Scudder Kemper Investments Inc. has initiated what may be the financial service industry's most-focused effort yet directed at attracting gay and lesbian customers in Los Angeles.

While there are certainly gay and lesbian investment professionals at major financial service firms, catering to both homosexual and heterosexual clientele, Scudder may be the first firm to hire an openly gay L.A. professional specifically to target the affluent gay market here.

"There is a lot of money in the New Economy that is being created by gays and lesbians," said J.R. Mathena, who recently joined the L.A. office of Scudder's private investment counsel division, which manages more than $15 billion for affluent individuals and foundations. "There are dot-com millionaires and regular businessmen and women (who are gay). And not only do I have the financial expertise to give, I'm a gay person who can relate to the experiences that these people go through."

Scudder's move comes at a time when other industries are reaching out to the gay community. Fortune 500 companies like IBM, Anheuser-Busch, United Airlines and Bank of America Corp. are all actively seeking business by advertising in the national gay press.

Meanwhile, few financial companies have courted this diverse and generally well-off segment of society. Perhaps the most aggressive has been American Express Financial Services, which has been advertising its expertise in the national gay press for a decade and draws praise for breaking ground in targeting the gay community. James Law, who heads one of the firm's branches in New York and helps run its outreach efforts, applauds Scudder's decision to appoint Mathena.

"I think it's a great opportunity," Law said. "There are gays and lesbians who work at all of the Wall Street firms and who have gay and lesbian clients. But they don't have the umbrella of the firm's resources" that American Express and Scudder can bring to bear.

And the economic potential for any company able to tap into the gay and lesbian market is considerable.

"It really comes down to this market being less likely to have children so there's more disposable income," said Joel Lawson, vice president at Window Communications, a Washington, D.C., consultancy that helps companies target gay consumers. "(Such companies) get high returns because if you appeal to this market, (consumer) affinity is very high. The same gays and lesbians with large portfolios today are the same people who remember what it was like to be ignored."

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