During the Second World War, more than 130,000 people of Japanese descent living in the U.S. were imprisoned. It’s an experience that is not easily forgotten, and even in third and fourth generation Japanese, the memory of those times is still present.
“The history of Japanese-Americans is characterized by losing everything many times and having to start over again,” says Alan Kondo, founder of Kondo Wealth Advisors in Pasadena, Calif. “There was the Great Depression and then World War Two, and a history of anti-Asian laws that prevented Japanese-Americans from owning land. As a result of all that, we’re still getting clients who are the first in their families to go to a financial advisor.”
Kondo, himself of Japanese descent, was born and raised in Canada. But it was not until he came to Los Angeles that he felt a keen affinity to the Japanese-American community and a desire to serve their financial planning needs.
“This is a community that I feel is still underserved and we can do a lot to create financial planning success,” Kondo says.
Ninety-five percent of Kondo’s Asian clientele is of Japanese descent. There are a number of other financial advisors also dedicated to the Japanese community, he says, “but we’re not competing against each other because even though this is a small community, there is enough business for all.”
More importantly, though, the end goals for everyone, clients as well as advisors, are the same, Kondo says, and are largely centered around the continued support for Japanese community organizations.
“There has always been a strong link between Japanese and their community in terms of survival and success in this country,” he says. “The very first generations of Japanese who came to the U.S. could not have survived without the Japanese-American associations. In many cases, they were teenagers with just a few dollars in their pockets, and those organizations opened up doors for them. Today, too, the Japanese-American organizations provide housing and education and other services, so even though we as advisors can help improve individual financial outcomes, without those community organizations, our clients would be very disadvantaged.
As such, a fundamental goal for Kondo’s Japanese clients is to give back to their community and make sure that the organizations that helped them get a start in life continue to do the same for others. No matter how small or large the amount they leave to these organizations, ensuring their continuity is very important to Japanese-Americans, he says.
The preservation of their culture is also very important to Kondo’s Japanese-American clients, so as their financial advisor, “the culture is something that we clearly understand and that we are very sensitive to,” he says. “There’s a real melding of history and culture in our community and we also feel a responsibility to maintain and preserve that.”
The hallmark of Kondo Wealth Advisors is the deep understanding its advisors have of Asian cultures and mores and, like many other Asians, hard work and hard-earned money that then leads to good growth from investments is also important to Kondo’s Japanese clients. The older generation – those born immediately after the war – tend to be more conservative with respect to where they want to invest, he says.
“When we make financial recommendations to our clients, it has to be based on a deep level of trust and in many cases, it feels like we are working with a member of our family, and we feel that our clients feel that too,” Kondo says.
Kondo will be retiring in four years and his daughter, Akemi Kondo Dalvi, will be taking over the practice.
Since Kondo first started the firm, the clientele has broadened out to encompass a range of clients, mainly from different Asian backgrounds (Dalvi herself is married to an Indian-American).
“Our business is going to change in the future – for my generation the kind of practice that served mostly Japanese-Americans was viable, but a lot of our younger clients are married to other ethnic groups, so we’ll have to transform to a more inclusive practice,” Kondo says.