They have formed their own association.

    As a CFP licensee specializing in serving the needs of professional athletes, Femi Shote has often felt like one of the odd ducks of the financial advisory business.
    Shote, after all, has a unique clientele with a unique set of needs. In addition to the usual list of financial concerns, he has to be familiar with collective bargaining agreements, arbitration proceedings, contracts, international tax laws and other logistical issues that vary from sport to sport.
    His clientele is a special breed. They are typically millionaires barely out of college, in high-paying jobs that will last only five to ten years and wary of dealing with anyone outside of their inner circles of relatives, friends and sports agents.
    It's not a field you learn about in your typical college financial planning course, Shote says. To be a sports advisor, he says, is to be self-taught-with very little help. "We're always going to other people's meetings," he says. "I sometimes feel like sort of a parasite trying to get business."
    That's a trait of the profession, however, that Shote and a few other advisors are hoping to change. In December, Shote and three other sports advisors founded the Sports Financial Advisors Association, which they hope will be both a resource and advocate for people in their specialized field. It's still unclear how many potential members are out there, since there's no official count of financial advisors specializing in professional athletes.
    The organization, however, has received 50 inquiries since it announced its founding in December, Shote says. Based on that response, Shote and the other founding board members have set a goal of recruiting between 100 and 125 members by June. The association has an online application at its Web site,
    They feel the goal is realistic, noting that the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) has registered and listed for its members the names of about 500 accredited financial advisors. As for the direction the association will take, Shote says he expects it will hold its first general membership meeting around June to discuss the matter.
    He feels, however, that just the mere act of creating an umbrella group for sports advisors will advance the profession. "For us to have a place at the table and be able to contribute to the business we say we are interested in, we need to be able to get together, have conversations, learn what each other is doing," he says.
    The association's board members say they have every reason to expect that the sports financial advisory specialty is growing. Andre Mirkine, a CFP licensee in Greenwich, Conn., and one of the association's founders, says the sports market-while a difficult place for newcomer financial advisors to establish themselves-is among the more lucrative market niches.
    Mirkine looked at a one-year period covering the 2001-2002 sports seasons and found that total salaries and prize winnings in the four major sports, plus tennis and golf, totaled about $10 billion. The one-year snapshot did not include money made through endorsements.
    Although sports owners are attempting to restrain salaries-the National Hockey League canceled its season this year because of an impasse over salary limits-sports revenues as a whole continue to grow. "Salaries have gone up and players are playing longer," says Jonathan Miller, a CPA with American Express Tax and Business Services in Phoenix, who specializes in sports and entertainment professionals.
    It could be argued that athletes are among the affluent clients most in need of professional financial advice, Miller says. The NFLPA, for example, started its advisor registration program two years ago after a study concluded 78 NFL players had been defrauded of $42 million by their financial advisors over a three-year period.
    In the typical scenario, Mirkine says, professional prospects are drafted out of college and signed to contracts that make them instant millionaires. Somewhere during the process, he says, they will establish themselves in the professional ranks by forming a relationship with a sports agent. It is often the agent who introduces the athlete to a financial advisor, he says. Or, he says, athletes may rely on a pre-existing relationship to choose an advisor. "That advisor may not necessarily be accredited, educated or ethical," Mirkine says.
    One of the goals of the association is to be a resource for young athletes looking for accredited advisors, he says. "I think the playing field for a financial advisor who wants to do business in this arena is not level," Mirkine says. "We need to, as a group, create something like a masthead that would have all of us on a list promoting ourselves so that athletes do get referred to educated, quality advisors, not just a brother or a cousin."
    There are cases where athletes are diligent in picking an advisor. He cited the case of Kellen Winslow, an NFL player who, with his family, interviewed prospective advisors in the time leading up to last year's football draft. "We want to get onto the list of people who are called into these interviews," he says.
    One of the requirements for membership in the association is a nationally recognized certification. That, Miller says, essentially means a CFP or CPA, or an equivalent accreditation.
    Football players are among those most in need of advice, Mirkine says, because pro prospects typically make an immediate jump from college to the pros. "They're making a lot of money at a very young age, and the sports culture basically handles a lot of things for athletes," he says. "They are far less prepared."
    In addition to acting as a resource for both advisors and potential clients, the association is also meant to act as an advocate for sports financial advisors, Shote says. They already have at least one item on their agenda: the provision of advisory services to NCAA athletes by one company, something the association opposes.
    Shote says the NCAA Division 1A Athletic Directors' Association decided last year to team up with AXA Advisors to set up financial education programs for student athletes. AXA employees will act as instructors under the program, according to the athletic directors' association.
    The association is lobbying against the program, Shote says. "We don't feel that one company should have exclusive access to college athletes," he says.
    Another issue is the "jock tax," which enables states to tax visiting athletes. The tax essentially extends state income taxes to other states, and specifically targets athletes, Miller says. The use of the tax is growing, he adds. It has been enacted in 25 states thus far, and municipal jurisdictions are also considering implementing taxes of their own, he says. "Athletes are being singled out for discriminatory tax treatment," he says.
    The association, which hopes to open up dialogues this year with the players' unions, the major sports leagues and the NCAA, hopes to have its first conference in either late summer or early fall, Shote says.
    By then, he hopes, the association will be able to reach out to athletes without depending on other people's meetings. "The ultimate beneficiary is not only us, but also our clients," he says.