We’re not cool enough to get invited to the Technology, Entertainment and Design conferences, so we have to content ourselves with experiencing these events vicariously through the videos posted on the group’s website. A clip posted this month is particularly salient for consumer banking. 

The speaker is Sandra Fisher Martins, who runs a campaign in Portugal that encourages businesses to use plain language in documents like utility bills, rental contracts or medical leaflets.

“These are not documents written by experts for experts,” she says. “These are public documents, documents I need to understand to get by daily, to live my life.”

Fisher Martins appropriately holds up the U.S. subprime mortgage debacle as Exhibit A for what happens when people sign documents they don’t understand. And she will brook no lawyerly explanations for impenetrable, convoluted writing (“‘What if it goes to court?’ … I’ve heard them all, they’re all excuses”).

People have a “right to understand,” she says, and the professionals who draft these materials must learn to “write for grandma.”

Even though it’s in Portugese with subtitles, we found the talk as riveting as anything else on the TED site. This video would make a great pep talk for the staff of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.   

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