He just helped win a Super Bowl, so Eagles special teams captain Chris Maragos has no plans to retire any time soon.
But when he does, he’ll be joining the finance industry with teammate Jordan Hicks and former teammate Trey Burton, who together this month launched TopTier Wealth Management.
Star NFL players have long traded fame and fortune for television gigs, endorsements, and franchise business deals – and Maragos wants to be able to mentor players so they don’t lose those winnings.
“So many sales and finance types prey on NFL players. I want them to know they’ve already won the golden ticket as an NFL player. With that money, you no longer need to swing for the fences. Be conservative and preserve your principal,” said the 31-year-old Maragos.
What drove him and his partners to set up TopTier? Fees.
“I played my first NFL season in 2010 when I was 23, and suddenly I was in the top tax bracket. I heard a lot about 401(k)s, bonds, and stocks. But I just left college and didn’t know much. For me, that was frustrating. And I was paying high fees of around 2 percent a year” in the past, said Maragos, who declined to name which Wall Street firm handled his investments.
His high school best friend, Mike Brusko, 31, with whom Maragos grew up in Racine, Wis., worked for Milwaukee-based Heartland Advisors in institutional sales. He reviewed Maragos’ portfolios from time to time and noticed his friend was paying fees on top of fees, so instead, they formed their own firm with Brusko as portfolio manager and Austin Nelson, a certified financial planner.
For a minimum $500,000 investment, you can have your money managed by TopTier, which aims to handle finances for a dozen or so NFL players, Burton, Hicks and Maragos, and about 80 other players and families. They declined to say how much in assets TopTier is managing.
They set up TopTier because Maragos, who lives in South Philadelphia with his wife and three young children, always felt uncomfortable with the big firms running his money and pitching NFL players on expensive investments.
After he retires from football, Maragos hopes one day to pass the securities and investment adviser exam and get his Series 66 license, enabling him to sell stocks and bonds and be an investment adviser.
For now, “I’ll be the player liaison and help mentor other young players who need the same kind of conservative, comprehensive financial advice. Trey and Jordan and I will be the built-in mentors for other players as well.”
Currently, TopTier Wealth Management is launching with roughly a dozen families and will be based in Grand Rapids, Mich., but could potentially open an office in Philadelphia, Brusko said.
What will NFL players and outside investors get for their fees? An overall financial plan, including investments, as well as oversight of their NFL retirement plan and second-career help.
What about fees? Brusko said TopTier will charge 1 percent annually up to the first $3 million ($500,000 minimum investment) with lower fees above that. That doesn’t include fees charged by the underlying funds, which should total an additional 0.30 to 0.40 percent, Brusko said.
“That’s very competitive with the rest of the market,” he added. He predicts the portfolios will be invested mostly in actively-managed mutual funds and ETFs such as those run by WisdomTree and other low-cost options. TopTier will custody client assets with TD Ameritrade.
What kind of financial scams does Maragos encounter in the NFL?
“For players, the biggest thing is fees. They’re unaware of the fees associated with financial products. They’re sold life insurance, and they don’t realize the broker or the planner gets a $50,000 trailing fee. They don’t know about conflicts of interest with their financial adviser actually being a broker. That’s why we’re opening a flat-fee, fee-only management firm.”
In the locker room, “I’d hear about a lot of the extravagant ideas players are exposed to – the car wash, the family friend’s new digital app – and the things they’re asked to invest in, but a lot of those are not winners. We want to preserve capital and maximize upside while protecting downside,” Maragos said.
Pro athletes will always be targets. Just last year, Michael Rowan, an adviser in North Carolina, went to prison for stealing $2.9 million from NFL players including Jason Pierre-Paul, Fabian Washington, and Michael Jenkins, Jr. Rowan signed many of his pro athlete clients when they were still in college.
Burton, Hicks and Maragos all have skin in the game, as they’re owners in the new firm and will have all their assets run by TopTier. Maragos and Hicks still play for the Eagles, while Burton recently moved to the Chicago Bears.
“I feel really fortunate to have played for nine years and won a Super Bowl,” Maragos said. “So many people have helped me along the way, and my wife and I feel we’ve made enough to say, ‘How can we give back?’ This is how we’re trying to help give back.”