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When the client's job has an early expiration date

Matt Pais

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Ning navigates best practices with stunt people, athletes and more.

How do you protect a high-net-worth client whose career is performing life-threatening stunts for movies? Or a hockey player who may be at the top of his game and then gets injured?

“We try to explain to them that the money is like a lottery ticket, not a paycheck,” said Bobby James Ning, CFP, BA, who works with actors, stunt people and hockey players. “So you’ve gotta be very thankful you have it and not spend it all.”

Clients who have particularly hazardous jobs need to understand that they may have fewer years of regular work to count on. Ning, who specializes in both financial planning and consulting, has a roster of clients whose careers have a different lifespan than office-based professionals. And they may not have a clear direction for the (potentially substantial) money that comes in or the next step when their bodies and/or opportunities wind down.

“People often don’t exit gracefully,” said the 14-year MDRT member from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, citing disability as particularly relevant to these clients. “It’s not until some event occurs and they realize, ‘Oh, I can’t do this anymore.’”

To make sure his clients are appropriately prepared, Ning uses these strategies:

1. Adjusting the client’s thinking. Ning often meets with clients who are paying large medical bills out of pocket. He has found a surprising degree of success by reframing these injuries and expenses as “Who is going to take care of you?”

“A lot of them still expect their parents to do the legwork for them,” he said. “So trying to unbuckle that to say at some point you need to stand on your own two feet, that can be a very challenging conversation. Some may not care, but others say, ‘I wouldn’t want my mom or dad to have to take care of me.’”

2. Career coaching. Many clients may not use their advisors as professional career consultants. But for these clients, the trajectory of their careers is linked to their financial stability in unique ways. Ning might ask questions like: “If you wanted to stay in the industry, what could you do?” or “If you wanted to do something different, do you have a five-year plan?” These may seem simple, but simple things can be easily overlooked.

This approach helped one stuntman decide to shadow a stunt choreographer, even though he was uninterested in the role, thinking it would require longer hours and include more office-related politics. Two years later, now in his mid-30s and with a spouse and child, the client was hired to serve as the head stunt choreographer on a TV show. With Ning’s help (and further inspired by the death of a stunt person on a movie set), the client was able to move toward a lifestyle requiring less transition and uncertainty.

3. Encouraging them to think about their network. Several clients have transitioned into motivational public speaking or leveraged their leadership skills from sports in the business world. Ning provides recommendations and helps suggest others in his client base for individuals to speak with, expanding the type of service he can provide within his network.

4. Using examples. Again, this is not necessarily unexpected. But it takes skill to be able to effectively identify the right stories and communicate them. For Ning, that means helping clients know about an actor in China who had a heart attack on set despite only being in his 30s, or how a well-known, successful and much-penalized professional hockey player didn’t save enough and wound up working at Canadian coffee chain Tim Hortons. “If you had a family or kids and this happened to you, how prepared would you be?” Ning might ask. “After awhile, they understand that getting jobs isn’t that easy, and it doesn’t guarantee that the income will continue, especially if something happens to them.”

5. Expanding your own knowledge to increase how you can help. With the Vancouver-based Ning encountering many actors doing cross-border work in both Canada and the U.S., he often found himself needing to answer tax questions. That does not mean serving as clients’ accountant. In the case of one writer specializing in docudramas, Ning connected him with an accountant who’d worked with a lot of people in the entertainment world. “He liked him and said, ‘Show me more that you can do for me,’” Ning said. His team has also done financial education programs for the Canadian Sports Institute, which represents all Olympic athletes in Canada.

6. Follow-through. With all clients, Ning asks three questions about how they feel before the meeting and three questions about how they feel after the meeting in terms of if they are more confident about their planning and if their questions were answered. That helps ensure progress has been made, which is valuable for any client and maybe more so for those in time-sensitive professional situations. And Ning is someone who knows the importance of the future: “A lot of these things don’t get appreciated until three to five years later,” he said. “Clients may be very begrudging when you bring this up, but later on they realize, ‘Wow, what an impact it had on my life.’”

Contact: Bobby Ning


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