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Practice Management

Financial-planning internships and residencies help develop new talent and provide the training firm with an advantage at hiring time.

This Practice Management article is intended for financial advisors only (registered representatives of broker/dealers or associated persons of Registered Investment Advisors).

 

Cameron Roehl, an advisor at Plante Moran Financial Advisors in Southfield, Michigan, had a post-graduation job in the bag by the beginning of his senior year at Michigan State University in East Lansing.

“I found out that I was getting a full-time offer during the first week of classes. It was such a load off my mind,” Roehl says. “I didn’t have to worry about ... job fairs, recruiters, résumé prep, practice interviews. It made my senior year that much more enjoyable.”

How did Roehl snag a job before he’d even finished his program? As it turns out, Plante Moran—an accounting and wealth management firm that works closely with three area schools, including Michigan State, to identify and recruit smart job candidates—had given him an internship during the summer of 2012. That experience showed both Roehl and the Plante Moran planners that he and the firm were a good fit.

In fact, Roehl says, the internship did more than his college experience to help him pick a career in financial planning. “I think that Michigan State’s finance program is fairly traditional, in that it builds broad knowledge,” he says. “We had no exposure to any wealth management topics, apart from the things you can apply from your knowledge of the capital markets and other basic information.”

New Alliances
All over the financial planning world, alliances between schools and established professionals are helping teach new financial planners the ropes.

The collaboration takes various forms. Charles Schwab, for example, contributes money, software, and expertise to planner training labs at Texas Tech and the University of California at Irvine; the company hopes to fund initiatives at other universities, too. “We want to find a new school every other year,” says Bernie Clark, head of Schwab Advisor Services.

Other experienced professionals reach out to campus organizations. Wealth management executive Elissa Buie, for instance, has co-sponsored FPA chapters at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, as well as William Paterson. “I pay for dues and pizza, and I’ve also gone and spoken at the FPA chapter at Virginia Tech,” says Buie, co-founder and CEO of Yeske Buie, which has offices in San Francisco and in Vienna, Virginia. “When students get input from people who are out in the world doing [the work], it’s really valuable.”

By far the biggest effect that planners have on schools, and the students they train, is through internships and residencies. Whether they last a summer or three to four years, these opportunities are a huge help to beginners. “Ideally, they progress a long way toward being able to be alone in a room with a client,” says Jonathan Guyton, principal at Cornerstone Wealth Advisors in Edina, Minnesota.

And while the interns are there, seasoned planners and their firms get the benefit of the beginners’ ideas, energy, and feedback—plus a chance to hire the best people before they’re officially on the job market.

By and large, financial-planning interns and residents—the difference is typically in the length of their commitment, with residents signing on for two to four years post-education—are paid and do real work. No one expects them to fetch the coffee. “The majority of the time, our interns work with our regular staff, doing entry-level tasks,” says Bob Palmer, a partner at Plante Moran. “They sit in meetings and develop meeting materials. The internship is intended to give them an opportunity to see what our people do.”

As their skills develop, interns and residents also help more senior planners by assembling meeting materials, responding to follow-up calls and questions, and handling some of the quotidian tasks that make any office run.

“We always have a senior planner in a meeting, plus a second chair for someone who is more junior. The intern shadows that [junior] person,” says Buie, whose firm offers both internships and residencies. “They learn what it means to prepare for a meeting, take notes, and do the follow-up.”

Buie also assigns interns projects. “Maybe we have client tax returns, but we haven’t been tracking losses carried forward. We might have [interns] create the database, go through the returns, and enter the data. Is it generally done very well? “Yes,” she continues. Perfectly? “No—but it’s easier for an assistant financial planner to do cleanup than to do it all from scratch.”

Idea Exchange
Advisors say they’ve benefited from having a stronger connection to next-generation candidates. “Interns have definitely taught us the changing needs, desires, and expectations of different generations,” says Palmer. “The younger generation does more and more with smartphones, and we realize that this is how they operate and how clients will operate in the future. So we’ve evolved from paper reports to iPads at client meetings.”

Working more closely with planning students has helped Omega Wealth Management understand generational differences, says firm president Lisa Kirchenbauer. “At Virginia Tech, many of the kids in the financial-planning programs are quite different from the founders of the firms where they will work,” says Kirchenbauer, whose Arlington, Virginia, firm began a partnership with the school last year.

“Many of them are very detail and process oriented,” she says, while “some of the more mature founders of firms are risk-takers, entrepreneurial, not as detail oriented. That’s potentially a culture clash, and can affect succession.” Articulating the differences, she adds, can help both sides navigate them.

Trial Period
Advisors who work closely with planning schools say they get a leg up when it comes to recruiting. “When I go to Lubbock every February to [Texas Tech’s] career fair, I can go to a certain professor’s office, close the door, and get an honest opinion,” says Jon Yankee, a partner at FJY Financial in Reston, Virginia. “We’ve developed relationships that let someone say that a student is or is not a good fit for our company. That includes advice on not only who the best students are but also thoughts like, ‘He would be great, but his wife is not going to leave Dallas.’”

The firm has found interns not only at Texas Tech but also at Virginia Tech and William Paterson. And those internships give FJY a try-before-you-buy way to evaluate potential staff. “We get a three-month audition with potential full-time hires,” Yankee says. As of January 2015, he says, six of FJY’s 13 employees will be former interns.

Plante Moran, too, offers jobs to many of its interns. “We end up hiring about two-thirds of the people we take on as interns,” Palmer says, “and as we’ve continued to grow, the number has risen. Ideally I’d love to hire the entire intern group, but some aren’t a fit for us, and some don’t feel that Plante Moran is a good fit for them.”

Buie does hire some former interns, but her firm also uses the residencies to attract young talent while managing their expectations. Residents join the firm for two or three years, and are paid the same as a permanent hire at the same level—but everyone knows that their time at the firm is finite.

“You can’t keep growing and hiring and have everyone on a partnership track,” she says. “Our residents fill the para-planner positions. They ... get experience and take the CFP exam while they’re with us. When they leave, they’ll be ready to get scooped up by another firm or start their own business.”

Meanwhile, planners say that the stronger their ties to a university, the easier it is to bring on talent. Lori Embrey, an associate vice president at Hamilton Capital Management in Columbus, Ohio, has been a student, a teacher, and the administrator in charge of the financial-planning internship program at nearby Ohio State University. She brought in Hamilton’s most recent intern, David C. Bowman, who accepted a permanent job offer from the firm in July 2013.

Now Embrey plans to consider other Ohio State University students—along with new planners graduating from two other nearby schools, Miami University in Oxford and Franklin University in Columbus. “I’ve been working with interns for a long time, and I know how helpful they can be to a business,” Embrey says. “And I know the abilities of Ohio State students—because I used to teach them.” 

Ingrid Case, a Financial Planning contributing writer in Minneapolis, is a former editor at Bloomberg News.


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