Jason Pace and Walter Stith open up about how their backgrounds position them to understand the extraordinary needs of athletes and coaches.
Based in Atlanta, Georgia, the RM Compass Group at Morgan Stanley has assembled a team of highly experienced professionals that are dedicated to serving the complex needs of affluent investors, particularly professional athletes and entertainers. Founded in 2000 by Graham Roberts and Bud Murphy, there are now 18 people on the team, managing over $2 billion as of May 2022. Two of the dedicated team members are Jason Pace, Senior Vice President, Wealth Management, Global Sports and Entertainment Director and Financial Advisor, and Walter Stith, Financial Advisor.
Jason joined Morgan Stanley in 1998. While it wasn’t his original intention to focus on professional sports clientele, he began working with the RM Compass Group thanks to a connection with Graham and his past experience playing college football. This background helped shape his work ethic, values and understanding of client needs. Building from a starting point of working with a few college athletes, Jason’s role evolved into running the sports sector of the practice.
For Walter, his career at the firm began in 2011 after playing in the NFL for the Buffalo Bills and Cleveland Browns. Majoring in finance in school, Walter also interned at Smith Barney (now Morgan Stanley Wealth Management) during his rookie off season. This experience helped pave the way for his interest in financial education and wealth management.
With Jason and Walter’s backgrounds in sports, it was clear to them that some athletes needed support in handling their new wealth. Players are from diverse backgrounds and many have little to no experience in earning significant amounts of money or being an employer themselves.
“There's a need to have somebody educate them, to talk to them about financial literacy and about cash flow. Jason and I, we’re like college professors; we teach finance 101 at football finance university. I love that,” Walter proclaims.
With a passion for sports, Jason and Walter both focus on athletes and coaches. The RM Compass Group’s distinction comes from their extensive financial planning and cash management and lending offerings.
Understanding budgeting makes a big difference in their financial planning process, particularly given the exceptional needs of professional athletes and coaches. Walter explains:
“A lot of times people focus on how much money they have and how much they're going to make in their contract. But our planning process really focuses on how much somebody's spending. You can have $5 million, but if you're spending a million dollars a month then in five months, you'll be broke.”
Jason and Walter know that many athletes don't fully realize that the career span of playing in the NFL is limited, and that they get the money on the front end without much coming in later. It’s their job to help clients save as much of that money as possible in order to help support their continuing lifestyles and meet their ongoing needs.
Our goal as Financial Advisors is to create sustainability. We want to help all our clients, not just athletes, create and develop comfortable lifestyles that they can have while they're working, but, even more importantly, well beyond their working days because that's when it matters most.
During to the Covid-19 pandemic, the team largely worked from home. This paradigm shift could have had negative effects, but the RM Compass Group’s business continued to grow.
One way they stayed ahead was by offering a full range of cash management, lending and investment services. In their experience, clients are looking to cross manage all their assets because they’re searching for simplicity with unified services. For example, college and pro coaches often move between jobs and end up with 403Bs scattered among different schools. The ability to consolidate assets has been essential to their practice.
The current situation has not stopped Jason and Walter’s financial education outreach efforts – they’ve just had to change their tactics. One way they continue to help is by providing financial literacy workshops for schools. Starting these education efforts early can be an influential factor in helping students get comfortable thinking about and planning their financial future. They are more prepared than the average pupil and ready for their prospective employment.
In addition to visiting schools, they’re working with athletes who attended the Senior Bowl, a post-season college football all-star game with NFL Draft prospects who have completed their college eligibility. The RM Compass Group has attended this event for several years as a financial literacy provider, but their appearance was always in person. This year they had to pivot.
Hosting new online sessions, the team addresses the most significant financial topics affecting young athletes, including salaries, paychecks, cash flow, budgeting and investing. Interactive and tailored to the distinctive needs of these near-pro players, the webcasts are focused on financial literacy and what they can expect transitioning from college to being a professional athlete. These weekly webinars leading up to the Draft demonstrate the team’s passion for their work and commitment to ongoing education.
Our goal is to help them reach their goals. Through cash management and lending, , through financial literacy and investment education, we hope to equip them with the necessary knowledge so they can make the right decisions.
For Jason and Walter, it’s all about giving their clients the best shot at success. One way they do this is by providing a high level of client involvement. There are some clients they talk to three or four times a week, especially in the beginning of their clients’ careers.
They believe that it’s good when clients begin to question everything. From how much to spend on an apartment to what type of car they should buy, Jason and Walter encourage clients to seek their input and advice.
Jason and Walter experience enormous professional gratification when clients are able to afford to take care of their families, educate their children and retire successfully. Knowing that clients have the money set aside and planned for is what makes their work special for them.
One story Jason shares is about a retired coach who’s been a client for more than 20 years. When he got to the point of retirement, he, like most people, was apprehensive and wasn’t sure if he had enough money. He was questioning his ability to retire and asking if he needed to keep working.
Thanks to the solid results of the financial planning that they’d done with the coach, Jason was able to tell him point blank that he had enough to retire. The coach’s established spending/saving habits allowed him to retire comfortably and even take a long-desired trip with his wife.
“They did a riverboat cruise in Europe and they just had such a great time. He was so thrilled that the financial planning process worked and allowed him and his wife to take that trip. It was almost life changing,” Jason fondly recalls. “Helping people to keep on track is a nice feeling and validates what we do.”