‘We Guarantee You Won’t Lose Money’

‘We Guarantee You Won’t Lose Money’

What if financial advisors guaranteed capital preservation?

Reviewed by: Drew Voros
Edited by: Drew Voros

The name George Karl may not jump out at you as an NBA legend, despite his winning more than 1,000 games as a coach in the league. But he is a character, for sure, as NBA nerds know, and during a recent interview, the outspoken coach might have just come up with a new tack for the financial advisory business.

In an interview with New York magazine at the end of last month, Karl talked about various NBA issues, some controversial, that he speaks to in his new book, “Furious George: My Forty Years Surviving NBA Divas, Clueless GMs and Poor Shot Selection.” At one juncture, he talked about the difficulty many players have with managing their fortunes.

“This is all part of the evolution of basketball players making millions of dollars when a lot of these guys don’t know how to handle that money. The league should be focused on helping the players not lose the money they earn. I’m 65 years old and I’ve lost a lot of money in bad investments because I wasn’t qualified to be making financial judgments. The league needs to do more to help its young men be more advanced financially. I know it has programs for players, but it needs to connect those players with financial institutions that can say, ‘We’re not going to guarantee that you’ll make money, but we can guarantee you’re not going to lose money’…. Me, of all people talking about finances, is stupid.”

Maybe It’s Not So Stupid

Some new players come into the league under the age of 20 with multimillion-dollar contracts, not to mention money-laden endorsements. Other veteran players sign midcareer contracts that pay $10 million or more a year for years.

However, there’s a long list of players who have fallen into the same trap Karl did, and many who have literally lost a lot or all their money in bad investments such as restaurants, car dealerships, speculative real estate, etc.

NBA great Tim Duncan recently sued his advisor over investment losses of $25 million. Fortunately for him, he can absorb the loss, after making $220 million over the course of his career. But few players endure and make that kind of money for so long. If this can happen to him, certainly it can happen to younger players.

This isn’t just a problem with NBA players, but high net worth investors as well. Keep in mind I’m not talking about retirement savings plans, but about preserving wealth that has been made.


Focus On Fees

There is a constant conversation and focus in the financial service industry about fees—for advice, for products and for just about anything else finance-service related. There are some products, as Jason Zweig wrote about in the Wall Street Journal over the weekend, that employ “fulcrum fees” that go up and down based on performance.

There’s even an ETF, the AdvisorShares Focused Equity ETF (CWS), that’s an actively managed fund that adjusts its fee monthly higher or lower depending on its performance relative to its benchmark. But this and “fulcrum fees” are not the same thing as Karl is suggesting.

What would be the appetite for financial advice centered on the concept of pure capital preservation? You won’t lose money.

Could It Be Simple As This?

Certainly it wouldn’t be impossible. At the most basic level, a portfolio of 30-year Treasury bond held for duration is not going to lose money. Taking in 3% a year on, say, $10 million, reaps $300,000 a year.

Another question would be, “Why not just put it in the bank?.” That’s not a bad idea. But getting a few hundred more basis points every year over the course of a lifetime is nothing to sneeze out.

Karl’s concept of not losing money on investments as the priority may seem silly and rudimentary to most financial advisors. But sometimes observations from someone far removed from the financial services industry confirm the need for such a concept.

At the time of writing, the author did not own any of the security mentioned. Drew Voros can be reached at [email protected].


Drew Voros has nearly 30 years' experience in financial journalism. He was a longtime business editor for the Oakland Tribune and sister papers of the Bay Area News Group, and finance writer for the Hollywood trade publication Variety. Voros' past roles have also included editor-in-chief at etf.com and ETF Report.