Summer internship programs are a popular way for advisory firms - as with most businesses - to leverage student talent to tackle projects, get support on ongoing business tasks, and even to build a pipeline of talented candidates that the firm can hire for future openings. The caveat, though, is that implementing a financial planning internship program can be a challenge, especially in trying to get it off the ground for the first time. From finding good candidates and creating a proper internship job description, to making the hire and getting the intern up to speed in your firm quickly, there is simply a lot to learn and do, with only a short amount of time to do it all given that a summer internship only lasts a few months. The unfortunate end result is that many financial planners avoid internships altogether, even though they could be great opportunities for students, firms, and the profession!
But the reality is that implementing a financial planning internship program does not need to be an overwhelming task, and it really is possible to get productive value out of a financial planning intern in just a few short months. In this guest post, Jon Yankee of FJY Financial, which has run a successful internship program with 21 summer associates over the past 11 years, shares how they implemented their financial planning (summer) internship program with college students, from the early stages of finding qualified candidates, to the process of (rapidly) onboarding the intern so they have time to contribute productively to the firm, all the way through the late stages of the exit interview to get feedback from interns and discover ways that the program can be improved for future years.
The end result of their financial planning internship program has not just been a way to give back to the profession, students, and the CFP Board Registered Programs training the financial planners of the future, but also a direct benefit to the team members at the firm, a talented pool of vetted candidates from which the firm has hired, and an experience working with young financial planners who have enhanced client deliverables for the firm. Of course, it is always a challenge trying to get an intern up to speed in a short amount of time and acclimated to the culture of a new firm, but with a diligently implemented internship program, financial planners really can launch a successful internship program!
Creating A Formal Financial Planning Internship Program
It takes time and effort to run an internship program that maximizes the benefits to both the interns and an advisory firm.
When it works well, skilled and properly trained interns can significantly reduce demands on advisors, allowing them to use their time much more effectively. Interns can also cross lower priority tasks off an ever-expanding to-do list, enabling the firm to grow and develop. Perhaps even more importantly, an internship is a great way to “test drive” a potential future employee to see if they would be a good fit with the firm’s culture and goals. It is also an opportunity to showcase the benefits your company could potentially offer them going forward.
Our advisory firm FJY has had 21 summer associates in the 11 years we have had our internship program. Of those great people, we have hired two – not because they all weren’t worthy of a full-time job, but because, like most small businesses, we just aren’t hiring for full-time positions all the time. However, both of those full-time hires were at a significant advantage during the interview process and, with our most recent hire, we did not feel a need for an interview process because we had seen everything we needed to see to make that hiring decision.
How do you implement a program that can achieve all these goals without overwhelming advisors’ already limited time? A few things are key: make sure you are hiring the best candidates (as interns) from the beginning; engage the entire firm in creating and managing the program; and commit to providing the interns with the full “advisor experience” – you never know what hidden talents you may discover.
If you would like to develop an internship program at your own practice, or enhance and improve an existing one, consider this a sort of “Internship in a Box” primer – a quick and simple guide to developing a program that is effective and can be adapted for your specific business circumstances. This article is based not only upon our firm’s highly successful summer associate program, but also dozens of discussions with advisors, CFP Board-registered Program Directors at colleges and universities throughout the country, respected consultants, and – perhaps most importantly – students.
Why Hire A Financial Planning Intern?
A better question might be: why NOT hire an intern?
The benefits to your firm, the students, the profession, and yes, even your clients, are numerous.
For The Firm
Time is one of our most precious commodities, and there are never enough hours in the day. Bringing on a seasonal associate to help ease capacity issues can free up an advisor’s time to focus on business development, strategic planning, improved processes, or even achieve more of a work/life balance. Interns are an especially valuable resource for Associate Advisors, as being able to temporarily offload some of their responsibilities affords them additional time to focus on professional growth and developing to the next stage of their career.
Additionally, interns can assist in implementing many of those wish list projects that you never seem to quite get around to in the average workday: beneficiary confirmations, Medicare reminder letters, Roth conversion reviews, data gathering, etc. Every member of your team can probably cite at least two projects they would love to have taken off their plate.
And while it would likely be impossible to make a full-time employment offer to every high-performing intern you bring on board, it is a great way to do a “trial run” of potential future employees, so that if you do need to hire a new, full-time support advisor in the not too distant future, you already have a pool of pre-vetted candidates from which to choose. This is no small thing when you take into consideration that, according to a 2016 Human Capital Benchmarking Report by SHRM, the average cost per new hire is $4,129. This includes advertising, recruiting, interviewing, background checks, paperwork, etc.
Even worse, despite the costs incurred, most hiring decisions are made after spending only a handful of hours with a candidate, which means an employer has no true idea if the person will actually be a good fit. By contrast, a seasonal internship gives you several months’ worth of data on which to assess a potential new hire: how strong are their technical skills, how quickly do they learn, do they show initiative, can they handle stress, how do they interact with clients, and are they a good fit with the firm’s culture?
By the same token, you’re given ample time to demonstrate all of the tangible and intangible benefits a future team member could receive by accepting a permanent position with your firm. Since the most qualified candidates will often have multiple job offers upon graduation, it’s a real competitive advantage if they already feel like one of the team.
Not to be overlooked is the value provided to younger advisors: by allowing them to oversee the program, they can begin developing the mentoring and management skills they will need to progress further along their own career path. My colleague Kelly McNerney (an FJY Advisor who started her career 3 ½ years ago) notes, “I believe that mentoring our Summer Associates in both technical knowledge and internal processes has made me a more confident and overall better advisor. That alone has made the time spent training them well worth it.”
For The Students
FJY has received overwhelmingly positive feedback from past graduates of our Summer Associates program. They have embraced the chance to work hands-on with many of the technologies they only received a brief introduction to in their coursework. Former interns also appreciated our team approach to training, and the opportunity to learn from and observe a variety of advisors helped them see the value in different approaches to client service. But overwhelmingly, the one experience that all of our past interns have unanimously recognized as important was the ability to sit in on and participate in client meetings. They have noted that even doing routine paperwork becomes much more meaningful when you’ve met the people who are relying on you to complete it correctly. Former summer associate Ginnie Baker, observes, “I knew I would be preparing for client meetings but I really didn’t grasp what that meant and how the work I did was very relevant to clients and meetings. It was not just little behind the scenes things. I got to sit in meetings with clients, and learn how the advisors presented the work I did.” Our interns also spend time with the managing partners, gaining knowledge and insight into the ins and outs of running a practice. When students get input from people who are out in the world doing (the work), it’s really valuable.
For The Profession
By interacting with the next generation of financial planners, your firm will become influential in the future of the industry. The time spent with interns will shape their expectations of full-time employment, the financial planning profession, and their career paths. For the right candidate, a great internship experience will influence his/her career choices for years to come.
For The Client
Yes, believe it or not, even clients can benefit from a well-run internship program. In discussing Yeske Buie’s internship program with me, Cristin Etheredge shared that, “Our goal is for all of our interns to positively impact our clients in some way. For example, Jeff Realejo, an intern in our Virginia office in 2014, did a lot of the research to help us find IdentityForce as a partner in keeping client identities safe. In spring 2015, Anthony Castaldi did an enormous amount of research and reading to help us advance our Financial Literacy offering to the younger generation. Additionally, in summer 2015, our two California Financial Planning interns, Taylor Agostino and Aviv Florenthal, worked diligently to revamp our summary templates to include more valuable and pertinent information we like to track.” FJY and Yeske Buie have seen real, tangible benefits to our client deliverables and service because of work that interns have completed for us.
Where To Find A Financial Planning Intern
The first place to start is the easiest and most obvious – in your own digital backyard – your website. Your social media (Facebook and LinkedIn are the most appropriate portals). In other words, develop a detailed job description for your internship, just as you would for a permanent position, and post it prominently on your website and social media channels. Encourage team members to share the description among their networks as well.
Make sure the job description is comprehensive enough in listing the education, technical, analytical, and communication skills required, so that it primarily attracts fully qualified candidates. Even if a potential hire learns of the opening from another source, most will immediately visit a prospective employer’s website to learn more about the position and the firm. Both of our 2016 summer associates mentioned in exit interviews that our website gave them a strong positive impression of our culture and technology, and played a significant part in their wanting to come work for our firm.
Next – you can contact one of the more than 100 colleges and universities that offer CFP Board Registered Programs. There are 103 bachelors, 45 masters, and five Ph.D. programs at U.S. universities and colleges that teach a financial planning curriculum that satisfies the education requirements of the CFP Board of Standards. Among the most active and well known of the CFP Board Registered Programs are Texas Tech, Virginia Tech, Utah Valley University, Boston University, the University of Akron, the University of Missouri, and the University of Georgia. These schools have undergraduate and/or graduate degree programs, or certificate programs in financial planning, and are finding their programs increasingly popular among the best and brightest students. A full listing of qualified programs can be found at the CFP Board's Find An Education Program Page.
Once you have located a few schools in your area, (although you do not need to limit yourself geographically, as we have found many students are willing to relocate for the right opportunity) develop relationships with the program directors so that they can help you proactively identify the best candidates for your firm, as well as advocate for you with the students. You will also find that many universities offer an online employer portal where you can post jobs and search resumes. For instance, check out Texas Tech's Personal Financial Planning Job Board as an example.
Many of the top schools participate in (or host their own) annual Career Fairs in early spring, and these events offer an excellent opportunity to meet and interview the most qualified candidates. FJY recruits the majority of our summer associates from two such popular programs: Texas Tech’s Opportunity Days, and the FPA’s National Capital Area (NCA) Career Fair. Opportunity Days is a three-day event that allows employers to conduct interviews with students, as well as allowing them the chance to interact more informally at social events like Casino Night and the Awards Banquet. The FPA NCA Career Fair attracts dozens of top financial planning undergraduates from schools throughout the Mid-Atlantic region for a full day of interviews and panels. Check your local chapter of the FPA for similar events in your area. FPA’s Dallas/Ft. Worth chapter also has a long-standing, highly successful Career Fair, originated by Caleb Brown of New Planner Recruiting.
Even if they do not host dedicated career fairs, most industry organizations have websites where you can post opportunities and review student resumes. These include:
- NAPFA – www.napfa.org/careers/opportunities
- FPA – www.onefpa.org/business-success/Pages/Job-Board.aspx
- CFP Board – www.cfp.net/career-center
Industry-specific conferences and events are another excellent resource for locating top talent. Charles Schwab invites a wide range of students from CFP Board Registered institutions to attend their annual IMPACT® conference each fall. The FPA Annual Conference, as the largest independent gathering of financial professionals, has also historically been a magnet for students looking to network with a broad range of firms. Many of the national and regional conferences run by custodians like Schwab or associations like NAPFA and FPA will invite scholarship winners to attend, which is another excellent source for potential candidates.
Finally, if you don’t have a dedicated financial planning program near you, contact the program directors in your local colleges’ or universities’ business or finance departments. Many of these schools offer portfolio management, finance, or some sort of financial planning classes, even if they do not have full-time degree programs specific to the profession. There are highly qualified students out there who might have a keen interest in an opportunity with your firm – if they only knew that you were looking.
Interview Tips To Choose The Right Internship Candidate
Begin recruiting early and often. The best candidates are often snapped up quickly, so make sure to start putting out feelers at least 4-6 months in advance of the program’s start date (which means if you’re planning a summer internship, you should be starting now!). The more time you give yourself, the more options you will have, and the more opportunities you will have to assess their fit.
When choosing an intern, just like a new full-time hire, you want to make sure that the people you select have the integrity and personality to fit into your office and culture. Your confidence in their ability to respect your client privacy, data, and your office environment is of utmost importance. Second, the more time you spend on the front-end of the hiring process, the higher the likelihood that your intern experience will be positive for you and your intern.
Next, make sure that you are intentional in creating the job description – you want it to be a document that accurately reflects the true scope of the duties that will be performed and the skills/experience/personality that will be most successful in achieving those goals. This job description will be your primary tool in attracting candidates, so you want to make sure it is attracting the most qualified ones. Draft something similar to the one you have for what a paraplanner/associate/support advisor position does in your firm. You want to give the intern a flavor for what their career will be like in their first few years, and thus, their experience should mirror what newer, less experienced advisors go through in their first years.
If you are meeting candidates at a career fair organized by a school or industry association, you should request resumes be submitted well in advance of the event, so that you have ample time to review and select the individuals you are most interested in speaking with. Most of these events will allow the students to sign up for specific interview time slots. Develop a set of “hard” and “soft” criteria to use to evaluate the applicants. Ideally, you will want candidates who have educational experience in the financial planning field, exposure to a professional setting, and have shown initiative through community service or extracurricular activities. According to Cristin Etheredge, Yeske Buie’s interviews are designed to look for “a student studying financial planning who exhibits inquisitiveness, a natural understanding of our values and worldviews, and a drive to learn and succeed.” In short, we conduct our interview process in a very similar manner to our hiring process for full-time positions.
It is important that interns are not only capable of doing a job well, but are able to fit into your culture and could eventually become a part of your full-time team. Look at existing employee performance evaluation criteria to identify questions for intern interviews. If possible, it is wise to involve your associate planner or other team members who will be working closely with the interns in the interview process. During FJY’s hiring process for interns, I’m told that our staff "finds the recruiting process to be exciting! During scheduled time together, we are observing both the student’s technical knowledge and their ability demonstrate professionalism and show his/her personality. The interview continues throughout the day and into the social activities, even if the interviewee doesn’t realize it. While technical knowledge is impressive, hiring a Summer Associate who we believe will fit in with our culture is very important to FJY."
Outside of an organized career fair, FJY’s process includes meetings with multiple staff who would be working with the prospective intern, and a discussion of our firm’s history and vision (to “sell” the intern on us). We also attempt to have a social outing like a happy hour whenever we can. This is an excellent opportunity to evaluate candidates’ soft skills, and gather a sense of their understanding of the program and commitment.
It is important to ask similar questions of each candidate, so that you can have appropriate comparisons when making your decision. Some of our favorite questions include:
- Who are your heroes and why?
- What is the accomplishment in your life that you are most proud of?
- Are you a big-picture or detail-oriented person?
- What about our internship program interests you the most?
We also place great importance on how prepared the candidate is for the interview. Have they done their research on our firm, are they engaged in the interview process, and what kinds of questions they have for us when that part of the interview comes?
Remember, this interview isn’t just about students impressing you, you want to make sure to impress them as well. Jon Ludwig, one of our two interns last summer (to whom we subsequently offered a full-time position) appreciated that a significant portion of his initial interview was focused on learning about HIS needs and career plans rather than just trying to sell the firm: “FJY showing an interest in me made me feel valued right off the bat. It gained them immediate respect.” Stephen Horstmann, our other intern last summer, has told me that the clincher for him was being able to attend a Happy Hour with the partners after the interview. “I felt welcomed and easily clicked with their personalities. They were genuine and relatable in contrast to more formal interview experiences I had previously, and I felt like I could be myself.”
Finally, it is important to establish and communicate to the candidates the anticipated timeline for this process, as the best students will be in line for other opportunities. If your program is due to start in June for a summer session, then your recruiting program should begin in the fall and be completed with offer letters sent by early April.
Of course, prior to sending offer letters, we do check references, which occasionally assists in the decision-making process – especially if it is input from a professor or school program director. We usually run standard background checks after making the offer as well, to ensure that there isn’t anything that could cause an issue for the firm.
Onboarding A Financial Planning Intern
Typically, an intern only stays with a firm for a period of 2-3 months. There is a LOT that they will be expected to learn within that brief window, so it is vital to have a detailed onboarding schedule before your new recruits come on board.
A good starting point is to review the onboarding process you (hopefully) have in place for new full-time hires, and see how it can be streamlined and accelerated to fit the seasonal associate program. You don’t want to overwhelm them with too much all at once, but you do want them to be able to hit the ground running.
With that in mind, here are a few lessons we have learned over the years:
- Give thought to what skills your interns will need to learn first (generally your key software tools), what skills build on each other, and what can be filled in at a later date. This will ensure that the training follows a logical progression.
- Develop and maintain an archive of PowerPoint presentations that introduce your key software applications and planning processes. We began this in the early years and now we are confident that, each year, we are covering all the key points with these training presentations. These become reference documents that can be referred back to as needed by both interns and staff.
- Follow up these instructional presentations with hands-on training so that interns can put their new skills into practice while the information is still fresh in their mind. Hands-on training can be working a particular client from whom you have just gathered a large amount of data, which needs to be scanned and entered into the CRM system, or other specific, client-related tasks that give the intern practice of the skills they have just learned. Training does not need to be too formal; the interns just need practice at what they are learning, as many do not really pick up what they have learned until that actually DO it.
- Once the necessary technical skills are in place, your training should focus on the core aspects of the position: meeting preparation, post-meeting follow up, and paperwork processing.
- Interns become much more invested in their work once they can attach a face and a story to the paperwork, so plan to have them sitting in client meetings early on in the program (at FJY this usually starts in Week Three). See FJY’s Summer Associate Onboarding Agenda as an example.
- Throughout training put an emphasis on how each component of the intern’s role affects and enhances the client’s experience. Understanding the method to the madness will greatly aid your seasonal associates in retaining what they have learned and adhering to established firm processes.
- Don’t forget to make sure they are having fun, which brings us to…
In speaking with past summer associates about their experiences working at FJY, one of the recurring themes that came up in almost every interview was “I really enjoyed the culture.”
Interns are only with your firm for a limited window of time, and are typically at a different stage of life than the rest of your team, so it can be easy to focus on their technical training to the exclusion of the more social aspects of your firm’s culture, which can actually be just as important.
At FJY, we emphasize the importance of culture right from the start: at each of our recruiting events, we invite all of the candidates under consideration to join us for a happy hour; both to get to know more about them in a less formal setting, and to give them a taste of what our firm’s culture is like. Interns have reported that this practice allowed them to feel welcomed, begin to develop relationships early on in the process, and relax be themselves during an otherwise stressful process.
As with technical onboarding, having an intentional plan for cultural onboarding from the beginning is crucial. When things get busy, it is easy for less client-focused commitments to get pushed to the back burner. By committing to a fixed schedule of social activities at the outset, you will be more likely to adhere to it and to receive buy-in from the rest of your team. What we have found to be most successful is a welcome lunch on the first day, regular monthly happy hours, a day-long, off-site summer social (think Escape Room, go-karts, winery tour, miniature golf, or similar), and the occasional morning bagel delivery or late afternoon ice cream break.
Bonding during designated social times is great, but the reality is non-social time will make up the majority of the intern’s experience, so it is important to make sure to practice team inclusiveness throughout the work day as well. This comes naturally at FJY, as team focus is one of the cornerstones of our culture. As previously mentioned, it is beneficial to hire two (or more!) interns if at all possible – sharing the experience with a peer is consistently ranked as one of the top features of our program. It allows the interns to collaborate on tasks and share insights on the experience.
Additionally, we devise a schedule at the start of the program that ensures each intern will spend some time working with every advisor in the firm. An exposure to different meeting styles, financial planning approaches, and work habits is invaluable to their growth in the profession. We also make it a point to welcome the interns into our weekly all-team meetings, as well as both Financial Planning and Investment Committee meetings, so that they can be exposed to the internal workings of the firm and get a better sense of each individual’s role.
Why go to all this effort? The fact of the matter is, former interns are ambassadors out in the community – if they have a great experience, they are going to be much more likely to promote your firm to their fellow students (future associates), professors, networking contacts, and even friends and family who could someday be potential clients. It is part of our long-term human capital strategy to attract the best and the brightest.
Maximizing The Internship Potential
Treat your interns like employees – you have to give them real responsibility if they are going to have a meaningful experience (and generate real value for your firm).
At FJY, our primary goal for the program is to fully immerse the interns in all aspects of the client side of financial planning. Over the course of the summer, interns are fully trained in meeting preparation and follow up, so that by the end of the summer they are performing most of the tasks of an Associate Advisor. This substantive work is what interns will remember and will use to judge the success of the program and their experience. Remember that they will almost certainly compare their experience at your firm with that of their friends after that summer – and you want to make sure that your intern’s experience outshines the others.
Once the number of interns has been finalized, meet and discuss what responsibilities each full-time individual will have in training the interns. Task each employee with some aspect of training, which should not be limited to just the various technologies the intern will need to learn, but should also encompass professional skills (such as telephone etiquette and client meeting protocol), as well as a discussion of your firm’s vision and strategy, client value proposition, and introduction to your internal committees and processes.
Break the job into two different roles: supporting your paraplanners or associate advisors, and managing some “project” of their own.
The primary role of supporting the paraplanner/associate advisor includes assisting with:
- Preparation for client meetings - data gathering, compiling performance reports and rebalancing recommendations, and other due diligence related to a client’s investments or financial situation.
- Assisting during client meetings - taking comprehensive and detailed notes. This gives the intern a feel for the responsibilities of an entry-level type position. The goal is for the intern to be doing as many of the associate advisor’s job duties as possible by the end of the summer. It is also a great opportunity for less-experienced full-time advisors to begin developing their mentoring and leadership skills by supervising much of the preparation for client meetings and the intern’s workload. The leveraging of time can be significant after the intern has learned your firm’s processes and planning methods.
- Paperwork - preparing and submitting custodian forms for new accounts, beneficiary designations, IRA distributions, and the like.
By being an active participant throughout the entire planning process - preparing materials for a meeting, and then seeing how those materials are presented, as well as understanding how an advisor interacts with his or her clients - the intern is exposed to how all of the different elements come together as part of the bigger picture, and this will give them crucial insight into their future career. It is also useful to allow the interns to see a wide breadth of topics discussed, and to observe both clients who are new to your firm and those who have been with you for decades.
Some advisors experience trepidation in taking this step, but handled with sensitivity, it can be beneficial for all parties. First and foremost, do your best to be sure that your clients are comfortable having the intern in their meeting. You know your clients well, and can pretty easily identify which meetings will likely be best for your interns to sit in and observe.
Ask the client for permission in advance, and also set expectations with the student that they are not in the meeting to participate, but only to be a silent observer. Of course, should a client initiate conversation with the intern, encourage some small talk, and view it as an opportunity for them to interact professionally with your clients. If you are not comfortable having an intern in client meetings, there are other ways to provide the opportunity for client interaction, such as answering phone calls, greeting them in your reception area upon arrival, and drafting communications to be sent to clients. At FJY we have had very few clients object to the presence of an intern over the years, and most welcome the opportunity to get to know a little about them.
In previous industry benchmarking surveys run by organizations like Charles Schwab and Investment News, it was revealed that almost 75% of RIAs ask interns to perform clerical tasks. Data gathering, investment research, and client meeting prep were also cited by the majority of the participants in these studies. But only 17% reported that they allowed their interns to participate in client meetings. It is our strong belief that offering this opportunity to students will set your firm apart as one of the top programs, and one more likely to attract the top talent as a post-internship full-time hire.
The second role of the intern is to take the lead on any number of different projects as defined by the firm. These projects could be tasks that you have been meaning to do for a long time, but just never get around to, or items that will get you even more in the loop regarding your clients’ financial affairs. Having an intern take a lead role in some of your due diligence on investments might also be a project that would be helpful to you and interesting for the intern.
Prior to the start of an intern’s tenure, taking time as a firm to develop a list of 5-10 such projects will lead to fewer worries about keeping them busy during their time with you. For example, one firm had an intern verify and confirm all the client IRA, 401(k), and life insurance beneficiary designations. During this process, numerous disparities were discovered in what the designations should have been, versus what they actually were. Interns have also worked at FJY on similar projects related to long-term care insurance, and also have helped to integrate new risk assessment tools among a firm’s client base. Again, the projects are there for the interns to have as a fallback if there is a slow week or not as many client appointments, but their priority focus during the summer is client preparation.
Just as you expect your interns to participate in the shared workload of the firm, you should also expect their participation in internal meetings. If you have periodic financial planning and investment committee meetings, allow the interns to not only observe but help prepare for, participate in, and sometimes present during your internal team meetings. Part of knowing what it means to be an advisor is to understand how your firm determines what advice to give to clients. You want to also provide them with insight into the business of financial planning. Therefore, involve them in your weekly staff meetings, long-term strategy meetings, and other discussions related to running your business. This involvement shows them the owner’s mentality necessary in our profession before their careers truly begin. They also love being included in these types of meetings, which usually exceeds any pre-set expectations they have about their internship.
As the program draws to a close, set aside time for each of the interns to sit down with a member of your team for an exit interview. As with the hiring process, afford the interns the same rights as full-time staff when he/she is leaving the firm. The exit interview is an opportunity for the intern, the manager, and the staff to share insights, constructive criticism, and feedback on the program. Use this feedback from students to adjust your program and improve it.
Compensation For Financial Planning Interns
To pay or not to pay interns, that is the question.
The answer is: you ABSOLUTELY should financially compensate your interns.
Reason Number One: You will attract more, and more highly qualified, internship candidates in the first place. InternMatch.com states that paid positions on their site receive an average of 2.5 times as many clicks as unpaid positions.
Reason Number Two: Paid interns are happier, more motivated, and more engaged in their work. By compensating your interns, you can expect a higher quality of work, which is crucial if your goal is for them to be producing work at the level of an associate advisor by the end of the summer. Additionally, projects completed during the course of the internship remain the property of your firm and can be used as an ongoing resource.
Reason Number Three: Paid interns have a greater chance of finding full-time employment after graduation, AND of receiving a higher starting salary. A 2015 report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers noted that 72% of the class of 2015 who completed a paid internship at a for-profit company received a job offer prior to graduation, in contrast to only 44% of the students who had unpaid internships. AND the paid interns, on average, were offered starting salaries that were 55% higher than their unpaid counterparts.
I am told by program directors at the CFP® Board Registered Programs that hourly wages can run anywhere from $12-$20 per hour. We pay on the high end because of the cost of living in the DC Metro area, and also because we are attempting to be an attractive location for the best candidates. To be competitive in hiring, you must be competitive in compensation.
In addition to a competitive hourly wage, many companies offer interns flexible work schedules and other non-financial perks, such as networking opportunities, skills training, and participation in local events. Due to the nature of the position, most interns will not be eligible for your health insurance program, 401(k), or other benefits, but you should confirm this in your plan documents, and update accordingly to prevent unintended benefits going to the interns.
Should your firm choose not to financially compensate your interns, it is important to consider the legal limitations of performance expectations. The FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act) states that “if a person meets the definition of an ‘employee,’ that person must be compensated according to mandatory minimum wage provisions. An ‘employee’ is defined as “any individual employed (to suffer from or permit to work) by an employer”. According to the FLS Handbook for States, Local Governments and Schools, an intern is not considered an employee when they are involved in education or training programs that are “designed to provide students with professional experience in the furtherance of their education and training and are academically oriented for their benefit” (Wage and Hour Opinion Letter, Jan. 28, 1988).
Short answer. Pay them.
Best Practices For Financial Planning Internships
- If possible, hire two interns per season. FJY Summer 2017 intern Stephen Horstmann described it as “absolutely phenomenal having a peer to learn from, split the responsibilities, and share the experience with.”
- Assign one team member to each intern to serve as their mentor or supervisor for the summer. This person should schedule weekly check-ins to review what was accomplished the previous week, plans for the current week, and the status of ongoing projects. Use this as an opportunity early in the program to address any concerns you may have. This feedback gives the interns time to modify their performance.
- After the interns arrive, meet with them one-on-one to determine if they have any special skills or interests (i.e. creating presentations) that they had not previously mentioned. This will allow you to select projects that will more fully engage them and make the best use of their individual strengths.
- Dedicate the first week or two to intensive training on firm culture, standard processes, and all necessary technologies. Ensure that continual hands-on training is provided for each of the relevant technologies.
- Schedule time for each intern to shadow every lead and associate advisor so that they have the opportunity to experience and learn from different work styles and approaches to client interaction.
- Include interns in staff meetings, lunches, happy hours, and social events to assist them in developing a better understanding of the firm culture and building stronger relationships with fellow team members.
- Conduct an exit interview at the end of the program to solicit feedback on how to modify the program going forward. Gather input from all team members to provide interns with a complete assessment of their performance to guide them in progressing to the next stage of their career.
My good friend Dr. Dave Yeske from Yeske Buie, summarizes it best: “Working with interns is a time-intensive endeavor. A firm just starting an internship program must be willing to invest the time to recruit, train, and continually give projects and feedback to the intern. However, it’s worth the effort, as interns can and will perform valuable work for the firm, if deployed appropriately. The key is to strike the right balance between work of value primarily to the firm, work that serves both the firm and the learning needs of the intern, and pure mentorship.”
Many advisors are scared away by the impression that “time intensive” means that the entire time an intern is with you means you will be “babysitting” or losing significant capacity to do your work. Of course, you have to spend some time up front. But with a plan (we are planners, aren’t we?) and investment of time on the front-end on training, the benefits you see and leverage of time on the back-end make the investment worthwhile. These interns are ambitious and craving the opportunity to save you time and money by doing substantive and productive work. Trust that.
While an internship program is inherently temporary in nature, it does not mean it should end with a permanent break. Your intern alumni base will serve as a valuable resource in the years to come. Make a point to serve as a reference promoting your alums for future employment opportunities. Summer 2016 FJY intern Tony Rieck reflected to me how significant this was for him after I introduced him to an employment opportunity at what could be perceived as a competitor firm to FJY. “After my internship, I struggled to find the right fit. But you went out of your way to introduce me to my current firm, a competitor, and I am forever indebted to you for jump starting my career.” Kind words, but we all know that the financial planning community is relatively tight-knit. We should utilize our unique community to promote and build up our next generation of advisors.
By the same token, past interns will become ambassadors for your firm within the profession, and an invaluable source for referrals. We have had interns in our program who would not have known about our firm if not for the enthusiastic praise our alums provided. Most importantly, when your company is set to hire new full-time employees, as I have mentioned before, your pool of former interns will provide an abundance of “pre-vetted” candidates.
Over the years, FJY has found that the most important aspect of a summer internship program is to give students truly meaningful responsibilities within our firm. Trust them and challenge them. The rewards of an effective internship program greatly outweigh the associated risks and costs, allowing you to not only to utilize and reward capable talent, but also to give back to this extremely important profession.
So what do you think? Have you ever hired a summer financial planning intern? Where have you found the best candidates? What advice would you have for others setting up an internship? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!
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