Internships, volunteering offer real-world experience

Nov 11, 2012 @ 12:01 am

By Bruce Kelly

As an undergraduate, Christopher Sipe never set out to be a financial adviser, even though a brief chat with the 26-year-old reveals his unbridled enthusiasm for the profession.

When he was studying at the University of Wisconsin, Eau Clair, he knew he wanted to work in the financial services business. It was a combination of undergraduate coursework and internships that led Mr. Sipe to a team of financial advisers in Edina, Minn., affiliated with Thrivent Investment Management Inc., an independent broker-dealer, and Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, an investment adviser.

“I became an adviser because I wanted to help people. That's what satisfies me,” said Mr. Sipe, who graduated in December 2009 and began working three months later after passing his Series 7 exam. “One of my strengths is finance and numbers, so I was able to marry that with the desire to assist others.”

Mr. Sipe's undergraduate classes in marketing, finance and business communication focused on writing and presentation skills, and the emphasis on public speaking and presenting information has paid off, he said.

But it was his experiences outside the classroom, particularly internships and volunteering, that allowed him to explore the potential of working as a financial adviser, he said.

“I had an internship with a bank in Minneapolis, worked part time for Thrivent and also volunteered to do tax preparation for low-income families,” Mr. Sipe said.

“I gained a ton of knowledge about taxes, not only the basics but the variety and number of forms,” he said. “I also got to interact with people and learned what you can do to help people.”

Mr. Sipe said that he was disappointed that his coursework did not focus on personal finance.

“I wanted more classes or the curriculum to focus on financial planning and investing,” he said.

“I could have used more of that,” Mr. Sipe said.”Much of the work is geared to corporate finance and accounting.”

A TEAM APPROACH

A self-described financial advice generalist, Mr. Sipe is one of four advisers on his team, which provides financial planning services to 750 families and individuals.

The team manages or advises about $200 million in client assets, he said.

When asked whether his youth is a disadvantage with clients, Mr. Sipe said that it's a valid concern.

He noted, however, that older advisers at some point in time will leave the business, and that presents opportunities for younger people.

“I work in a team setting with other advisers who have 30-plus years in the business,” Mr. Sipe said. “I'm getting education and training from them.”

“We have advisers who are looking to retire in the near future,” he said. “Our team will help those existing clients after those advisers retire.”

Mr. Sipe's advice to young professionals seeking to enter the financial advice industry is twofold: Get exposure to the business through programs such as internships and don't try to make it on your own.

“I have to reiterate that people should get as much experience as possible” before deciding to become an adviser, he said.

Internships and volunteering “give you exposure to this career and [help you decide if] you can find happiness and fulfillment,” Mr. Sipe said.

“Next, the people you meet in internships and volunteering should open doors,” he said.

bkelly@investmentnews.com, Twitter: @bdnewsguy

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