For Grant Hill’s 18th birthday, the Duke University freshman basketball player and some of his teammates went out to dinner at a Japanese steak house with Hill’s father, Calvin.
During the course of dinner a hypothetical question came up: What would you do with $1 million?
Wanting to impress his father, Grant responded by saying he’d spend half then put the rest in the bank and live off of the savings. He believed it was a decent plan—until Calvin asked him about taxes.
“I had no idea what he was talking about,” says Grant Hill, Atlanta Hawks co-owner and 2018 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee. “I was embarrassed to say that. That really kind of stumped me right there.”
While he’s certainly furthered his financial background, interest and knowledge since, many students and student-athletes continue to struggle with similar questions. Invesco QQQ, the Official ETF of the NCAA, hopes to level the playing field through its new digital finance education platform: How Not To Suck at Money.
Launching November 8, the free, mobile-first official financial education program of the NCAA involves choice-based game play, offering players an interactive learning experience based on real-world financial situations. Users learn about budgeting, building credit, investing, moving out and more as they encounter and solve various money dilemmas navigating through a 3D semi-surreal college town.
The total experience is approximately 90 minutes and users can play at their own pace in 10-minute intervals. Upon completion, students receive a playbook and LinkedIn certificate to showcase on their profile.
Artist/illustrator Jose Mendez, who has worked with brands including Apple and Converse, developed the program’s visual style and tone, while the content was informed by Invesco Global Market Strategist Brian Levitt. The development of the platform was supported by feedback from 1,500 students and insight from a board of advisors comprised of current and former student-athletes and student-athlete advocates including Grant Hill, Jessica Mendoza, Swin Cash, Amy Rodriguez Shilling, Jaylon Smith and Nick Juran.
“College is a really pivotal moment. I have a college-age son and the decisions he’s making right now, whether we like it or not, are shaping his future,” says Emily Pachuta, Chief Marketing & Analytics Officer for the Americas at Invesco. “Not everyone comes from a background where their parents can inform them about finances, and even if they could, most kids don’t listen to their parents.
“It was really important we reached them. I don’t just mean reach them through social media, but we truly reach them. That meant we couldn’t just take something in PowerPoint or off the shelf and stick it in front of a college student, so we had to speak in their vernacular, really.”
According to a study conducted by Invesco QQQ and independent market research firm Zeldis Research Associations, almost nine in 10 college students have not participated in a non-credit financial literacy program—the majority citing a lack of availability as the main obstacle.
Because of this, only 36% of college students surveyed were confident doing specific tasks to manage debt while even less (31%) were confident doing specific tasks to invest their money.
“It’s really sad how untapped this really still is and the timing couldn’t be more perfect with NIL,” says Mendoza, a current ESPN MLB analyst who was a two-time Olympic softball medalist and four-time All-American at Stanford University. “But even without that, it’s something that even when I talk to college athletes, they ask me a lot of questions about because it goes beyond money and into overall planning in your life.”
Growing up in Camarillo, California, Mendoza was taught to save, save, save by parents Karen and Gil. She’d take advantage of any and all opportunities to make money because “you never know where the next dollar will come from.”
Even though she was on a full scholarship at Stanford, Mendoza volunteered for psychology experiments on campus for $20 apiece so she could afford a movie that weekend. After turning professional, it wasn’t until her first Olympic appearance in 2004 when she tapped into her savings and bought a house because she started accumulating a lot of money that was “just sitting in my checking account.”
Like Mendoza, Hill was more conservative with his finances growing up—though he was “scared” and “extremely paranoid” to spend his money after hearing horror stories from his father about former NFL teammates and opponents in the 1970s who either went broke or were taken advantage of.
After being selected No. 3 overall in the 1994 NBA Draft, the two-time NCAA champion Blue Devil signed an eight-year, $45 million contract with the Detroit Pistons. Shortly after entering the league, Hill established Hill Ventures, a marketing and management company to provide oversight of his unique business activities and marketing relationships. Three years later in 1997 more money came in after signing a seven-year, $80 million sponsorship deal with Fila.
“All of a sudden when I entered into the NBA and signed my first contract with the Detroit Pistons, instantly it was more money than I could ever imagine, and I was extremely paranoid and scared,” Hill says. “Hearing about all of that, even at a young age, I wanted to keep things simple, watch what I spend and it really forced me to jump in head first and learn about money and how money works. Instead of having someone else meet with my financial planners, I made sure I was present—I was fearful, but slowly I was able to learn.
“At the end of the day, this is my money, this is my life, so I really, really just wrapped my arms around this and was committed to try to understand how to make this work, and also try to put forth a plan to where down the road I’d have a significant amount of that money still, and maybe even more. Thankfully because of my parents, not just at that point in time, but before that, I was able to be disciplined, I was able to learn, grow, evolve and not make foolish mistakes to be on solid ground throughout my career, but more importantly, once my career was over.”
With the average NBA career length 4.5 years and the average NFL career even shorter at 3.3 years, athletes are more focused on their long-term financial stability now more than ever. Not only that, but after the NCAA adopted a Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) policy in July, many student-athletes face significant financial situations even before they are able to legally buy alcohol—collegiate athletes could earn $1.5 billion in NIL’s first year estimates Opendorse.
Outside of sports, approximately 40% of Americans under 30 own stocks, according to a Gallup poll. Easier access to new technology and apps for investing coupled with the Covid pandemic have more people focusing on financial security; half of young investors even invested their stimulus checks, per CNBC.
Despite greater awareness, there is still a gap in viable educational tools and resources, especially for students and student-athletes.
“A lot of students and student-athletes want to grow their money and have enough capital to support a family and all of that, but they just don’t know where to start,” says University of Washington football player Nick Juran. “Financial literacy is something that’s incredibly important and something that isn’t necessarily evenly distributed to student-athletes and students in general. I think Invesco QQQ has done a really good job of welcoming everyone, not just individuals or students from a certain area or economic status.”
While becoming a professional athlete is the goal for the majority of collegiate athletes, advancing through the ranks on the playing field doesn’t guarantee success off it. Approximately 78% of NFL players go broke within three years of retirement and 15.7% file for bankruptcy within 12 years of leaving the league, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. An estimated 60% of former NBA players go broke within five years of departing the league, and MLB players file for bankruptcy four times more than the average American.
Invesco QQQ believes How Not To Suck at Money will empower students and student-athletes to learn about finances on their own terms without necessarily having to request help or, even worse, take another class.
“I think back to my collegiate years, which was a very different time because we didn’t have the same access to information we do now, but it was more from real-world, real-life experiences where you were kind of forced to learn and figure it out,” Hill says. “I think a lot of my contemporaries early on made mistakes—they had no concept of managing money or understanding and learning the basic necessities associated with financial education. And not every family is teaching that.
“Here we are at a critical juncture in these young people’s lives providing this resource that just gives you a core understanding of how money works.”