BOARDMAN, Ohio – Since he started working as a financial planner in the mid-1990s, Chris Mediate has sought ways to add to the services he offers clients beyond just reviewing their investments every quarter.
At first, it was to help them save for their children’s college tuition and beyond. Then, as they grew older and they took advantage of their college savings plans, Mediate moved into retirement planning along with them. That shift over the course of his career has led to what Mediate considers the differentiating factor between his firm and others.
“We’ve developed more of a customer service model rather than a transaction model,” he says. “We want to make sure the customer is getting what we’re giving them. They’re along for the ride at every stop.”
One aspect of that service has been frequent educational events, mixers and social get-togethers – although not as often since the pandemic took hold. In the company’s office in Boardman, the conference room is the only place to hold such events.
And so, Mediate Financial will move into a much larger space: two suites in an office building at 6647 Tippecanoe Road. Initially the move was slated to take place over the summer. But it has been delayed because of the pandemic. Currently, says director of client services Leslie Mediate, the plan is to be moved into the new office by the end of the year.
“What we’ve envisioned for years is one side being office space and meeting rooms, with the other side being an education and entertainment center,” Chris Mediate says. “We have an entire suite that’s one big open space so we can host regular client meetings and events. We want to keep giving back and delivering that service.”
What drove the decision to move rather than rent space in banquet halls or restaurants, says Leslie Mediate – Chris’ wife who’s been his business partner since the beginning of Mediate Financial – is that when clients were invited to events in those spaces before, attendance dropped significantly.
“When we host it at our office, everyone would come,” she says. “It’s been like growing out of your house. We need a bigger house for the family we’ve made with clients.”
In addition to quarterly meetings with clients, there are recurring events at Mediate Financial, during which clients stop by to meet with staff, whether to discuss their financial plans or just to catch up as friends.
“When we welcome new clients, we tell them, ‘Welcome to the family.’ We want them to be part of something. They meet each other. They’re social together because they meet through things like our Christmas party,” he says. “It’s become a large group dynamic with a family friendship. That’s the atmosphere we want.”
That mindset trickles into the way Mediate Financial approaches retirement planning. Chris Mediate borrows a saying from financial author and entrepreneur David Bach to summarize how staff goes about creating the framework for clients’ retirements.
“RoR is not rate of return. It’s ‘return on retirement.’ We give financial plans. But we help people prepare for things that will manifest in the future,” he says. “You can go to Florida. You can spoil your grandkids. You can do things. You can do that because you’ve been planning.”
And because of that wiggle room, Mediate says the company’s 250-plus clients “avoided panicking” when the arrival of the coronavirus caused stock markets to plunge in the spring.
With plans in place well beforehand, combined with Mediate Financial’s “trust the plan” motto, clients were assured that while the pandemic was something new and unforeseen, it wasn’t going to derail all their plans.
“We’ve always planned for something bad to happen,” Chris Mediate says. “Clients always understand what they own, why they own it and how it fits. The more they’re engaged with their plan and the more they buy into it, the less it becomes focused on just getting a good rate of return. It’s about how you’re living your life.”
To better engage with this growing clientele, Mediate Financial has been in growth mode for about seven years, the Mediates say.
After operating as a two-person company until 2013, the firm now employs seven, including their children, Christopher and Carson Mediate. Expanding the staff wasn’t always easy, Leslie Mediate says.
“We try to keep people doing what they’re good at doing, not having them slip into jobs that they’re not comfortable with,” she says. “We had to define those roles specifically. It helps the team’s goals and what we’re driving for.”
Among the new additions is John “J.R.” Ryan, who joined the practice full-time over the summer and is studying for his licensure exam. It was the attention to customer service, he says, that drew him to Mediate Financial.
“This is people’s finances. You can’t get any more trustworthy and transparent than that. You have to do everything for the best of the customer,” he says. “Any time something happens, Chris is on calls and video calls with people. We’re always keeping them informed of what’s going on.”
Pictured: Leslie and Chris Mediate plan to host more educational and social events.