Jeffrey fishman has some clients that may not even have an income this year. Or next, if things get rough. Fishman is an advisor to Hollywood and entertainment industry talent and their management, people who have learned that even in good times there may be a few years of plenty followed by a couple of years of lean times. However, now with the writers’ strike wreaking havoc among many in the industry, Fishman is especially vigilant in helping his clients save for their retirement years.

Fishman, who works with broker/dealer Cantella & Co. Inc., runs a fee-based financial planning firm in Los Angeles, JSF Financial, for a roster of high-net-worth clients that also includes those in the legal and real estate professions. “If you are looking to focus on retirement planning for those in the entertainment industry, it is challenging, whether working in front of the camera or behind it,” Fishman says.

It’s hard to predict how long anyone will have a viable career in entertainment, an industry for the young and the lucky. Among actors, men can work longer than women, whose careers more easily go downhill after the age of 35, he says. It could be that someone is on a television show for a couple of seasons and gets a big payout, but shows don’t always go into syndication after they’re canceled, he notes.

Thus, Fishman has clients who go from earning half a million dollars one year to $50,000 the next. With industries that pose unique challenges like this, the first thing to do is set up a hefty emergency fund, Fishman says. Then, he tells clients to contribute as much as possible to their retirement plans when they are working.

John Altschuler, the co-executive producer of Fox’s prime time show, “King of the Hill,” came to Fishman four or five years ago, as have other people working on the show, with an employment horizon that was three years long. Fishman took all the money he was making and invested it, Altschuler says. “He has been very helpful in understanding and working with me to control that uncertainty and fund my retirement and the kids’ college,” Altschuler says. Altschuler, a veteran of the 1988 writers’ strike, invests “as fast as we can while I am making money.”

“When we sat down, we talked about the strike taking three to eight months,” he says. That means a big chunk of his income now will be going to retirement. “They max me out every year,” Altschuler says.

Many people in the entertainment industry will set up their own pension plans through their own corporate entities, called “loan out companies.” Then, they can devise a plan that suits their needs only, and not worry about other employees. However, they need to be committed to funding the plan in coming years, so if they are worried about not working next year, Fishman suggests a profit-sharing plan or a SEP IRA for them. The unique thing about people in the entertainment industry is that they are their own bosses, he says.

Fishman says it makes sense for them to max out a pension fund first, with everything they can contribute. Then JSF Financial helps the clients choose the appropriate allocations, preferring underlying investments of stocks, bonds, and mutual funds with an eye toward not being as aggressive as many clients would like.

Fishman works with a therapist to help families learn to manage and appreciate the responsibilities that come with sudden wealth, jokingly referred to as “affluenza.”

In the case of clients with sudden wealth, he recommends fixed income or real estate in greater allocations than normal, and lower allocations to equities. “We try to not be too aggressive because their income is too uncertain (year to year), so we tend to look for a more balanced approach [rather than] one that is too speculative.

“People in the entertainment industry are more prone to pursue a more volatile and exciting investment strategy. I try and lean on them to pursue a more conservative strategy,” he says, not taking “big bets” in a particular sector.

Fishman, a lawyer by trade, started the firm 14 years ago, after attending school in New York. JSF Financial now has $350 million under management. His clients range from people in their 20s to veterans of the industry, both writers and actors, in their 70s. One of the retirement strategies that has worked for some of the older actors and writers has been the value of their homes in Southern California, where prices have risen dramatically for those who bought in the ’60s and ’70s, he says. These people are downsizing and their homes help fund their retirement, he notes.


Elizabeth D. Festa is a freelance business writer based in Washington, D.C. She can be reached by e-mail at elizabeth.d.festa@comcast.net.