Advising clients with short careers

By Dean DiSpalatro | October 3, 2014 | Last updated on September 15, 2023
9 min read

Most clients’ employment income follows a pattern: it increases incrementally for two decades, and then peaks 10 to 15 years before retirement. Saving for life after work is, in a way, a life’s work.

But some careers offer ultra-high salaries over short time spans. Think pro hockey, investment banking and labour-intensive oil patch jobs.

If you have such clients in your book, you’ll need a different approach to retirement planning.

NHL players

The biggest danger for NHL players, like most other pro athletes, is giving in to the temptation to quickly spend astronomical sums, says Robert Stammers, director of investor education at the CFA Institute in New York.

He cites a 2009 Sports Illustrated article reporting 60% of NBA players are broke within five years of retiring. NFL players fare worse: 78% are bankrupt, or close to it, within two years. Terry Willis, vice-president at T.E. Wealth in Toronto, uses similar articles to warn the NHL players he advises.

The NHL Players’ Association (NHLPA), he adds, also does a good job of cautioning new players about overspending. Athletes must have higher savings rates because they have to live off those assets longer, notes Stew Gavin, president of Gavin Management Group in Toronto.

Read: Why clients need to stretch retirement savings

Gavin himself played five seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs, starting in 1980, before moving to the Hartford Whalers (1985 to 1988) and, finally, the Minnesota North Stars (1988 to 1993).

He transitioned to a career on Bay Street in 1995, and soon began catering to NHL players. Savings should be about half of net pay, he says; or 30% at the lowest. Adds Stammers: “Advisors should push them to automatically save increases and bonuses.”

Matthew Bacchiochi, portfolio manager at Gavin Management Group, says prudent planning doesn’t mean players have to forego wealthy lifestyles.

“When you map out a plan and tell them they’ll live on $25,000 a month, they begin to realize, ‘Hey, I can still spend money and live the lifestyle I’m fortunate enough to have earned, while saving and planning for my future.’ When they see it this way, the story becomes easier to buy into.”

Gavin and Bacchiochi shoot for 6% to 8% annualized returns after fees and taxes. As long as clients stick to spending targets, these returns will get them through the rest of their lives, helped in part by the NHLPA’s current $210,000 annual pension (beginning at age 62 and indexed for inflation). A 10-year career is needed to get the full pension; those who play one year get $21,000, for two years $42,000, et cetera.

Some continue to attract lucrative endorsements after leaving the ice; others get high-paying managerial or broadcasting roles. But that’s rare, says Gavin. “Amateur scout jobs or minor-league coaching positions don’t pay more than $75,000, regardless of how great your playing career was. Few guys get high-paying jobs when they hang up their skates.”

Read: Clients aren’t realistic about retirement needs

Gavin’s financial plans are designed so the player won’t need to work post-hockey. In cases where this isn’t possible, he forecasts employment earnings needed to bridge the gap between the retired player’s investment income and projected cost of living.

Willis notes first-year players are especially vulnerable to bad private equity deals. “I’ve come across a couple situations where a rookie who just landed a big contract comes into the dressing room, and a veteran pulls him aside and says, ‘Hey, I’m starting up a restaurant or clothing line and you should get into it.’ There may be pressure [to invest].

“We say, ‘This is how much money you’re going to need after 10 years for your lifestyle and this is how we’re going to get there. You can afford to put in a little, but the more you take from your core savings, the less chance you’re going to have of achieving your end goal.’ ”

Pro athletes’ portfolio breakdown

Advisor Matthew Bacchiochi says a typical portfolio looks like this:

Pro athletes’ portfolio breakdown

Investment bankers

Rob Campbell, director of wealth management and portfolio manager at Bosch Campbell Investment Management, Richardson GMP in Edmonton, advises a number of current and former investment bankers.

Some investment bankers become CFOs, which keeps their incomes high, and makes drastic portfolio changes unnecessary. But Campbell says many leave the workforce either permanently or for extended periods. And these burned-out bankers can wind up doing everything from running charity organizations to, as in one case in his file, opening a miniature golf course in Costa Rica.

Read: How to tax-loss harvest

Many times, says Campbell, a client wakes up after working 80-hour weeks for five years and realizes she can live comfortably off what she’s put aside. To provide sufficient cash flow, he recommends a more defensive portfolio.

He reduces the core’s equity allocation to 35% or 40%, and increases fixed income to 60% or 65%. Within the equity portion there’s now a roughly even split between North American and global. Some clients opt to reduce equity less drastically and replace some of those holdings with dividend-paying stocks to meet income needs. Campbell says patience is critical when making these allocation changes.

He’ll try to avoid selling into a bad market, or buying expensive securities simply to meet new weighting targets. Consequently, months can pass before he makes any meaningful changes. To cover immediate spending needs, he keeps 3% to 5% of the fixed-income portion in cash.

Read: 5 tips to prospect wealthy clients</strong

Investment bankers asset allocation

Investment bankers

In a typical case, the portfolio’s core is 80%, and alternatives take up the remaining 20%.


The 80% core is 70% equities and 30% fixed income.

The equity basket is then divided into two parts: North American (Canada and U.S.) and global.

The North American allocation’s about 40%. “We pick these stocks using quantitative, qualitative and technical screens,” says advisor Rob Campbell. The quantitative screen cuts the universe of possibilities down to a shortlist. That basket has 20 to 25 names. Though concentrated, it’s still diversified across industries and sectors.

The global basket comprises the other 30%. “As much as we like to buy individual names, in the global context we don’t understand the financial reporting, speak the languages or have intimate knowledge of the economies, so we take a more passive approach.” Campbell uses index ETFs, and “we’ll combine that with the odd F-Class fund if we find a good global manager.”

On the fixed-income side, paltry yields on government bonds means he has to “get a little more active by adding more high-yield and convertible debentures.”


The alternatives bucket can include private placements and IPOs. Campbell also likes flow-through shares for their tax advantages. “If someone has a window of, say, five years where she knows she’s going to earn substantial income, we’ll put her in flow-throughs for a similar amount in each of those years.”

In any given year, the results may not be optimal, but returns will typically be strong over five years. These shares make up between one quarter and one half of the alternatives allocation.

Oil patch workers

Oil patch worker

A recent Vice documentary, “The bros of fracking,” profiled oil workers in North Dakota. It featured Colin Bennett, a directional driller, who said, “I made well over a quarter-mil last year and I have twenty grand in savings. I’ve been essentially blowing it all.”

Helping young oil patchers north of the 49th avoid that trap is Perry Little, a senior investment advisor at Canaccord Genuity Wealth Management in Edmonton, Alta.

His boom-town clients earn eye-popping sums for work that normally commands less. Welders and electricians can make more than $200,000. One woman, who’s a cafeteria cook, and her housekeeper husband make $250,000 between them.

“In a lot of cases they’re hanging out with people doing the same things and making the same money,” Little notes. “One friend goes out and buys an all-terrain vehicle and a new truck—it’s hard for the others to resist following suit.” Little doesn’t preach to these clients about long-term financial security.

“As with any young person, you need to get them to realize something and then pretend they figured it out for themselves.

Read: 3 ways to simplify drawdown calculations

“The smart ones realize it won’t last forever. I’ve got a 26-year-old electrician who’s paid off the mortgage on her $250,000 condo and already maxed out her RRSPs and TFSAs for the year.”

The really smart ones, he adds, are planning what they’ll do when they end their careers because they can’t take the physical strain anymore.

One of Little’s welder clients is getting licenced as an inspector; another’s taking courses for a management role. These jobs can pay even more.

But, like hockey players, these clients can’t count on getting cushy second careers. So, Little’s projections assume they won’t.

He’s created a plan for Shane, a hypothetical 25-year-old oil worker making $250,000 a year (see “Registered investments for an oil worker,” below). Along with Anne Jackson, a wealth and estate planning specialist at Canaccord Estate Planning Services in Vancouver, Little also suggests Shane purchase a $1 million whole-life policy and make $50,000 contributions every year for six years.

Registered investments for an oil worker

The client: Shane, a 25-year-old oil worker who’s married with two children.

Assumptions: His spouse works part-time, so there’s no spousal tax credit. Figures are based on Alberta’s 2013 rates.

Gross annual income $250,000
CPP withheld ($2,356.20)
EI withheld ($891.12)
Income tax ($82,519.96)
Take-home pay $164,232.72
Registered allocation
RRSP $24,270 (spousal)
TFSA $5,500 (plus) spouse’s $5,500) = $11,000
RESPs $5,000

The clients need a balanced portfolio and long-term plan to ensure they have income through their retirement years.

This covers his insurance needs, and also allows for tax-sheltered growth (based on the insurer’s dividend scale) within the policy.

Shane’s young, so he’s locking in favourable rates and will never have to worry about insurability later on.

By the time he’s 55, he’ll have about $1.6 million of estate value (guaranteed death benefit plus cash value and accumulated dividends).

Read: Tax filing for couples

If Shane needs cash for a new home or to supplement his retirement income, he can start an insured retirement program, say Jackson and Little. This means assigning the policy to a bank as collateral for a loan, which Little notes is structured essentially as a line of credit. The loan’s tax-free, and Shane can either repay it or allow the policy’s tax-free death benefit to cover it. In the latter case, the policy’s beneficiaries get the remainder.

Investments within the par policy are controlled by the insurer, and generally limited to income-oriented securities with low to medium risk. This makes up part of Shane’s fixed-income allocation.

Little uses registered accounts for fixed income, and non-registered for equities, including dividend-paying stocks. “For clients who understand and are comfortable with higher risk and volatility, we use flow-through shares for tax efficiency.”

Read: Pre-retirement clients may need a reality check

He’s currently bearish on stocks and says the market is overvalued. His equity allocation is biased to hard assets, such as infrastructure, gold and silver. He prefers global infrastructure to Canadian because valuations are more compelling. Little is also wary of high-yield bonds, saying the chase for yield will not end well. For the immediate term, he’s encouraging a mix of 50% equity, 25% cash and 25% fixed income.

Leveraged equity strategy

Rob Campbell, director of wealth management and portfolio manager at Bosch Campbell Investment Management in Edmonton, suggests a tax-advantaged leverage-based equity strategy for clients assured of ultra-high earnings over short time spans.

Here’s how it works. Say the offering firm loans the client $500,000 to buy a portfolio of four or five blue-chip stocks. “So he’s buying substantial positions in a small number of names, and is getting full [tax] deductibility on the expenses he’s paying for that financing,” explains Campbell.

The loan has a fixed term; an investment banker who plans to work for five years, or an NHL draftee with a multi-million dollar contract of the same length, would match the term to part or all of his working years.

For this to work, his employment income must be guaranteed.

The client has 100% downside protection, thanks to put options the offering firm buys on each stock, the cost of which is built into fees (4% to 5% per annum after tax). “This makes it much less risky to have such concentrated positions in a small number of stocks,” says Campbell.

The offering firm carries all counterparty risk on the options.

The client gets the upside, and if the stocks do poorly over the life of the loan, he’s only responsible for the lesser of either the value of the securities or the loan’s principal.

Dean DiSpalatro is a Toronto-based financial writer.

Dean DiSpalatro