What interns do and should not do for advisory firms

Advisers offer tips on running a smooth internship program that's a boon for recruitment

Aug 18, 2016 @ 10:22 am

By Liz Skinner

Many financial advisory firms have said goodbye to their summer interns in recent days and some have learned a few secrets over the years to make the process of hiring, employing and keeping in touch with these pre-professionals a rewarding experience.

Most important is making sure a particular person or group of people at the firm are tasked with planning out what projects the interns will be encouraged to take on, as well as thinking about what they'll need to be excluded from, advisers said.

“If you don't have something set up for them that you thought through in advance, they will be sitting there staring at you, and that can be stressful,” said Bill Keen, chief executive of Keen Wealth Advisors.

This summer his firm had four interns from three different schools who spent their time shadowing the different roles at the firm, working on research projects, and helping with more mundane work like scanning and updating the client relationship management system.

Interns do not sit in on client meetings at Keen Wealth Advisors, nor at most advisory firms, mostly because of concerns about privacy. Firms also screen interns almost as rigorously as full-time employees, their executives said.

(More: 6 employee perks to help advisory firms win the war for talent)

Mr. Keen has hired interns for more than 15 years and finds it can be a great recruiting tool for firms that make an effort to keep in contact with their former interns.

Providing internships is a great way to get a good sense of someone's work ethic, their ability to get along with clients and co-workers, their knack to learn new skills, and even whether they'll fit well within the culture of the firm. Keen Wealth Advisors has later hired some of its interns, including one man who interned with the firm in 2002 and is now managing director.

Lou Stanasolovich, chief executive of Legend Financial Advisors, has hired more than 320 interns over the past 22 years and he currently employs six of his former interns in full-time positions.

Over the years, he's concluded that hiring interns just for the summer doesn't make sense.

(More: Advisory firms using creative job titles to attract clients, staff)

“They can't learn enough, quickly enough over three months,” Mr. Stanasolovich said.

He likes interns to stick around for two years, though he finds at least half usually are gone within one year.

College students who are interns at Legend Financial Advisors research investments and prepare presentations on them, update financial plans, review client notes to make sure tasks are being completed, prepare for client meetings and work on other projects.

He's found that short videos are the best way to efficiently and effectively train interns. Legend Financial Advisors has created more than 3,000 five-minute clips that describe everything from using a particular copier or running different account reports, to greeting clients or setting up conference rooms for a client meeting.

The firm also hires high school students as interns to do more routine office work like copying, scanning, proof-reading, and circulating documents.

(More: Adviser's Consultant: Create work environment that makes greatest employees want to stay)

“Since we don't have to pay regular staff to do the more mundane stuff, we can do a lot more things,” Mr. Stanasolovich said. “We provide the highest quality advice because our interns are providing the lower level stuff.”

Most firms find their interns through posting on college job boards at local universities, or otherwise reaching out to schools that provide interns who they've had good experiences with, advisers said. Some also attend college job fairs.

“It takes a lot of effort finding the right interns,” Mr. Stanasolovich said.

Based on his experience, the students with the highest grades do not translate into the best interns.

“The 4.0 students tend not to work out here,” he said. “Grade point has nothing to do with success as an employee. That was surprising for us initially.”

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