As a Rapid City Rush goaltender, it’s Gordy Defiel’s mission to be prepared for whatever is thrown at him, literally. Whether it’s a puck traveling near 100 miles per hour coming towards his helmet, a desperation scramble in front of the net, or a barrage of shots in an extended defensive zone shift, he has to be ready to handle anything that comes his way.
Off the ice, Defiel keeps the same approach, always preparing himself for the next step, whether it deals with his hockey career or life in general. While suiting up for both the Indy Fuel and the Rapid City Rush in the 2019-20 ECHL season, Defiel began to plan his next steps for life after hockey. He did this by actually studying planning…financial planning, that is.
“Last year, I was taking classes for financial planning and financial advisement through the American College of Financial Services,” Defiel said of his studies while balancing his hockey career. “It’s an online program that I started last October in 2019 while I was with the Indy Fuel. Given my progress so far, we’re coming up on roughly a calendar year now of my studies in the field.
“It’s been a goal of mine to get into this field since I graduated college,” Defiel continued. “When I went to college at Lake Superior State, my entire life by then was just hockey, hockey, hockey. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do afterwards, outside of play professionally of course. I studied Business Management at Lake State to start and see where that would take me. It led me to financial planning and advisement, and I’ve loved studying it since I started.”
The program Defiel is in consists of six modules, each with its own exam at the end. Following the completion of the modules, a cumulative exam is taken. If you pass the cumulative exam at the end of the program, you earn the distinction of “CFP” at the end of your name, which stands for “Certified Financial Planner”. According to Defiel, the average completion time for people who have followed this path is roughly three to five years, but can be completed as fast as a year and a half depending on your study and examination methods.
“Its an intense program, no doubt about that. There’s a ton of reading that goes into it. The books you have to read are roughly 20 chapters long consisting of ‘academia style’ writing. Like most assignments, it can be a snoozefest at times, but its still fun to learn it,” Defiel detailed of his studies.
“I guess what really drove me to financial planning is the impact it can have on someone’s life. In that sense, its very congruent to goaltending,” he continued. “There’s so much riding on goaltending when it comes down to winning and losing games. It’s a team-first position with a major impact on the game. If you have a bad game in net, the team is hurt, where conversely, if you have a great game, the team sees success. In financial planning, your job is to help someone properly plan out their financial futures and help them see long-term monetary success, which is impactful in so many different ways.”
The benefits to juggling this high-intensity academic track while being a professional athlete are just as mental for Defiel are they are educationally fulfilling.
“When I played in college, life was rigorous and regimented,” he explained. “Every day, you’re in class, go to practice, workout, do your homework, study, and sleep. You do that over and over in season. In my first year as a professional in 2018-19, everything slowed down tremendously. As a pro, you wake up, have a good breakfast, go to practice, and then either have community and media appearances or team workouts. After that, you’re essentially done. Realizing that I had that much extra time, I decided to pursue this and make this a big part of my daily routine. It accelerated my daily activity level to what it used to be in my college years, so it’s a rhythm I’m very used to.
“Playing off of that rhythm, the more I’ve delved into my studies, the more beneficial its been from a mental perspective,” he continued. “If I have a bad day of practice, I can shrug it off and immerse myself in this material by studying in the library all afternoon. It also makes for some substantial light reading at night as well if I feel I need that before I go to sleep. It’s a nice routine that I’ve settled into, and not only helps me advance through my program, but also clear my head a little bit.”
Of course, life as a professional athlete has a funny way of adding challenges to studying.
“I don’t know many people that openly say they like going to a library. I’ve never minded it, but I find it important for my routine, especially as a professional athlete and more so during Covid-19,” Defiel said. “To me, going to the library is the same as going to the rink for me, essentially ‘going to the office’. It’s a designated place to work and think. With a roommate, especially a teammate and someone young like me, there’s always something happening: TV, video games, movies, a fun night with another teammate…the list goes on, so there’s inherently a challenge there to stay on task. In addition to that, there’s a reason why people were so stir-crazy to go to the office during the pandemic, even though they couldn’t for obvious reasons. The routine and mental side of it play a huge role.”
According to Defiel, the CFP suffix is just the start for him on his academic journey. There is also an insurance designation that he is pursuing to compliment the CFP status.
“While ‘CFP’ is the big one to go after, there are multiple insurance designations you can pursue as well. Specifically, there are securities licenses and insurance licenses. Those two industries are relatively close,” Defiel expanded. “For example, if you’re trying to help someone retire, there’s life insurance and estate planning that get tied into the same side, whereas with securities licenses, its more financial.
“Depending on your designations, that’s what allows you to give advice, legally,” he continued. “If I have an insurance designation, I can walk you through the estate planning and other insurance products. However, if I have just securities in my background, I can only legally provide financial advice and not any at all on insurance. I could ‘point you in the right direction’, so to speak, on the other topics, but its limiting because of the legal ramifications based on what your qualifications would be.”
The road as a CFP begins with building a clientele base, also referred to as “a book”. It starts with friends, colleagues, or individuals actively seeking financial planning services. From there, the goal is the manifestation of those relationships over an extended period of time, reaching certain checkpoints along the way. Fulfilled relationships and success eventually lead these clients to refer others, and the book growing process continues.
“It all starts with the basic question of what that person’s financial goals are. That’s the point of origin, so to speak,” Defiel explained. “From there, you establish that relationship and the trust that you’re guiding them in the right direction, based on what their goals are. More often than not, you’re investing their money and helping them make all sorts of decisions financially. The most frequent of those decisions revolve around the questions ‘is it plausible for me to buy a car?’, or questions centered around mortgages, or investing in the stock market, just to name a few examples.
“In essence, you basically become their right-hand man for these major life decisions,” he continued. “When these clients then get older, you stay with them until they reach the end of what’s considered their ‘financial life cycle’. At that point, you help them retire, and make sure they have enough money to do so or help them reinvest some of their funds in other entities, like children’s education and such. You’re helping these clients budget for so many things over the course of their lives. Near the end, you’re helping them with estate planning and figuring out where their money goes after they pass away. All the while through this process, you begin to realize how personal this business gets. That’s what I love so much about all of this, the person-to-person relationships that you build. It helps fuel even more the desire to help others, which is what brought me into pursuing this line of work in the first place.”
Keeping all of this in mind, Defiel’s ultimate goal is to create a private practice with all of these designations, in addition to the services and products offered. Building off of his desire to create, maintain, and foster personal relationships, the beauty of building a private practice for himself isn’t necessarily running a business, but rather forming a team of trusted individuals to better service others financial and estate needs.
“Like I mentioned, this is all about helping people in anyway possible, whether it’s preparing for retirement, planning an estate for later stages of life, or confirming that people are insured properly. That’s just the tip of the iceberg,” Defiel said. “My ultimate goal is not just to build my book and have my own clients, but also to give other financial planners the opportunity to do the same and create a group under my name. While they might technically be my employees, I’d rather refer to them as teammates that I help manage. I’d have to provide an office location and other amenities so all they have to worry about is showing up ready to work.
“Think about it like this from a hockey perspective: I play for the Rush. The Rush organization takes care of a number of items for me, like housing, my equipment, travel, things along those lines. All I do is come to the rink prepared to compete and play,” Defiel compared. “Our players are independent contractors under the Rush leadership, just like my financial planning teammates would be under my group. I’d be their boss, in essence, but I’d much rather look at it like a serving leader. I want to create my own environment and provide an atmosphere where we’re all on a team, I could hire whoever I want, and we can really make a positive impact for people that need our services. My father did this very same thing, but from the insurance side of the field and with insurance agents. Over time through his career, he’s created such an outstanding environment to work in. He even picks certain days where he’s slinging hot dogs and burgers for his staff and managing an atmosphere that’s comfortable and team oriented where everyone feels like they belong. Het set a great example to follow for when my time comes.
“It’s a great field of work with a great sense of fulfillment, and I’m excited to continue to pursue it,” Defiel concluded. “It all comes back to helping people, whether it’s forming my own team, or helping clients reach their financial goals. The path I’m on keeps me busy, keeps my mind right, and working towards something that benefits others. Goaltending is already hard enough, so I’m glad to have this studying and preparation to keep me mentally level. I’m 27, playing professional hockey, and working towards the next part of my life at the same time, so I couldn’t be happier with where I am and where I’m hoping to go in life.”
Entering his third season, it’s unknown how much longer Defiel will continue to play professional hockey before he transitions down the path of becoming a Certified Financial Planner. What we do know is that he’ll continue to help people by making saves, whether it is with a three-inch piece of rubber coming his way, or with people’s finances and their future.