This week’s episode of Ballers showcased some interesting story lines, from Spencer’s further descent into painkiller addiction to Vernon’s new pet — the “demon-poodle,” aka an alpaca — a ridiculous but not-so-far-from-the-truth nod to how pro athletes sometimes squander their money. But the story line I want to focus on today is one that, as a former NFL player who is now a financial advisor, is close to my heart (and my life experience).
The story line is Spencer and Joe’s application to become a part of the NFL Players Association’s Financial Advisors Registration Program (the Program). Throughout this article I will often quote from the NFLPA’s website.
Let me just say at the outset that I think the NFLPA does a lot of important work. It represents NFL players against an employer that can be as tough as they come. Without the union, players, past and present, would be without an ally on such vital issues as compensation and health care. The Program, similarly, is a really important tool for protecting athletes against exploitation by financial advisors. But, as I’ll explain, the Program also has deficiencies and blind spots that I feel it needs to address.
First, what is it? According to the NFLPA website, the Program was “created by the NFLPA to provide players with an additional layer of protection — not just from poor advice, but from outright fraud.” Basically, the Program requires aspiring financial advisors to register with the NFLPA, which then runs background checks on every applicant. Players can then look at a list of registered financial advisors and choose one who has been screened by the NFLPA. In order to apply as an advisor, you must have your bachelor’s degree, a minimum of eight years of experience in the field, no civil, criminal or regulatory history related to fraud, and several other insurance and legal credentials. You must also pay a $2,000 application fee, and a $1,500 annual fee thereafter.
All of these criteria are fantastic. But there is one sentence on the NFLPA website that alarms me:
You are not permitted to state or imply that NFLPA registration constitutes an endorsement and/or recommendation by the NFLPA of you or your services, or that your registration status constitutes evidence of your skill, honesty or competence to represent players.
If the Program doesn’t vouch for you, then what’s the point of the program?
The answer seems to be clear. There have been a number of financial advisors registered with the NFLPA who have been convicted of defrauding professional athletes. And by eschewing an official endorsement of its own “registered” advisors, the NFLPA is able to distance itself from liability if an advisor does something unsavory.
Just to reiterate: Being part of the NFLPA’s Financial Advisors Registration Program is not the equivalent of being recommended as a financial advisor by the NFLPA. Still following?
When I first got into this business two years ago, I found this paradox fascinating. As soon as I got my license I wanted to join this program. Why wouldn’t you? If you are in the business of advising professional football players, it makes sense to become an NFLPA registered financial advisor. (I still do not meet the requirements — I still have six years before I can even apply.)
In this week’s episode of Ballers, Spencer and Joe are stressed out about the application process because it’s a critical stamp of approval. Spencer has his client’s best interests at heart. He wants to look after them, and make sure they do not make the same mistakes he did — his former financial advisor and rival, Andre Allen, lost a substantial amount of Spencer’s money. After being interviewed by an NFLPA rep about his past, however, Spencer’s application seems to be in limbo. The show makes it appear that if the players association denies Spencer’s application, he will not be allowed to provide financial advice to professional football players.
But this could not be further from the truth. (I feel like the guy at a sci-fi movie pointing out things that aren’t realistic, but to this point Ballers has consistently shown a fairly realistic view of professional athletes and their finances.) You do not have to be a registered financial advisor with the NFLPA in order to advise professional athletes.
Below is exactly what the NFLPA says about endorsement or representation of financial advisors (emphasis my own):
NO ENDORSEMENT OR REPRESENTATION
The NFLPA is not endorsing any Registered Player Financial Advisor, and is not responsible for, and disclaims, any liability for the acts or omissions of any Registered Player Financial Advisor. The NFLPA is also not responsible for, and makes no representation concerning, the skill, honesty, or competence of any Registered Player Financial Advisor, or any other person. The NFLPA is not in a position to determine whether Applicants for Registration as Registered Player Financial Advisors that provide Broker-Dealer, Investment Adviser, insurance sales, or other regulated financial services are properly registered with, licensed by, or otherwise in compliance with all rules and regulations of the appropriate federal and/or state governmental, or semi-governmental agency, authority, or organization. As a result, the NFLPA will rely entirely on the truthfulness of statements by any person or entity applying for Registration as an NFLPA Registered Player Financial Advisor that it has the necessary Broker Dealer, or Investment Adviser registration under applicable securities or commodities laws, SRO membership, licensing or other qualifications imposed by applicable federal and/or state law to render the financial services specified in the Application. Applicants will only be registered with respect to services disclosed in the Application.
A program like this could potentially be a great help to players. But I think it can be argued that the union is providing a false sense of trust — and that’s potentially dangerous. If you are given a list of financial advisors registered with the Program, any reasonable person would probably conclude that those advisors have been vetted and recommended by the NFLPA. But it seems like every year, a new lawsuit is filed against advisors who have been registered with the Program.
I didn’t make jack while I was in the NFL, so I never had this problem. But I have seen friends and former teammates who have lost their fortunes and their futures due to a false sense of trust in their advisors.This is very, very personal to me. I would like to see the NFLPA do something to improve the vetting process of the Program.
Check out my other Ballers recaps from Season 2 here.