How did you spot starting LIFT-Sport as a great business opportunity?
Seeing players struggle after their careers… they’re desperate for support, structure and a plan to follow! Most players get a schedule every Sunday or Monday and follow it so, outside of football they need that structure around their finances as well. The wealth they’re accumulating dictates they need to do something with their finances, this is magnified by their short career spans. We knew it was important to offer this service to football players and we thought we could do it!
What was the hardest thing about starting LIFT-Sport?
Building reputation, credibility, and trust – once we built these, it worked! As football is where the bulk of our business comes from, it’s been hard to get into such a closed circle. There’s not a lot of trust as there’s a lot of unscrupulous people around footballers that don’t want good people around them – opening these doors initially to be able to build trust and a reputation was tricky. At times it was hard to get clients to do sophisticated things with their wealth and to really get them to buy into the importance of it. Being visible with the players, growing the reputation of the service and showing why the product is important all took time, but nothing worth having comes easy.
What has been your biggest lesson over the last ten years with LIFT-Sport?
That our clients are looking for consistency, stability and for someone who is going to be calm as well as a good soundboard. There are a lot of emotional people in football – a lot of them are young and adrenaline-fuelled. So they look to us to give them reassurance and honesty; we never panic or get emotional. This is very important to the players in a world that is crazy at times and can be very up and down. Also, you’re best staying under the radar; everyone tries to get into football by presenting to academies and clubs. It doesn’t tend to stick – the best way to grow is to cherry-pick and focus on building good relationships to get referrals.
Your style of working is very personable, what bespoke services do you offer clients?
It’s so wide-ranging, it’s always different from player to player – it really depends on the support that the player has around them. Some are from broken families and need a father figure to run day to day things by, some want advice around raising children or paying basic bills… We’ll try and be the middleman for certain things, for example, if clients are buying houses we’ll liaise with the estate agents, do the viewings with them and ask important questions. We also get involved in a lot of the legal meetings, for example, cohabitation agreements, prenups and so on; we pick up all the paperwork and liaise with clubs and banks. Essentially, we do a lot of stuff that other financial advisers don’t do within football. I think that’s why our services have resonated with players.
You have a close working relationship with some of your clients - what sets you apart from other financial planners?
Being so personable… we invest time in our relationships with the client and their whole family. When a player first starts out, I’ll have lots of meetings with the family because the players are focusing on football. During the process, they see that we’re honest, good people who they would want to influence their kids. What happens is as the players' progress, we get to know the whole family – we care about the clients and their families. We aim to deliver good outcomes for them, as they have children and the children grow up, we want to ensure their future is financially secure. Being so personal makes a big difference. We know this gives them added comfort, and we have nothing to hide - this often gets the players to do things that are in their own best interest.
What's one piece of advice you give to clients most often?
Don’t get carried away with the money. I normally tell them they have two options – they can party for a decade OR they can have a nice life. If players party for a decade, most likely, when they retire they’ll have financial stresses and pressures, this can lead to marriage breakdown, mental health issues and can even affect their relationship with their children; it can be really awful for players who can’t provide for their children. So, it’s either party for a decade, fund everyone around you – and you can pretty much guarantee these people won’t be around when you finish playing – and then you’re financially and personally in trouble. OR, you can have a nice life and look after yourself and your immediate family forever… So, don’t get carried away with the money. Have a structure, have a budget and stick to the plan.
What does it mean to you to be Chartered?
It’s another rubber stamp on the quality that we offer. It’s not easy to become chartered, which is why so few firms worldwide hold the accreditation. It gives that added comfort to clubs, agents, family, and the players, that they’re dealing with proper advisers who are going to be clear, transparent and well qualified. It’s that extra reassurance, officially on paper, in addition to our softer skills.
What do you think puts LIFT-Sport ahead of the competition?
The team we’ve got in the office is unbelievably strong – we have a great set of people that work in LIFT-Sport who back everything up for Danny and myself. They care about the clients as well, it’s personal the whole way through the process, this means the support we can give clients is second to none. Also, being a part of the LIFT-Financial Group, offering our additional services means we can give clients an unbelievable package that just doesn’t exist out there. The group is incredibly strong with competent, good people - meaning our clients benefit.
Another thing that sets us apart is our budget and expenditure analysis; even if we have a 17-year-old player we want their bank statements to analyse their expenditure, so they understand the need for a budgeting – most financial advisers wouldn’t do this from the outset. There needs to be a focus on saving surplus cash and making sure it’s in the right places. We do expenditure analysis every year to highlight where they’re spending the most money, this gives players an education that money is a finite amount. We’re then able to look at what they’re spending and saving to give them a bit of a guide for how long their cash and investments will last if they continue spending the same way in retirement – at least then they know whether they need to save more, spend less or both to secure their future. We give players peace of mind that they have a plan for when they retire which can sustain their lifestyle – this allows them to play football and enjoy the short career that comes with it.
You work with clients to create a plan that suits them - why is it important that everyone has a plan that's right for them?
Everyone has different personalities so the plan must be bespoke to them – what’s important to one client might not be important to another. For example, older clients that are married with children all have different ideas about how they want to raise them. It needs to be specific to the individual so they’ll buy into the plan; it must add value to the player's life. It’s a team effort really, the player’s only going to buy into the plan if they’ve added to it so, they need to have input and understand what the plan says. This is key because they’ve got sixty years in retirement, potentially, so they have to be comfortable with the planning around them. It’s about individual growth and education as well – what you don’t want is a player or former player in their 30s who can’t answer questions that their children might ask about simple things, like paying bills; as an adult that’s not a good place to be in. When players buy into the plan, they listen more, they’re more educated, and they become a bit more switched on as they mature.
I remember reading a statistic when I first started, saying that 40% of footballers have gone bankrupt within five years of retirement... why is this?
A number of reasons, I think… bad advice being one. Football attracts poor financial advisers, many of whom are greedy; they think they aren’t going to be challenged and can make a lot of money. These bad financial advisers give bad advice and players end up in a bad position when they come to retire. They’re used to a certain lifestyle and with no income during retirement players must make sure their money is working for them as much as it can. Another, I think, is marriage breakdown – which is driven by bad finances. If you have financial pressures, it can put a lot of strain on a marriage I think and, as a result of that there is a lot of divorce in former professional football players. It seems to be driven by not being able to maintain a lifestyle or afford the cars and houses that you’ve had together for maybe fifteen years… it makes it very difficult to adjust, bringing a lot of pressure into the household. It’s important to protect the player and the player's partner by having legal protections in place - they have a bit of a stigma but are actually there to protect both parties and minimise distress or financial expenditure if there is a breakdown.