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The Establishment: Making Financial Planning Fun

For young professionals without a lot of financial experience, the task of managing personal finances and planning for the future can be overwhelming, and the idea of meeting with a financial advisor for assistance can also be pretty intimidating.

This all-too-common angst toward financial planning and decision-making is what sparked the idea for The Establishment, an educational program designed by MassMutual New York State to help make personal finance more palatable (and dare we say, fun?) for a younger audience that could use some help getting their affairs in order.

“The original idea was brought to our home office by our general agent, Joseph DiLeo, who wanted to do financial education that was targeted toward millennials,” said Marissa Dinello, director of marketing. “MassMutual felt it was an underserved population and that they weren’t doing what they should be doing with their finances at that age.”

The personal finance pill is a lot easier to swallow if you can wash it down with a beer, but we’re pretty sure it’s frowned upon bringing a six-pack with you to the bank. So the folks at MassMutual New York State created The Establishment – a place where people could come grab a drink and a bite to eat in a relaxed environment, socialize, and then take a free class with an educator on a topic that interests them.

“We’re trying to leave behind that whole stuffy office environment and create a space that’s cool and fun to hang out in,” Dinello said.


Why We Love The Establishment from Marissa Dinello on Vimeo.

The Establishment officially launched as a pilot program at 5110 Main Street in Williamsville in December 2015. They also started offering classes through a partnership with 43North at 640 Ellicott Street in September 2017. They began with three classes: Wine and Investing 101, Making Sense of Student Loans, and The Bigger Picture of Credit Scores. Now their educational menu boasts 11 different class topics, with new classes launching regularly. Sessions are held at The Establishment (5110 Main Street) every week, Monday through Thursday at 6 p.m. Classes are held at 43North twice per month.

“We always tell people to come a half hour early,” Dinello said. “Prior to the class getting started, we wanted to have a social aspect, so we offer free food and beverages. You can come have a drink, relax with friends, and talk to people who are interested in learning about similar things.”

Once everyone is settled in, the group moves from the bar area to the educational space. “We have a bookshelf that is a secret sliding door,” Dinello said. “It’s like the grand reveal of the educational space.”

From there, the educator leading the session will give a brief overview of the topic, take a few questions, and dive into the lesson. The Establishment provides note paper, pens, and a folder with supplemental information to take home. At the close of each class, guests also have the opportunity to sign up for a free 30-minute financial check-up where they can identify the issues they need to focus on.

The Establishment limits its class sizes to about 15 people to ensure that guests get the most out of the sessions. “We purposely keep them a bit smaller because we want guests to talk during classes and have it be engaging for them,” Dinello said. “We want it to be like a conversation.”

According to Ray Pavicich, one of The Establishment’s educators, many of their guests are coming to the classes with similar concerns. “They’re interested in learning how to reduce their debt, how to deal with student loans, and how to begin investing – and if they are investing, whether they’re doing it correctly,” he said. “A lot of clients need help with budgeting and have questions about their insurance and benefits. There’s also a big interest in getting advice around purchasing their first home.”

For those interested in taking their financial education a step further, MassMutual also offers affordable one-on-one planning sessions with a financial advisor. “This is an opportunity to focus on their areas of concern – whatever is a hot button issue for them,” said Pavicich. “The client will bring documentation as it pertains to loans, budget, investments, etc. We’ll go over their income, debt and liabilities. The basic idea is to give them actionable feedback related to their biggest concerns.”

Pavicich notes that a high percentage of class attendees who pursue a free financial check-up will take the next step and work with an advisor on creating an individual financial plan. MassMutual provides an affordable, needs-based, tiered platform for clients to have a comprehensive financial plan designed for them. “It’s time consuming, but extremely detailed. We build out some financial models in accordance with what they’re doing right now, and we do some advance planning with suggestions for changes they can make,” Pavicich said.

Prices range from $300 to $1,500 based on the complexity of a client’s needs. Individuals just starting out typically fall into the first tier, while couples, families, business owners, and clients approaching retirement may require more robust plans.

“The trend that we’ve been excited about is seeing the process develop,” Pavicich said. “Someone will come to one of the classes, feel enlightened, and decide to pursue a 30-minute financial check-up. Even further than that, they’re taking the recommendations we give them. A financial plan is only helpful if you act upon the advice. It’s rewarding for us to see the full spectrum unfold.”

A full schedule of classes at The Establishment can be found in the classes/events section of their website. Classes are typically posted two months in advance, and it’s best to reserve a spot early. The most popular topics include “Wine & Investing 101,” Buying Your First Home,” “Making Sense of Student Loans,” and “Personal Finance for the Modern Woman.” New classes launching in the coming month include “Navigating Your Career Path” and “Moms and Money.”

Dinello and Pavicich also note that while The Establishment was designed with millennials in mind, they’ve found that their audience has expanded far beyond that age group. In 2017 alone, they put over 1,000 people through classes at The Establishment, and that number continues to grow.

Those interested in learning more about The Establishment can visit their website.

This content is part of a sponsored series in partnership with MassMutual New York State.

Written by Sarah Maurer

Sarah Maurer

I moved to Buffalo to attend Canisius College in 2007 and began writing for Buffalo Rising as a journalism intern in 2010. Working with Newell and meeting numerous entrepreneurs, activists and everyday folks who were working to make their city better made a huge impact on my decision to stay here. After witnessing all the positive development and grassroots initiatives happening in neighborhoods throughout the city, I was inspired to pursue a term of service in AmeriCorps and a career in Buffalo's non-profit sector. I currently work in the housing department at the Lt. Col. Matt Urban Human Services Center of WNY and am excited to be a part of their ongoing efforts to revitalize the Broadway Fillmore neighborhood. I also volunteer as the project coordinator for Artfarms Buffalo. I continue to write for Buffalo Rising because I love having the opportunity to stay connected to those working toward positive changes for the Queen City.

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