Lauryn Williams positions her practice as “financial planning recreated.” And that’s just about as “technical” as she gets with clients when it comes to money terminology. No need to bewilder with stuffy jargon: What they need is a “funancial coach,” she declares with a laugh, in an interview with ThinkAdvisor.
The millennial brings a sunny approach and an impressive, unusual background to planning: She is the first American woman to medal in both the Summer and Winter Olympic Games, winning gold and silver in track and field in 2012 and 2004, respectively, and silver in two-woman bobsled racing in 2014.
The four-time Olympian, 35, first explored financial planning to help herself manage money after retiring from professional sports, then soon began working with other pro athletes and young professionals to organize their finances.
A Certified Financial Planner, the Pittsburgh native launched her own Dallas-based firm, Worth Winning, in 2016, just three years after sprinting into financial services. The non-investment-based practice is fee-only and 100% virtual.
With a specialty in strategies for managing student loan debt, 40% of Williams’s 40-client roster is attorneys. She holds the College Funding and Student Loan Advisor (CFSLA) designation.
Even while notching Olympic medals, Williams had the foresight to plan for life after pro sports: In 2004, she earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration and finance, and in 2009, an MBA.
The plain-talking straight shooter is a frequent speaker at companies and universities.
“I leave the fancy financial jargon at the door because people tune out when you use words that go over their heads,” she notes on her website.
THINKADVISOR: Has being a three-time Olympic medalist helped you as a financial planner?
LAURYN WILLIAMS: When you’re a professional athlete, you’re pretty much an entrepreneur because of fluctuating income. That prepared me for obstacles faced as an entrepreneurial financial planner. Being an Olympian helped me be a lot more patient in building a business.
What got you into track and field?
My mom will tell you that one day when I was 9, I literally ran home faster than the family German shepherd. My dad said that at 10, at the Carnegie Science Center, I raced the Flo-Jo hologram [Florence Griffith-Joyner, the fastest female runner ever] all day and beat it a few times [set at less than world-record speed]. So my [parents] said, “We have to get her into a track program!”
Why did you start doing bobsled?
I knew I was at the end of my track career and thinking: What’s next? Another track-and-field athlete told me that if I tried bobsled, I could probably make the Olympic team in a year. I thought it was an interesting thing to do and just wanted to see what it was like. So I tried it, but I wasn’t thinking about making the Olympic team.
What characterizes your financial planning practice?
I don’t think financial planning needs to be stuffy. I’m not suited to the person who wants a very businesslike office meeting, with me in a dress suit talking all fancy.
Who’s your ideal client?
I’m for people that want to organize their finances and want me to communicate my expertise in a way they can understand. Yesterday, a young lady said to me, “Girl, I just bought a $400 hair dryer! This is why I need a financial planner. I need you to fix my life.”
Why did you become a financial planner?
Having a crappy financial advisor myself. When I was a junior in college, I was offered a six-figure sponsorship deal with Nike. That’s what prompted me to go pro: In track and field, the only way to become pro is through a sponsorship. There’s no draft for track and field.
So you took that lucrative deal. How did you handle all that money?
At 20 years old, I had no idea what to do with a six-figure income. So I hired a financial advisor, a Series 7 commission-based advisor who was very much investment focused. But what I needed was financial literacy — except I didn’t know what questions to ask.
Did the advisor make money for you?
What happened with your assets?
In 2007, he gave me a call that I had lost money; but he didn’t say, “This is how we’re going to change your portfolio.” There was no explanation. I had a SEP-IRA, a brokerage account and, at  and single, a $1 million life insurance policy. So I fired him and hired another guy. This one worked with athletes.
How did that go?
He basically transferred all my accounts to his name and did nothing. When the fallout of 2008 came, my account was down drastically, but he did nothing to mitigate what had happened. I didn’t lose 100% of my money, but I felt that in the catastrophe of ’08, no one was looking after my account.
So when you retired from pro sports, you started to explore financial planning to first help yourself, then others. In college you had majored in finance. But how did you go about making the career switch?
I started to self-educate and told people I was interested in helping people organize their finances because I was trying to do that for myself. I enrolled in the Certified Financial Planner program and then in a NAPFA [National Association of Personal Financial Advisors] program. Then I got hired as an intern at a small advisory firm [Briaud Financial Advisors] after I walked in [cold] and said: “I need a job. I’m enrolled in the CFP stuff. You’re CFPs. I think I need to learn something from you.” They said, “This girl is serious!”
What did you do after that six-month internship?
I joined another firm [Your Richest Life], which, unlike the first one, didn’t have a $1 million minimum. This firm was doing the exact thing I wanted to do: Help people who were younger and had less money. I worked there a while and then went to the first XY Planning Network conference, where I got to see 100 other people that had a mindset just like mine.
Has being an Olympics winner helped you market your practice?
The biggest thing is that it always opens the door to a conversation. When you’re talking to an older advisor [for example], they’re like, “Hey, young whippersnapper.” But I have this interesting thing to talk about that gives me a chance to build a relationship with somebody who might otherwise just move on.
Tell me about your focus on student loans.
I’ve been doing talks at law firms about student loans because it’s a pretty big deal [area] for lawyers. I can provide value, and that turns into clients. Also, a lot of advisors are referring to me because they don’t have student loan expertise.
How did you get it?
I’ve been working with student loan guru Heather Jarvis and Travis Hornsby, whose company is Student Loan Planner. It’s taken my knowledge to a whole new level.
As a no-minimum financial planner, what’s the biggest challenge?
Being able to find a way to charge people in a lower income bracket who are, maybe, in debt for hundreds of thousands of dollars — but who could become profitable to me. My biggest passion is that no one should turn their back when people reach out for help.
But how do you deal with those with little money and huge debt?
Generally, I put them with a nonprofit organization, or I’ll do a one-hour pro bono: Here are the five basic things you need to do to start getting yourself together.
You were a top professional athlete. What’s your exercise regimen nowadays?
The struggle is real! As an athlete you’re 100% or nothing. But I don’t have the desire to work out like that now because I’m not training for anything. I’ve gained roughly 30 pounds. I’m like, “How did that happen?” So I’m still on a journey of what it looks like to exercise for health. I’m very aware that’s important.
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