Interns will take on several roles at advisory firms this summer

College students are helping with client prep, firm visioning and long-term projects, among other duties

Jun 21, 2017 @ 3:41 pm

By Liz Skinner

Tens of thousands of college students will be toiling away this summer at financial advice internships around the nation, taking on projects like exploring new software and helping firms go paperless to planning office celebrations and client events.

Interns do not usually sit in on client meetings, mostly because of concerns about privacy, but they often prepare the materials advisers depend on for their presentations. Interns do interact with clients in other ways, such as answering phones or greeting them when they come into the office.

"During the year, we keep an Excel list of projects that we think would be good for our firm to do, and then before summer begins, we order them in terms of importance and dole them out to our interns," said Eileen Stevens, financial adviser with Abacus Planning Group.

The $890 million AUM planning firm, which has 28 people, has hired three interns for this summer.

Interns, typically college students with a year or two of classes under their belts, are often technology savvy and have suggested improvement projects that the firm adds to its list, Ms. Stevens said.

(More: Beware the gap coming in the number of financial advice professionals)

About 20% to 30% of their interns have later joined the firm full-time, she said.

Employing someone as an intern is a great way to get a good sense of someone's work ethic, whether they get along well with clients and co-workers, as well as how quickly they pick up new skills and will fit with the firm culture.

Bailey Davis, an Abacus intern enjoying her third summer working at the firm, said she likes being included in the business operations of the company while also learning more about the profession.

Over the years, she has completed projects such as helping the firm transition from paper to electronic files, a job she said required a lot of scanning, and analyzing the differences between health savings accounts.

Ms. Davis also is a member of the firm's "first impressions and administration" team, and in that role she's learned the importance of mastering phone skills and properly dressing for a professional environment.

She also appreciates that her bosses mix up the assignments.

"For every challenging project I'm assigned to complete, I'm given a task to create energy in the office," Ms. Davis said. "I've done it all from planning office birthday and Christmas parties to delivering flowers to clients on their birthday."

The level of responsibility interns are given differs greatly by firm, though it seems students working at smaller firms often get more opportunity to take on a variety of duties, simply because there are fewer hands available.

At Monument Wealth Management, which has eight people working at the $275 million AUM firm, its sole financial planning intern helps prepare for client meetings, tackling projects like examining performance reports for possible allocation adjustments and using planning software to model client questions.

"We are all-hands-on-deck, so an intern will get a huge breadth of experience doing things here," said Jessica Gibbs, a senior financial planner at Monument Wealth Management.

This year she's held weekly, hour-long sessions with intern Jeff Thomas to dig into various fundamental planning topics, such as understanding all the facets of an annuity.

Mr. Thomas even sits in on some client meetings, which he says has helped him gain insight into what clients are interested in knowing more about.

"I've learned a lot about estate planning," Mr. Thomas said. "I didn't realize everything that went into it and the impact of things done today having implications later in life."

Monument Wealth Management also bring non-finance interns into their operations.

It has two video production interns and a graphic design intern who work on marketing projects. This summer, these students are creating new graphics the firm's advisers will use in their initial meeting presentations with prospects.

Richard Saperstein, principal of Treasury Partners, part of HighTower Advisors, hires two interns each summer, and the firm trains them to do credit analyses, create due diligence reports and identify cash flow for clients, among other functions.

Sitting in on high-level operational meetings to discuss investments, changes to client portfolios and other leadership issues, as well as weekly lunches with a senior team member, are all part of the intern gig at Treasury Partners, which has 21 people and $8 billion in AUM.

"We want these kids to get an understanding of what it's like to work for a leading wealth management firm and what skills are needed," Mr. Saperstein said.

(More: Meet our 2017 class of 40 Under 40)

Brandon Simon, a senior at the University of Michigan, sent a letter and resume out to 10 New York firms listed on the Barron's top financial advisers' list asking for an internship, and he landed with Treasury Partners for the summer.

"We sit in on meetings with firm leaders and really see how the sausage is made," Mr. Simon said. "We get to see how they think through their decisions and factor in a lot of different aspects."

This summer RBC Wealth Management, which has $289 billion in client assets with about 1,800 financial advisers, has taken a unique approach with its 28 summer interns. In addition to their daily responsibilities at different divisions throughout the firm, which is a unit of RBC Capital Markets, at the end of their 10-week internship they will come together and present to senior executives their solutions to five long-range business issues facing the industry.

Tom Sagissor, president of RBC Wealth Management – U.S., said his firm is asking the college students to re-imagine client acquisition, strategies for communicating with clients, intergenerational decision making, financial education and attracting new financial advisers.

(More: Millennials design the financial service that would get them to invest)

"Today's college students are incredibly technologically savvy, globally minded and creative," Mr. Sagissor said. "We are looking forward to hearing whatever solutions, examples and recommendations are given by these individuals on these topics."

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