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What's harder: Training for the CFP exam or the Olympics?

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Lauryn Williams knows how hard it can be for professional athletes to receive good financial advice. After signing a six-figure sponsorship deal with Nike in 2004, the young Olympian sought help to manage the windfall and plan her financial future.

Unfortunately, her first financial advisor was interested only in investing her money, not planning, and was not familiar with athletes’ special financial circumstances. A second advisor was no better.

Both experiences shaped how Williams, 35, approaches her own work as a new CFP. She advises athletes and young professionals alike with the guidance she did not receive in her first career.

That career saw her become the first woman to medal in both Summer and Winter Olympics. She took silver in the 100-meter dash in the 2004 Athens games and gold in the 4x100-meter relay in London in 2012. Two years later — and with less than one year of training in her new sport — Williams won silver in the two woman-bobsled at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.

Her Olympic years inform her work with her athlete clients, who make up half of her practice. Athletes need different financial advice, she says, because the length of their career and the sources of their income are unique.

Whether they like it or not, she says, athletes are entrepreneurs, financially speaking. They receive Form 1099 income in large, infrequent payments from which they are responsible for withholding their own taxes, paying agents and budgeting the balance to last for months.

Those payments are likely to be short-lived, given that the average career of an athlete, she says, lasts just three to five years.

Those aren’t the only challenges. Athletes “are focused on the goal immediately in front of them,” says Williams. Often, she adds, they don’t make plans “until they are ready to retire.”

When Williams embarked on her second career, she was in a better position than most athletes. In college, she majored in finance. By 2012, she had signed up for an online CFP course with test prep course Dalton Review. That year she walked into Briaud Financial, a NAPFA firm in College Station, Texas, where she trained for track, and asked for an internship.

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At Briaud, Williams began to learn about the complexities of comprehensive planning. She soon realized that a similar kind of high-quality advice wasn't available to her or others like her, given Briaud’s focus on high-net-worth clients.

"I was never an athlete who earned a million dollars," she says, adding that she wanted to help people with fewer assets.

"Anybody who's looking for help deserves to have it," she says, “and that’s why I started my firm.”

Worth Winning, which she founded in Dallas in 2015, serves clients with an average income of $180,000. After setting up a financial plan, Williams videochats with each client at least three times each year. She charges a client earning that average income $243 per month for the first year and $175 per month afterward.

Williams had to work hard. She took online CFP classes while training for the Olympics, not realizing she would need to prepare full-time for the exam. She failed the first time, then the second.

"I was pretty deflated," she says.

Undeterred, she ramped up her studies and passed the exam, receiving her CFP certification in 2018. After the challenges of failing twice, she is quick to empathize with others who struggle with exam prep — particularly those who are transitioning between careers.

"We put a lot of pressure on ourselves,” she says. “We're coming from something different and we're trying to prove ourselves at something new."

To cope with that pressure, Williams drew on a lesson from her athletic career.

For Olympic sprinters, it’s important to maintain a low weight. As her body changed naturally with age, though, it became harder to keep weight off. However, the same weight that made sprinting more difficult turned out to be an advantage in bobsledding, where more weight helps you move faster downhill.

The example can apply to "my fellow career changers," she says. "Sometimes we focus so much on what we're not excelling at," she says. But advisors can "pivot" to turn that challenge into an opportunity.

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