David Arndt may have stumbled into his first banking job more or less by accident while pursuing a youthful dream of being a ski bum in Colorado. But he became a financial advisor to professional football players by following a deliberate play-by-play strategy he concocted that has been working out as well as Eli Manning's winning drive against the New England Patriots in Superbowl XLII.
Arndt was 19 back in 1993 when he left his home in suburban Minneapolis and took a leave from the University of Minnesota. The gopher state may get a lot of snow, but the few available hills on the prairie leave would-be skiers spending most of their time riding uphill on a T-bar. Arndt wanted the mountains and powder of Colorado. Needing a job there to support his habit, he followed the recommendation of a friend who knew someone at a bank and he hired on as a teller. "It was a great job for a skier," he explains. "Bankers' hours meant getting off early and there was no work on weekends."
But it became more than just a way to pay for skiing. Later, back in Minnesota, he decided to pursue a career in the financial world. That meant majoring in economics, which he did locally at Augsburg College. But it wasn't until he graduated that his plan came together to combine his love for sports and his budding career in finance. Arndt came up with the seemingly far-fetched idea of being the financial advisor to the Vikings football roster.
An athletic guy himself, though not big enough for football, Arndt grew up a Vikings fan. He also had a few friends who played hockey and had turned pro. Armed with that background, he felt confident he'd be able to connect with the Viking players if he could just get close enough to them. The plan: get hired on where they did their banking. "My friends and family all told me how crazy I was," he says. "They said, 'these guys are so untouchable.'"
But things were moving in the right direction. The repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act in the late 1990s opened the door for banks to engage in insurance and brokering, so Arndt got his insurance license, picking up other needed licenses along the way. Then he started looking for a bank that would be near the Vikings. When an opening appeared in 2005 for a financial advisor at the US Bank branch in Eden Prairie, home to the Viking practice facility, he jumped for it and snared the position.
As it turned out, the Eden Prairie US Bank branch is where a lot of Vikings deposit or cash their paychecks. "You could pick out the football players pretty easily," Arndt says with a laugh. "They're usually a lot bigger and taller than the rest of the clients. So it was easy for me to walk up and make small talk about football, cars, houses and stuff. And I'd invite them to go golfing. I'm pretty good at golf." And as a side note, he doesn't lose on purpose ("It's better to win, so you're respected.")
Initially, he says the Viking players—mostly younger guys who were not the top-paid players on the team—were hard sells. Big money is new to most of them, and many, straight from the city, can be understandably skeptical about a smooth-talking guy hitting them up about taking charge of their money.
"But then I had a big break," he recalls. "About three years after starting working with the rookies, I developed some relationships with some key workers in management, and they invited me over to talk to the team about managing their money, improving credit scores, and so on."
From that point on, young players started listening to him and even seeking him out, though he says picking up new clients from among the new players remains a "constant effort." And it's one he has to maintain because so many of his young clients get traded or have to leave the game and end up moving away.
Arndt says that the young players who are his clients—earning perhaps $250,000 or $300,000 a year on three-year contracts—need a lot of advice. He notes that the average player's tenure on an NFL team, before injuries often force them to retire, is just three and half years. "It's the nature of the business," he says. "These players are a lot more disposable than the key players. The coaches just use them to take the heat off of the key players." At the same time, he says, the young players are hanging out with the players who are earning upwards of $20 million to $25 million on five-year contracts, and there is a certain social pressure to spend like their wealthier peers, which can make $300,000 disappear very quickly.
And it's not all about investing either. "The first question I get from a lot of these guys is about credit and buying a car," says Arndt, "so we start out very basic. I typically share the statistics with them about injuries and I try to tell them they need to prepare. Some say they want to go back and work at their colleges, but many haven't finished college so that would be hard. I find myself doing a lot of life advice. With these kinds of people as clients, you have got to be able to offer broad advice—not just financial advice. I have people talking about child care, helping with sisters or brothers. A lot of these guys feel like they've won the lottery, but they come from poor families and have lots of people leaning on them for help."
Cedric Griffin, a young cornerback for the Vikings, came to Arndt for financial advice after hearing about him from other players who were already clients. "David was very confident and easy to understand. He was very down to earth and willing to explain how things work," says Griffin. "David explains all aspects of a situation.…He explains things so they make sense as to why an investment plan will work, and why it's a good investment. He's helping put me in control of my financial future."
While Arndt's focus is on building his football client base, he says it only represents 10% of his total clients, most of whom come to him through referrals from other clients. His rule of thumb is to look for a $250,000 minimum investment. But sounding more like his ski bum alter-ego, he adds, "I don't turn people away who are investing less. I make exceptions. I have to think about my karma."
Investment strategies, he says, vary widely depending upon the client. "We do a comprehensive financial plan to start out. A guy who can anticipate $28 million in income (he has a couple such players on his client roster) thinks differently from a guy who's earning $250,000 a year," he says.
When it comes to risk, while pro players all take tremendous risks with their bodies, Arndt says athletes generally don't have big financial risk appetites. "They see investing as gambling." That's especially true for the veterans who've been playing for six or seven years. "They see the end coming," he explains.
In general, he says players at first are "very guarded" in discussing finances, "but once you get to know them, they're easy to talk to. They're all down-to-earth, good people."
That's probably a good thing. After all, what does an average-sized financial advisor do if an angry defensive tackle storms into the office after a big plunge in the market has erased 5% to 10% of his stock portfolio? "It happens," says Arndt. "But I tame them with my knowledge."
While his marketing focus is still on football clients, as evidenced by the signed team pictures that line his office wall, Arndt says that focus has helped him with his broader business. "Eden Prairie has a lot of wealthy corporate executives living in it," he says, "and having the football clients helps with them. I have COOs, CEOs and a few marketing executives." One big plus: "I can get special access on the field!"
As for his long-range plan, while he has made it to the goal of being a financial advisor at a lot of the Viking bench, he's still midway through that drive downfield. "This is a work in progress," he says. "I'd like to have a few of the Viking coaches now. That's an area I want to work on in 2012. And I'd like to expand to hockey."
And what about the Twins baseball team? "Baseball is a harder game to penetrate," muses Arndt. "Those guys get their advisors at such a young age, you'd have to begin working them in college. Also it may just be cultural. Football guys switch FAs like cell phone service, but baseball guys stay with their advisor."
Name: David Arndt
Bank: U.S. Bancorp Investments
Location: Eden Prairie, Minn.
2010 production: $350,000
2009 production: $340,000
2010 AUM: $75 million
2009 AUM: $70 million
No. of branches serviced: 1
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