Financial All-stars Help Call the Plays off the Field

Professional football players can seem unbreakable. When a wide receiver gets slammed with a vicious tackle and pops right back up for the next play, it can be hard to imagine anything taking him down, ever.

But those same indestructible professional athletes often find themselves powerless against financial scammers and their own insufficient money management skills.

“I think, ultimately, it comes down to being a target that people see as potentially vulnerable and lacking financial literacy,” said Jordan Hicks, a Philadelphia Eagles linebacker and Super Bowl LII ring-holder. “Guys often put their trust in people that make promises that sound amazing, but a majority of the time aren't true. Due to the lack of financial literacy and significant demands of being a professional athlete, it can be hard for athletes to discern between what is a great idea and terrible one. It just really reiterates the importance of partnering with people you can trust.”

But who can emerge professional athletes – many of whom have never had a paycheck before – actually trust?

Burton Philly special They can start with Hicks who, together with fellow Philadelphia Eagles Chris Maragos and Trey Burton, recently linked up with the wealth advisors at TopTier Wealth Management, LLC to form a financial all-star team dedicated to providing financial advice and second career planning services to athletes. With a Super Bowl ring each, Maragos, Burton, and Hicks have all been where today’s just-starting-out NFL player finds himself – suddenly with his pockets full, and opportunities, many of them dubious, knocking at the door every day. As a team, they work to mentor emerging athletes outside the stadium, so they can keep their focus where it belongs, on the field.

“It’s inMaragos Super Bowl trophy [Maragos’] DNA to do that and, being in the NFL locker room and hearing all the horror stories that were going on, it was something that he felt he could make a big difference in,” said Mike Brusko, CIMA, a TopTier Wealth Management partner who went to high school with Maragos and has assisted him with navigating his finances from the beginning of his NFL career.

TopTier Wealth Management, based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, provides comprehensive wealth management services not only to professional athletes, but to individuals and families as well. The firm requires a minimum $500,000 assets under management from clients but can make exceptions for the right fit.

The horror stories about professional athletes being taken advantage of are out there. According to a Sports Illustrated report from 2014, 80 percent of retired NFL players go broke within two years. Many players burn through money because of their free-wheeling lifestyles, but others aren’t careless, and instead are victims of poor financial advice given either in bad faith by “experts” who viewed them as lucrative marks. Others, still, are simply given inadequate help by financial planners unfamiliar with the nuances of NFL contracts or athletic careers.

At TopTier Wealth Management, professional athletes will be taken care of by Brusko and partner Austin Nelson, CFP, who know the ins and outs of sports contracts, what could go wrong in an athlete’s career, and how to maximize the investment potential of that NFL salary without necessarily compromising the ability for players to enjoy their success in the here and now.

“Our firm’s focus on second career planning and preparation for life after football, along with providing current NFL players as mentors, is something that to the best of our knowledge hasn’t been done before,” said Burton, who fans will likely remember for his Philly Special touchdown pass to quarterback Nick Foles during Superbowl LII. “For the individuals and families we serve, our attention to detail in the financial planning process and our desire to assist them in all financial decisions is a differentiator.”

Learning Financial Power Plays
TopTier Wealth Management does more than take a player’s money and invest it. Brusko and Nelson, during a recent interview with “Advisors Magazine,” described how it’s not enough for players to hand off their money and let someone else run with it. Instead, they need to understand how their money works to call the right financial plays.

CMHeadshots2 Gray1“We don’t just show them what compound interest can do, [we] show them what they’re giving up,” Nelson said. “They often lack a thorough understanding of [personal finance] or how it works.”

Brusko and Nelson take the time to walk clients through budgeting, investing, taxes, insurance, second career planning, estate planning and other aspects of wealth management. At the same time, they work to pull players heads out of the clouds and back down to Earth so they can take a rational look at their financial situation.

“A lot of these guys think, ‘I made it to the NFL, I’m good.’ Let’s pump the brakes … ,” Nelson said. For example, while New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady currently plays on a two-year, $41 million contract, the vast majority of NFL players make less, a lot less.

Current NFL “minimum wage” stands at $465,000 for the first year of a player’s contract. The salary then increases to $540,000, $615,000, and finally $690,000 for the three subsequent years. Once the government takes its cut of that salary, however, the player will be left with about half the gross total.

“People in that situation aren’t buying second homes or at least they likely shouldn’t be,” Nelson said.

That’s why up-and-comers need the financial literacy to tackle tough decisions instead of being distracted by get-rich-quick promises and business opportunities. Stocks and bonds might sound “boring,” Brusko said, but they are some of the best tools players can use to start managing their money.

Developing financial literacy in clients takes time. Brusko and Nelson frequently communicate with clients, and check to ensure investors understand their financial picture.
“We’re proactive in how we approach education and complexity of their situation,” Nelson said.

Wealth Coaching
Like a good coach, TopTier Wealth Management takes a hands-on approach to creating customized financial plans. Professional athletes, especially, need a firm plan in place as the money rolls in quick.

“When you have no plan for the money and it’s coming in fast, that’s when you open yourself up to potential issues,” said Maragos, the Eagles’ 2018 Super Bowl team captain. “After the plan is in place, our team then constructs the investment portfolio based on what the financial plan is looking to accomplish. Ideally, these efforts will result in more financial security than ever thought possible.”

Hicks photo 2TopTier Wealth Management is a fee-only, fiduciary firm, meaning clients’ interests come before firm profits. Brusko and Nelson emphasize that they never push proprietary products and take a fresh approach to each financial plan to make sure it’s comprehensive, customized, and in line with the client’s goals.

“One of the biggest issues in this industry is the lack of comprehensive financial planning,” Brusko said. “There’s a lot of very weak analysis that exists out there. We want to help with every single financial decision. If somebody’s making a financial decision, we want them to call us and work through it.”

Nelson and Brusko connect with brand managers and agents, explore insurance options, and take a full-spectrum approach to wealth planning. A carefully crafted plan is the result, and its necessary to get clients’ money where it needs to be.

“How can you get the portfolio ready if the plan’s not right?” Brusko said. “We want to make sure that every financial aspect of their life is accounted for and they’re maximizing every opportunity.”

Brusko and Nelson both try to be on every client call. It’s a personalized approach few firms can match, and it’s why TopTier Wealth Management keeps its client-base intentionally small.

brusko“You’ll never see Austin and I with 500 clients, to be hands-on we really don’t plan to have more than [150] clients that we work with between football and non-football,” Brusko said. “We want to stay very focused on not too large of a client base because we never want to sacrifice the quality of our service.”

The two-way communication needed for a strong client-advisor relationship also needs to include comfort with saying, and being told, “No.” Nelson and Brusko tell clients what’s in their best interest, not what they want to hear.

“There are a lot of advisors who get starstruck, we don’t,” Brusko said. “Our partners are NFL players … We’re impressed with that, but we’re not going to sit there and ask for an autograph. I think too many of these advisors are more interested in working with the player than taking care of the player … You have to educate them, and you have to say no, you cannot be a yes-man in this role.”

These yes-men often only contribute to the financial downfalls athletes experience.

“I hope the creation of our firm leads to less horror stories,” Brusko said. “Over the next few years, I’d like to hear more success stories and with the creation of our firm, I believe we will.

For more information on TopTier Wealth Management, LLC, visit:

4 Broke Athletes List Chart


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