Former football players find success in financial services field

By Rosemary McCracken | November 18 2013 07:07PM

There is a life after a professional football career, and Sun Life Financial is promoting itself as a natural fit for Canadian Football League players once they leave the field. For the past two seasons, the company has partnered with the CFL and the Canadian Football League Players’ Association, offering financial planning and career opportunities to football players across all eight teams.Former professional athletes share many attributes with successful financial advisors, noted Andrew Carter, Sun Life Financial’s 36-year-old Calgary-based regional director, estate and financial planning, and a former offensive lineman with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Calgary Stampeders. “Football players are trained to be focused and aggressive when they are on the field,” he said. “The more hours you spend practising, the more successful your game will be. And discipline is all-important. It is your responsibility to get to the gym and to work with your coach in the off-season.”

Ingrained discipline

The professional football player’s ingrained discipline and strong work ethic translates well into building a financial advisory business. “As an advisor, the more time you give to your business and spend with your clients, the more successful you will be,” Mr. Carter said. “It is your business, and it is your responsibility to see that it grows.”

While earning a bachelor of arts at Bishop’s University in Lennoxville, Que., Mr. Carter was a standout football player with the Bishop’s Gaiters. In 2001, he was drafted out of university to the Calgary Stampeders, and in June 2003, he was traded to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. But by the end of 2004, a knee injury he had sustained was not getting better, so at the age of 27 he started to consider the direction his life would take after football.

Fortunately, he had options. During his second year in Calgary, Mr. Carter had found an off-season job in an insurance company’s life underwriting department. “I learned about the insurance business,” he said, “and I came to appreciate what financial advisors can do for their clients.”

When he decided to leave football in 2004, he was coaching a high school football player in Calgary. The boy’s mother was an account executive in Sun Life’s group benefits division, and she introduced him to the executive in charge of recruitment at the Calgary financial centre. Mr. Carter went through the company’s interview process and passed with flying colours. In 2005, he started work at Sun Life as a financial advisor under a company mentor who helped him build his book of business.

“Smart football players realize that every season can be their last,” he said. “It’s something they need to keep their eyes on, even when they’re at the top of their game.”

That thought was always at the top of David Cechini’s mind. After two seasons as offensive guard with the B.C. Lions in the late 1980s, he has built a successful 23-year second career with Sun Life. “I didn’t see myself as a perennial starter,” Mr. Cechini said. “Given that the average CFL career is only 2.8 years, I knew I should be looking to my future.”

The economics and business courses Mr. Cechini had taken in his final two years at Simon Fraser University had tweaked his interest in the world of finance, and a former Simon Fraser Clansman who worked at Sun Life at the time gave him a reference. After going through the company’s interviews, he began full-time work as a Sun Life financial advisor in 1990 at the age of 27, and after three years of building a roster of business, he was promoted to management. Today, at 50, he is Sun Life’s financial centre manager in Burnaby, B.C.

“A football player needs a regulated routine, and he has to cultivate determination and grit. That background stands a financial advisor in good stead in the early years of building a business,” Mr. Cechini said.

And he credited football’s teamwork for preparing him for his current job with Sun Life. “I’ve found my natural role as head coach of a team of 50 advisors and five managers,” he said.

Both Mr. Carter and Mr. Cechini keep up their ties to football. Both regularly present Sun Life as a future career option to CFL players in seminar presentations. Afterwards, they follow up with interested players on a one-to-one basis.

A professional football background is a great business marketing tool, Mr. Carter noted. When he began building his book of business at Sun Life, he worked with a number of former teammates. Today, as a regional director, he no longer works directly with clients, but he finds his former football career is of interest to people he meets in his networking circles. “Discussing the game and your career is a great way to break the ice and create a connection before getting down to business,” he said.