Show Them Their Money: Seeking Athlete Clients

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With $4 billion of assets under management, the financial advisory firm James E. Bashaw & Co. does not really need to reach out to new kinds of clients.

But James Bashaw, the Houston firm's chairman and chief executive, intends to do just that. He plans to expand its practice to professional athletes — a group with a reputation for being as difficult as they are rich. "I just think it's an underserved market," he said.

Bashaw has subscribed to a new database of professional athletes. He plans to pinpoint prospects and court them with financial-education boot camps and a book, which he is writing, about athletes and money.

It is clear that many professional athletes direly need financial guidance. In a 2009 article, Sports Illustrated reported that financial crises are rampant among retired athletes. Seventy-eight percent of NFL players have gone bankrupt or are under financial stress within two years after retiring, according to the article, and 60% of NBA players go broke within five years of retiring.

"Whatever has been occurring up to this moment is absolutely, positively failing these athletes," said S. Brian Ouellette. Ouellette, a former financial adviser who is based in Seattle, runs Pro Athlete Direct, the company that sells Bashaw and others access to a database of athletes and sports agents.

Wealth managers say that professional-athlete clients are a special breed: They often earn great wealth, but they may spend it nearly as fast as they earn it. That is a recipe for trouble, given the brevity of their careers.

Bashaw said that he has researched the disconnection between athletes and their money and concluded that divorce, drug use and bad advice are usually to blame. And of course, youth and money are a volatile combination, he noted.

Bashaw's firm, an independent wealth manager affiliated with LPL Financial, manages $3 billion of 401(k) assets and $1 billion for individuals, institutions and small nonprofit organizations. Bashaw said he is not concerned that adding athletes to his client mix will cause him and his 39 employees undue aggravation.

"I think you have to go after them as you would any other client," he said. "You've got to set boundaries — I don't want to get a call at 2 in the morning."

Indeed, the last chapter of Bashaw's book will include a list of the top 15 criminal defense attorneys in every major city, he noted in a deadpan tone. The idea: Clients who run into sudden legal trouble should not use their phone call to contact James E. Bashaw & Co.

Because most young, wealthy athletes are surrounded by a human wall of insiders, getting access to pitch his services will be a challenge, Bashaw acknowledged. One way in is through their agents, he said.

"Our plan is to start a pretty impressive drip campaign and drop information on them," he said. "You've got to set yourself apart as a professional and not a hanger-on, and get them early."

Ouellette says his business, which was started last fall, can give advisers a leg up in getting to athletes. Pro Athlete Direct's database contains information about more than 6,100 professional athletes and 1,200 agents.

The company charges $2,500 for a one-year database subscription and $8,000 for a corporate license accommodating up to five users. The database has more than 30 users, Ouellette said. His financial industry background includes a stint managing money for the private-client group at CIBC Oppenheimer.

Getting more advisers into the pro athlete market, Ouellette said, could work to athletes' advantage. They are often the victims of unscrupulous financial professionals — Major League Baseball players Johnny Damon, Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Pelfrey were among those who invested with the alleged Ponzi schemer Robert Allen Stanford, for example.

If enough advisers compete for athletes' business, athletes will become better at evaluating them, Ouellette argued.

That logic seems to dovetail with Bashaw's plans. He said he wants the drill sergeants in his financial-education boot camps to include members of his firm along with lawyers — and a jury consultant. "She will explain how to tell if people are lying to you," said Bashaw.

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Wealth management