financial world, and Darlene Polson, a new Frost customer, could not be happier.

Polson, a retired Boeing employee who is deaf, said through an interpreter that none of the banks in Seattle where she formerly lived had the videoconferencing capabilities. The service has simplified the banking process and helped make her more confident about finances.

"With (the teleconferencing), wow, everything's open," Polson said. "I feel like a hearing person."

A few weeks ago, Frost began testing the service it is offering in conjunction with San Antonio-based Deaf Link, but it formally announced the program Wednesday at the 734 N. Loop 410 branch near Blanco Road.

That branch and three others in San Antonio are the first to offer the service, which allows deaf or hard-of-hearing customers to talk to a banker through American Sign Language interpreters provided by Deaf Link. Using a video link, interpreters can see what the customer is saying and convey that to the banker and reverse the communication process when the banker is talking.

Deaf customers will be able to communicate using American Sign Language, rather than trying to write notes in English or lip-read. Deaf Link representatives said American Sign Language is by far the language hearing-impaired people prefer to use. "Now (deaf customers) will have access to the financial parts of their lives," said Kay Chiodo, Deaf Link's founder and CEO. "It sets a standard other businesses in the nation need to aspire to."

The bank declined to say how much it's paying for the service, which is starting in San Antonio and should be extended to other major cities Frost serves by the end of next year.

Cindy Ramirez, Frost's executive vice president of consumer sales, said employees have been trained to use the new service, but none were added to provide it. She did not know how many customers might use the service. But with Gallaudet University estimating that 10 percent of the U.S. population is deaf or can't hear well, Ramirez said the program is worth it.

"Customers have the right to understand and make informed decisions about their finances, and this is another way we can fulfill our obligation to provide that service," said Paul Olivier, Frost's group executive vice president.

While other banks may schedule interpreters for deaf customers or provide other services, Frost says it is the first financial institution to offer American Sign Language assistance whenever a customer needs it.

Frost Deaf Link
Frost branches with the service
•Loop 410 and Blanco Road
•U.S. 281 North and Thousand Oaks Drive
•McCreless Mall
•Southwest Military Drive and Mallard Street

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