Brandon Copeland is an NFL linebacker with the soul of an entrepreneur. In fact, he is both — a pro football player and the founder of thriving business enterprises he started while stopping running backs on the gridiron.
He is also a professor of personal finance at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, his alma mater.
In an interview with ThinkAdvisor, Copeland, 30, discusses two common financial mistakes that players and general investors alike make and which should be diligently avoided.
One is “keeping up with the Joneses,” he says.
“For me, it’s just avoiding the entrapment of feeling like you’ve got to be like everyone else from a money standpoint — because statistics say that not everyone is doing the right thing with their money,” he maintains.
For anybody who gets rich fast, especially young NFL players, Copeland has this advice: “Your lifestyle shouldn’t change dramatically overnight just because your bank account is different.”
This past season, he played for the Atlanta Falcons, and before that, the New York Jets and New England Patriots, among others.
He is the grandson of the late Roy Hilton, who was with the NFL from 1965 through 1975.
The heart of Copeland’s business endeavors is Cascade Advisory Group, a financial education organization that creates strategies for corporations and other institutions.
In the interview, Copeland cites a major reason for people’s money mistakes: failure to talk about them openly. They “don’t want to look stupid” and are “embarrassed,” he says.
As for how NFL players manage their money — some of whom have seen their post-football finances fall to pieces — Copeland, a contributing editor to Kiplinger.com, notes that today, players are “more knowledgeable than ever about putting their money to work for them after football.”
Recently, the NFL made available to vested players a generous 401(k) plan. Copeland pegs it as “the best 401(k) plan [he’s] ever heard of in terms of matching over 100%.”
The free agent does not yet know if he’ll return to the Falcons next season or play for a different team.
He has no plans to retire from football in the near future, but he does have plans for retirement.
The focus is going all-out with Cascade. His growing client roster includes Morgan Stanley and Visa.
Also in the plan is expanding his two flourishing real estate development businesses. He will also focus further on Beyond the Basics, a foundation he and his wife, Taylor, founded to help underprivileged youth reach their potential.
Before graduating from the Wharton School with a Bachelor of Science in economics, Copeland interned at UBS, a two-summer stint that he talked about in our recent conversation.
Speaking by phone from Las Vegas, he served up his take both on risk in sports betting and the need to have “longevity with your money,” among other issues.
Here are excerpts from our interview.
THINKADVISOR: What got you so interested in finance and investing?
BRANDON COPELAND: Just as a way to get my money working for me without having to tackle somebody — to put my body through harm — to make some money and have it grow while I was earning another income. That was important to me.
Do you think that NFL players are managing their money better nowadays, or are many still blowing it away?
The media has blown out of proportion players blowing their money. Yes, we do see players who have blown their money. But there are 2,000 players, and there might be stories of maybe 120 that have blown their money.
We get a finger pointed at us because our salaries are public. So if we’re not living the lifestyle that people expect us to be living post-football, they just assume, “Oh, he must be broke now.”
But you don’t know what I have in my bank account. You don’t know what investments I have. You don’t see the full picture of my wealth profile.
Right, but are players in general managing their money better now?
I see more players than ever really thinking of their money as an asset and a tool, and not just letting it sit under the mattress or in a bank account collecting dust.
I think the players are more knowledgeable than ever about investments and putting their money to work for them in life after football.
A lot of players, literally in the locker room, are talking about investing and putting their money to work for them, which definitely wasn’t as prevalent when I originally came into the league.
What do you think of the new NFL pension and 401(k) matching programs available to players who have been with the league long enough to qualify?
It’s great. It’s the best 401(k) plan I’ve ever heard of in terms of matching over 100%. Hopefully, every guy takes full advantage of that and realizes how special it is. It’s outstanding.
Do you think it will help players make better financial decisions? As noted, some bad mistakes were made in the past.
Yes. I think always having that lump sum of cash to stockpile is going to be helpful.
When guys go bankrupt, that’s unfortunate. But I blame the education system: We sit in the classroom learning about tangents and angles and things like that, but we don’t learn about things that [relate directly] to the reason we’re in school — to eventually make money and provide a lifestyle for ourselves.
Ultimately, I hope we get to the point where it’s a trend that guys don’t even need that type of stockpile of cash because they’re already doing right with their money.
What wealth preservation advice do you have for people who get rich quickly?
When you get a lump sum of money, one of the toughest things in the world is to act like you don’t have it.
One of the things I try to tell young players when they come into the NFL is: “Your lifestyle shouldn’t change dramatically overnight just because your bank account is different.
“There are some things you can treat yourself to, and you deserve the opportunity that your hard work has provided — to a certain extent.
“So if I didn’t need three different cars last week, I don’t need three different cars today. If I didn’t need a mansion two months ago, I don’t necessarily need it today.
“You’ve got to enjoy yourself with what you work hard for, but you’ve got to do it within reason so you have longevity with your money.”
What financial mistakes do players make that general investors should avoid making — and how should they avoid making them?
A lot of people live above their means, and the second [issue] is keeping up with the Joneses — trying to do what your neighbor is doing.