Maximizing Internships: Making Them Work for Intern and Firm

This fall, Fox, Joss & Yankee, an independent advisory firm in Reston, Va., released a white paper titled “Implementing Internships,” based on the firm’s experience in effectively incorporating financial planning interns into their operations.  The white paper does a nice job of raising awareness about student internship programs, and providing the basics about finding, hiring and working with interns. As most of today’s college financial planning programs either require or strongly encourage students to spend a quarter or two working in financial planning firms as interns, more firms than ever are stepping up to provide the next generation of planners with invaluable practical experience that will jumpstart their careers. The Fox paper provides them with solid place to start thinking about offering internships. 

One point that I would add to the white paper concerns what advisory firms need to do to get the most out of the interns they hire, and to give their interns a more beneficial experience. My client firms use internships extensively, and based on that experience—combined with conversations with hundreds of planning students over the years—I’ve concluded that most advisory firms fail to adequately plan for their interns. 

Consequently, an intern’s arrival often appears to be almost a surprise to firm personnel, who then put the intern to work on menial tasks such as filing, scanning or answering the phones. The result is that the intern gets little or no practical experience, and the firm creates a bad impression in the intern’s mind. Moreover, that intern will be very unlikely to accept a job at that firm, and through the miracle of social media, neither will 20,000 other financial planning students who are potential hires for that firm. 

To make internships valuable to a firm and to the intern, advisors need to do a bit of preparation. All my client firms have action plans for every quarter, so for the 90 days that an intern will in the office, we add them to our plans, detailing the projects they will work on, the timetables for them, and who their mentor will be to supervise and guide them. Due to the extensive technology training at most financial planning schools, many of our projects involve the firm’s software and systems: researching new software, exploring better ways to utilize existing software (such as maximizing the reports for prospective, new and ongoing clients), or populating the firm’s CRM with data from client files. Interns can also train staff on various programs or research tech issues that are problem areas for the firm. 

We also allocate about 50% of an intern’s time to areas they want to learn more about. Client meetings are usually of great interest to planning students, so we arrange for our interns to sit in on client meetings with advisors at least once or twice a week. Interns also like to see financial plans come together to reach recommendations, so we arrange for them to see a plan at each stage of development and spend time with whomever will make the asset allocation and specific investment recommendations. The interns have a weekly meeting with their mentors, to discuss their performance, address any questions and arrange for new projects and learning experiences.

Internships are a great way for firms to finally get around to those projects that are always piling up, and to “give something back” to the planning profession. For interns, they provide valuable practical experience and a chance to see the way a financial planning business works. With a little planning of their own, firms can maximize the experience of both: and maybe impress each other enough to end up in a long-term relationship.

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