Some financial advisors argue that instead of helping to solve players' financial problems, the deal could present a new set of risks for pro athletes, including after their playing days are done.
First, a team should not recommend any one advisory firm to players, as it presents a conflict of interest. (The players association financial advisor program—for which an SEC no-action letter was issued—specifically precludes the NFLPA from recommending any single advisor or advisory firm to a player.)
"There could be a conflict of interest here," said Trevor Johnson, senior vice president and financial advisor in RBC Wealth Management's Steeplechase Wealth Consulting Group, which works with NHL players and other pro athletes.
"Agents and organizations typically want to give players a variety of companies they either screen or test," Johnson said. "I prefer an unbiased approach letting players select own their own advisor rather than enticing them by covering the fees of one advisor platform. Do the players gravitate there because don't have to pay management fees? Is that in the players' best interest?"
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Johnson also said for many players, investment management should not even be started before the financial basics, including banking, checking and savings, are fully taken care of, and fluctuations in income are understood. A Wealthfront program, even with good intentions, could prematurely push players to take investment risks, especially if a similar program were extended to current team rosters.
The NFLPA did not respond to a request for comment on the 49ers partnership with Wealthfront.