‘I don’t have aspirations of being average’

Adam Bighill, CFL champion and advisor, explains why he's determined to be the best on and off the field

‘I don’t have aspirations of being average’

At first glance, Adam Bighill’s parallel careers have little in common. One involves managing clients’ money as an advisor for Wellington-Altus Private Wealth, while the other requires him to smash into opposing players as a linebacker for CFL champions Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

But the two-time Grey Cup champion’s success is not an athletic accident. Sure, the 32-year-old is a strong guy who gets up at 4.30am to train before doing his day job. However, his inherent love of numbers and statistics meant he was conducting risk analysis long before he thought about becoming an advisor.

During the week before a game, Bighill studies data and watches his opponent on film. He breaks it down to determine the most likely outcome in a certain scenario, allowing him to digest and whittle down a playbook that could be up to 400 pages.

He told WP: “I need to be able to inherently and confidently understand my opponent, and how they operate in certain situations. When I know that, I can make and hedge my bet on what the most likely outcome is going to be. That helps me play faster, have a leg up on my opponent, and help my teammates, as I'm able to call out plays before they even happen.”

What many people don’t realize, he added, is how this relates to a career in finance where your day is consumed by mitigating risk and figuring out what the most likely outcomes are.

“The difference in the financial world is it’s changing every day,” he said. “We try to take the most important pieces of information that are coming in on a daily basis, and still be able to have a thesis and an understanding of what we're doing and why we're doing it.”

Over time, the former BC Lions and New Orleans Saints player has refined his pre-game skills – and it's paid off. Bighill was named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player in both 2015 and 2018.

He said: “These [football skills] are the kind of things I'm trying to bring into the advisory world. It’s about being able to take data, make sense of it, and help my clients grow their wealth.”

He added: “We can't just get lost in what's happening today. We have to understand what we are expecting three months from now, six months from now, and a year from now. We have to let the numbers, statistics and data speak to us so we don't make any rash, or irrational, decisions.”

From a professional point of view, the pandemic's impact has been mixed for the Washington state native. No CFL in 2020 meant a financial hit, which frustrated Bighill, who is also missing the buzz of game days. As an advisor, however, he’s never been busier as clients revisit their financial plans to prepare for possible layoffs and a more uncertain future.

He said: “That’s when people need people like myself the most. I’m really happy I got to be there for them to help make sure they got their plans in order.”

It’s a responsibility he takes seriously. His catalyst for becoming an advisor was a bad personal experience when he first started making money in the CFL.

Bighill was making RRSP contributions, saving bonuses, and watching what his advisor was doing. Not coming from money, investing was a “big deal”. Yet, over a couple of years of comparing his portfolio to the major U.S. markets, he noticed it was underperforming significantly. He pressed his advisor for an explanation but got no answers.

He explained: “I didn’t know I was paying way too high fees, I didn't know the product I was invested in was limited in what kind of performance it could get me, and I didn't know I wasn't going to get a lot of advice around that.

“I also didn't know that I was going to be stuck in that product and a backend-loaded fund, which, obviously, if you sell out of early, you take a massive financial hit. It left a really sour taste in my mouth.

“I’d been a fan of math and statistical sciences. To me, it's natural, and that [experience] just pushed me into the industry. I wanted to be able to help people not make the same mistakes I did.”

Subsequently, the foundation of Bighill’s business is about being open and transparent. He credits Wellington-Altus with allowing him to be entrepreneurial and serving his clients the way he wants to. What he cares about is growing clients’ wealth, a result that’s good for them and for him.

It also makes those early mornings worth it.

“I always believe to go places you've never been, you got to do things you've never done. And I've always been the hardest worker in the room, so I don't have a problem doing what I'm doing.

“I’m willing to put in the effort and sacrifice needed to be the best at everything I do on the football field. And as an advisor, I don't have aspirations of being average, I have aspirations of being the best. That’s what clients deserve.”

For the full interview, stay tuned to WP for an upcoming episode of our WP Talk podcast.