Adam Bighill is no stranger to performing under pressure. In November, the five-time CFL All-Star linebacker helped the Winnipeg Blue Bombers win their first Grey Cup in almost 30 years.
But Bighill faced a different kind of pressure earlier this year, when the Covid-19 market crash dealt a blow to his clients’ portfolios. In addition to playing professional football, Bighill, 31, is also an investment advisor with Winnipeg-based Wellington-Altus Private Wealth Inc., a firm he joined in 2019.
The Covid crash was the first market crisis Bighill has faced in his young career as an advisor, but he was ready for a downturn — and so were his clients.
“There wasn’t mass panic and there wasn’t a bunch of nervous phone calls coming in because my clients were prepared for something like this,” Bighill said in an interview.
Bighill is still in the process of building a book of business “from the ground up.” The fact that his book isn’t as big as some of his colleagues’ may have been a blessing in disguise leading up to the pandemic, since he had more time to spend communicating with his clients.
“A great satisfaction for me has been making sure clients understand where we’re going, what the plan is and how we’re going to react [to a downturn],” Bighill said. “That’s given me some great job satisfaction amid this crisis.”
Bighill developed an interest in investing after receiving some bad investment advice early in his CFL career. “I wasn’t getting the results I wanted, and that led me down the road of educating myself,” he said.
Initially, Bighill’s plan was to learn how to manage his own money, but the more he learned, the more he realized he had a passion to “help others not make the same mistakes I made.” He got his securities licence and decided to get a head start on his post-football career as an advisor while he was still playing football.
“I’d never been busier in my life,” Bighill said of juggling the two jobs at once.
Last season, Bighill would start his days at 4:30 a.m. After his morning workout, he’d take a look at the latest market numbers and catch up on emails with clients. Then he’d be off to practice with his teammates. He’d finish any client business when he got home in the evenings.
“During the season, I was trying to build connections with people,” Bighill said. “The sales cycle can take a decent amount of time, so I was just starting to build relationships with people and let them know what I was doing.”
He had help from a colleague at Wellington-Altus, Rica Guenther, who offered Bighill’s clients “peace of mind” by responding to their urgent requests when Bighill was on the football field.
“Rica’s fantastic and has been a huge help,” Bighill said.
It’s unclear how much of Guenther’s help Bighill will need this year. The CFL postponed its season to the start of July at the earliest, but commissioner Randy Ambrosie has said the most likely scenario is the cancellation of the 2020 season.
Bighill still works out every day and is ready to report to training camp — assuming there is a training camp. But, with the status of the CFL season still up in the air, he’s also focused on building his book at Wellington-Altus.
“I’m taking advantage of this time to continue building my business,” Bighill said. “I will be ready to play football when we have another chance, but at the same time, I can continue focusing on another career that has been a lot of fun and very satisfying.”
Covid-19 and the possible cancellation of the CFL season have been a “great example of why thinking about life after football is so important,” Bighill said.
The CFL Players’ Association (CFLPA) has been very supportive of players thinking about life after football. The CFLPA Academy provides players with financial literacy and career training courses, among other resources.
In an email, a CFLPA spokesperson said the association has “actively encouraged players to be prepared for all scenarios” this year, including a postponement of the season.
“We continue to encourage CFL players to prepare themselves and their families in the manner that’s best for them and those closest to them,” the spokesperson said.
While it’s unclear when — or if — the season will begin, it’s likely that Bighill has plenty of playing days ahead of him. He signed a three-year, $750,000 contract extension with the Bombers ahead of last season, making him the highest paid defensive player in the league.
Bighill earned that contract thanks to his success on the field. In addition to two Grey Cup championships (his first came with the B.C. Lions), he has been named the league’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player twice in his career.
But what will success look like for Bighill when his playing days are over?
“I want to be able to make clients successful,” Bighill said. “Success, for me, is going to be building up a business of helping people achieve their goals and their dreams.”