Financial advisor Peter Borowsky had a passion for sports but zero contacts in the sports world when he decided to break into advising pro athletes 22 years ago. Today, the UBS managing director is so tight with his National Football League clients that they consider him practically a member of their families.
Among those clients are New England Patriots twins Devin and Jason McCourty; Lane Johnson of the Philadelphia Eagles; and free agent Marshawn Lynch, who played for the Oakland Raiders last year.
About 60%-70% of Borowsky’s $670 million book of business comprises pro athlete and entertainment industry clients. Athletes constitute 85%-90% of that.
Quarterbacking the financial lives of football players takes more than technical smarts. It demands a laser focus on relationship-building, not only with the athletes themselves but their agents.
New York City-based Borowsky, 53, does it all as a solo practitioner with the help of two assistants. Last year the Financial Times named him to its 2018 list of Top 400 Financial Advisors in America.
The name of the game for serving football players is to ensure that they have financial security for the rest of their lives. Borowsky’s NFL clients, like most football stars, are young men who have catapulted from having little or no money to suddenly earning millions — but, given the rigors of football, only for a short time.
He chooses appropriate types of investment vehicles, helps clients budget and save, and nurtures these relationships by being super-attentive and available 24/7.
In 1997, Borowsky, then at Smith Barney and working mainly with entrepreneur, doctor, lawyer and corporate executive clients, sallied forth to take a crack at pursuing a niche in the sports arena. A year later, he had his first pro athlete client.
Concurrently, the FA began advising entertainment industry folks, particularly actors and actresses, whom he met through the athletes’ business managers.
Borowsky spent eight years cultivating football players and their agents before the sports specialty became a significant segment of his book.
The long-standing wirehouse FA started out in 1989 as a Merrill Lynch trainee, then, over the years, moved to PaineWebber, Smith Barney, Prudential and Morgan Stanley, bringing his boutique practice to UBS in 2015.
He mostly divides his time between his office on Park Avenue and traveling to see NFL clients for fruitful face-to-face meetings.
THINKADVISOR: What’s the secret to your success with NFL players?
PETER BOROWSKY: The agents trust us. The second part is the service we give our clients. We know them; they know my two assistants. My [senior client service associate], Kathy Creegan, has been with me for 24 years — she’s like a mother to these guys! I get to know them very well. I’m on planes visiting them for life-changing events and family events. I work directly with them, not with their agents.
And the agents appreciate that, I presume?
We’re always there to respond to our clients. The agents love that because they don’t want to get phone calls from players asking financial questions. So lifting all that off their plate is fantastic for them.
As an advisor, how do you help the players most?
By taking all the worries about finances away, they can concentrate on what they do best — playing football. If they’re worried about money all week, how do they perform on Sunday?
Why is hiring a financial advisor who knows the ins and outs of the NFL compensation system important?
Choosing an agent is of immediate importance, of course. But if the player loses money investing or spends a lot of their money and then has nothing in the bank, it doesn’t matter how much the agent got them in a great contract.
To what extent are your football clients knowledgeable about finances?
At the beginning, not much. They aren’t exposed to that in college; and for many of our clients, when they were growing up, their families didn’t have a lot of money or a financial advisor. So they’re like lottery winners — going from college, where they didn’t have much money, to all of a sudden having new-found wealth. A lot of learning has to be done. Part of our job is to be a teacher.
What’s your investing strategy for them?
To create an income stream that they can live off in retirement, in addition to their NFL pension that they’ll get at some point. We create the income through investing in tax-free bonds and dividend-paying stocks.
Do you put the players on a budget?
Yes. It’s a three-step process: budgeting, saving, investing. It all starts with understanding what their overhead is and trying to budget every month.
To what extent are they involved in the investment process?
I travel quite a bit to visit my clients, and we review the investments. Even though we speak by phone all the time, I’m very big on meeting them face-to-face. You find out way more about their family situation and potential longevity in the football arena when you see someone eye-to-eye than you can over the phone.
Do you discuss whether they’re on track with their financial plan?
When we meet, we have an up-to-date number for them: Here’s what your current income stream looks like; here’s where we need to get it to so you don’t have to worry about money [in the future].
Do they understand the investments themselves and why you’ve selected them?
My clients easily get the concept of creating an income stream. Do they know the difference between the P/E multiple of Johnson & Johnson vs. Apple? I would say no. But they do understand that the stocks and tax-free bonds they have create income for them.
A moment ago, you mentioned their “family situation.” Please elaborate.
Once they start making money, a lot of NFL players become entwined with their families’ [need or request for funds]. So we deal with that and how to prepare for it.
As an advisor, what’s your biggest challenge in working with football players?
The challenge is that clients [may not] stay long enough in the NFL to [keep] earning [big] money. The ones that have shorter careers may not have the ability to earn enough to live out the rest of their lives [financially]; so there’s other planning to do. What we hope to do for them and for players that don’t earn [too much] is to create an income stream to at least cover their mortgage and meet car payments. They’ll have to get a job to fill in the rest.
Do you hip these clients to the likelihood of being hit on by scammers and folks who pitch them bad investments?
We tell them that when people come to them for investments, scams, money, just have them call us — and we’ll handle it. We’re an extension of their lives.
How did you get this niche?
I was always a big sports fan. When I was in the business for about eight years — working with business owners, doctors, lawyers, [corporate] executives — I decided to see what I could do in the sports arena.
How did you go about that?
I went to the New York Public Library, got a list of agents from a book and called a number of them. I asked the first couple who paid attention to me if I could fly down and pick their brains to see how I could be successful in the sports field and what their recommendations would be. I met with them, and they said I should go the NFL [Scouting] Combine, which happens every year. That’s where I started to meet agents and embark on [developing this niche].
Do you acquire football clients mainly through referrals?
I get them from referrals from agents, which is a very big part of the practice; from individual football clients, when, for example, a teammate signs a new contract and is looking for someone either to switch to or if they don’t have an advisor; and I do educational programs for NFL rookies.
You have three kids, ages 17, 15 and 12. Are they big football fans too?
My 15-year-old daughter isn’t that interested in going to the games; but my sons are fanatical football fans. They’ve integrated into [my] practice. Jack, who’s 17, grew up meeting all the players and general managers we manage money for. He knows as much about estate planning and tax-free bonds as almost anyone — certainly most people his age. He has his own football radio show for his high school and just started a football podcast. Our NFL clients are on both.
Any fab perks to being an advisor to NFL players?
I took my boys to the Super Bowl this year. Our clients on the New England Patriots gave us passes to go to the friends and family after-party to share in the excitement of winning. It was fantastic! Football players are very family-oriented, and so am I. They consider my family to be theirs.
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