From the gridiron to the complex world of financial investments, Mitch Lyons is paving a new career path for himself.
He is the owner and president of Mitch Lyons Wealth, a virtual financial management company he founded in 2020 after working in the financial industry for more than two decades. He focuses his business on helping clients who are near retirement or in retirement to build their financial portfolios without the help of the stock market.
Although he is finding success in the financial world by helping others, entering the financial industry was an afterthought when he was playing football for Michigan State University. The Grand Rapids native was mainly focused on football, playing the tight end position where he excelled in the late '80s and early '90s. He earned a degree in General Business Administration in the process as a Spartan, but he didn't know what he wanted to do with his degree.
"I really didn't know what I wanted to do," he said. "I went in initially doing generalized courses and at the end of my sophomore year, I applied to the business school but still had no clue what I really wanted to do. I was just fortunate enough to get in and get a General Business Administration degree and even then, I didn't know what I wanted to do when I grew up. I was pretty focused on sports. I knew it wasn't going to last forever, but at the time that was my focus."
Lyons excelled on the football field, gaining the attention of the National Football League. He was drafted in 1993 by the Atlanta Falcons where he played tight end and performed on its special teams for about three years.
In 1996, Lyons went on to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers as their tight end and on their special teams, but after a series of knee injuries, he hung up his cleats just before 2000.
While he was playing, however, Lyons dabbled in real estate. He owned six residential properties in the Grand Rapids area. After he retired from the NFL, Lyons continued to manage those properties, but he grew to dislike what he was doing.
"I just didn't want to be taking calls at midnight to fix toilets," he said. "There is a lot of different ways to make money in real estate, but the residents and the areas I had the (properties) in wasn't something I wanted to deal with for the rest of my life."
After about four years in real estate, he sold his properties. Lyons was later introduced to the financial world by a former Michigan State football player. He went on to work at AXA Advisors and while there he sold stocks, bonds, mutual funds, security products, life insurance and annuities, which were market-based.
After eight years at AXA, Lyons decided to move on to become an independent broker, selling different products from different companies, including Woodbury Financial, LPL Financial and Global Wealth Solutions. He also was a partner at Lyons Kitzrow Wealth Management.
After working with different independent companies, Lyons decided to give up his securities license, which allowed him to market and sell investments. He then decided to solely work with people who are nearing retirement or in retirement.
In 2019, prior to the pandemic, Lyons was in the midst of thinking about how he could rebrand himself and his business. He decided to start a virtual company, which would allow him to work with people throughout the country.
In 2020, he founded Mitch Lyons Wealth, which allows him to focus on people who are nearing retirement or in retirement.
"We've all been talked to about plowing money into our 401(k) and accumulating, accumulating, accumulating, and that is great, except when you are nearing retirement. Now your accumulating phase is coming to an end, now it is about distribution," he said. "How do I distribute this? How do I get money out? How do I do it tax-efficiently? How do I ensure that the market doesn't tank, and my entire (portfolio) doesn't go down 35% in the first year of my retirement, which is going to greatly impact your retirement if that were to happen? So that couple who is nearing retirement or just in retirement, that is the person that I will talk with and show them some ways that they can solidify what they have."
Even at or near retirement age, people still have options, Lyons said.
"Maybe they still want some of their money in the market. That is fine, they can do that. But for a portion, depending on their risk level, for a portion of it, for example, a 60-year-old, they might want 50% stocks and 50% bonds. 'We don't all want it (all) in the stock market, we want some in bonds.' That was great when bonds paid 6% or 8%. They are not even paying 2% most of the time now because interest rates are so low."
Lyons said that type of information is crucial to investing at a certain age.
"So, why would you tie up half of your portfolio in an investment that is not going to earn you anything? And you build up inflation with that. Some of the index strategies that I utilize can provide a much higher return than that. It will not do it every year, necessarily, but over a period of time it is going to outperform what a bond portfolio is going to do right now."
Lyons works with insurance companies that provide either fixed-income annuities or fixed-index life products to his clients. The money that a client invests is tied to the market, but it is not "in" the market and they'll be able to earn a fixed rate of return on their investment. Even if the market changes for the worse, his clients will not lose money, he said. Likewise, however, if the market explodes by 25%, Lyons said his clients will not realize that full gain. In that scenario they might realize another 9% or 10% return on their investment.
To help expand his philosophy and his way of protecting the investments of his clients, Lyons decided to write a book called "Retirement of Steel." It was published in January. It is, in part, an ode to his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The book provides tips on tax matters and educates consumers on how they can protect their money throughout their retirement. The book also details personal stories about the financial stress he endured and the highs and lows he faced during his NFL career.
In addition to his book, Lyon is the executive producer of a documentary that is set to be released in October called "The Baby Boomer Dilemma."
"It focuses on the issues that the baby boomer generation is having as they are heading into retirement," he said. "The risk that they face that their parents didn't really face. The real risk of low interest rates for people who do not want their money in the stock market, and they don't have a good place to put it because banks are paying 0.3% (interest) and bonds are paying diddly squat."
The documentary, Lyons said, will feature financial industry experts who will be talking about various aspects of investment risks.
"I am excited for that to debut, and I will be able to use that as a marketing tool, which can be educational for my clients and prospects to really understand and recognize what they are facing as they head into retirement and why it makes sense to implement some of the strategies that I am talking about," he said.