How do pro football players pass the offseason? Huddling with their honeys? Kicking back with a book? Jumping on a paddleboard? Working at a wirehouse studying for their Series 7 exam?
That last one would be a surprise — but it’s exactly what Reginald “Reggie” Wilkes, former 10-year NFL linebacker with the Philadelphia Eagles and Atlanta Falcons, chose to do. In an interview with ThinkAdvisor, he tells his unusual story.
Today, at 64, Wilkes is a 32-year veteran financial advisor and senior vice president helming The Wilkes Sports Group at Janney Montgomery Scott. Assets under management: more than $200 million.
The most recent addition to the Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania-based team is Marques Colston, a former 10-year NFL wide receiver and New Orleans Saints Hall of Famer.
The Wilkes Group’s clients are top NBA and NFL players and their families, as well as team coaches and physicians, attorneys and business owners.
As a pre-med student playing football at Georgia Tech, Wilkes was committed to becoming a physician. Playing professional football was “the last thing on my mind,” he recalls in the interview.
But his plans for a career in medicine were shelved during senior year, when he was drafted by the Eagles.
In the offseasons, he worked at Merrill Lynch. That’s when he decided that financial advisor would be his post-retirement profession; in 1988, he indeed kicked off that second career. At Merrill, he was soon running The Wilkes Group. After a decade with the firm, he left to launch a venture capital fund, Safeguard Scientific.
In 2008, he returned to Merrill for a second decade at the wirehouse, which he found entirely different from the first. He describes how in the interview. In 2017, he joined Janney.
Part of the conversation was devoted to what Wilkes says are similarities between working the gridiron and managing money. He also talks about the pivotal role that former NBA champion Rasheed Wallace played in his career.
Wilkes, a native of Pine Bluff, Arkansas, who was raised in the South, is a minister’s son; his grandfather was a bishop of the African Baptist Church. When he was growing up, his mother worked at a university as its director of financial aid.
ThinkAdvisor recently interviewed Wilkes by phone. Speaking from the Philadelphia area, he offered his recommendation for what firms can do to expand advisor diversity. Though he personally has suffered no racial discrimination in the industry, he revealed his long-ago discomfort as the only Black person in the room at FA incentive-trip cocktail parties.
Here are highlights of our conversation:
THINKADVISOR: Was it your dream to play professional football?
REGGIE WILKES: That was the last thing on my mind when I was a pre-med student at Georgia Tech. But I liked football and played it in college. In my fourth year, scouts started coming around; I was drafted by the [Philadelphia] Eagles as their first pick. I felt that football was a means to an end because I didn’t want to be a financial burden on my parents.
While you were playing pro football, offseason you worked at Merrill Lynch. What prompted you, later on, to make financial advisory your second career?
Over time, I saw that a lot of my former teammates had squandered the money they made in successful second careers. I heard such horror stories about players getting taken advantage of by organizations that didn’t have a separation of services, such as agents who were financial advisors. I decided to go into finance, and Merrill Lynch helped me with that journey. They gave me a pathway.
Do your athlete clients seek your services at the start of their career or, regrettably, after they’ve lost much of their money?
Both. I have recent draft choices in football and basketball, and clients who want a fresh start and come based on word-of-mouth. Their experiences with other advisors may not have been mutually beneficial. I’m being careful with my words here!
What do most of your athlete clients need help with the most?
Basic, fundamental planning. I advise them to think about the end at the beginning and to prepare. The same strategy works for doctors, lawyers and other professionals that we serve: We talk about the plan at the very beginning — what their goals and objectives are and asset allocation. They’ve got to tell us what they want in life.
What do you especially make clear to players?
A lot of athletes don’t understand fundamental things about proper asset allocation and diversification of investments — having different buckets for stocks, bonds, cash, real estate, alternatives, venture capital.
You stress that pro athletes, and others, need a financial plan. Please elaborate.
You shouldn’t invest money unless you’re having a discussion about your plan or completing one. If you do it right, it’s a beautiful thing. An athlete’s first goal may be to get to $10 million and then take time to enjoy life. Or, depending on the player, it could be $20 million or $50 million. They’ll accumulate money to invest properly to reach their goals, which may be to purchase their first home or help their parents or use it for their children’s education.
Are there any similarities between playing football and being an FA?