Financial Entrepreneur.

The path to a career in financial planning has historically been something of an unexpected detour for many people-taken up as a career change rather than a full-fledged course of study in college.

But that trend is in the midst of a change. The number of CFP-registered education programs has been on the rise in recent years, as has the number of colleges and universities with undergraduate degrees in financial planning.

It's one of the key changes that some say is part of the emergence of financial planning as a distinct and recognizable profession, buttressed by a defined set of educational criteria rather than a vague melding of various financial services roles.

Yet it's a change that could have more of an impact than established financial planners may realize.

With the rise of collegiate financial planning programs, there has also been a rise in the number of young, knowledgeable job candidates looking for the one thing they can't get in college alone: experience.

What many of them are looking for, says Jonathan Guyton, principal of Cornerstone Wealth Advisors in Minneapolis, are internship programs that can provide them a one- or two-year bridge between academia and real-world financial planning.

That's why Guyton, as well as the Financial Planning Association, are trying to encourage more financial advisors to consider such programs.

The biggest selling point, says Guyton, is that the available pool of interns is probably bigger and more talented than it's ever been. It's just a matter of getting established financial advisors to realize it, he adds.

"It wasn't that long ago that if you asked advisors what they're looking for in terms of educational background, they might say finance, accounting or economics, almost like financial planning doesn't matter," says Guyton, a former FPA director who has been one of the leaders in the organization's efforts to encourage more internship programs. "Now if you want someone to come in and make a difference with financial planning skills, you have that available to you."

Currently there are no statistics available on how many financial advisors provide internship programs. Anecdotally, however, the number is generally considered to be low. That's one of the reasons the FPA has put a renewed focus on such programs. The organization recently added an internship program section to its Web site, at, which provides a set of criteria planners can use in setting up a program as well as listings for both potential interns and planners looking to fill internship positions.

Despite the dearth of internship positions in the financial planning field, there are firms that have been running such programs successfully for a number of years.

At Legend Financial Advisors Inc. in Pittsburgh, internship programs have been in existence since the firm's founding in 1994.

The firm has hired about 47 interns during that time, says Lou Stanasolovich, Legend's president and CEO. All potential interns, he says, go through the same hiring process that any other job candidate goes through, including two interviews, drug tests and a background check. The benefit, as he sees it, is mutual. The firm, he says, gets workers who are eager to learn and gain experience, as well as potential full-time employees. The interns, after 15 to 18 months working at the firm with an average wage of $7 per hour, can walk into job interviews with practical experience. "We are a tough shop to work for," he says. "We're very demanding, and frankly, we would put up our interns against any college student in terms of work ethic."

The firm mainly gets its interns by attending job fairs at local colleges and universities. No local institutions have an undergraduate degree program in financial planning, so interns have come from various finance-related programs, Stanasolovich says. The firm also lists internship openings on job listing Web sites. Three years ago, the firm started hiring marketing interns, and also has instituted a program that pays interns a $100 bonus if they recruit an intern themselves.

Last year, the firm received 200 resumes for two financial planning intern positions, he says.

Since it started taking interns, about ten eventually were hired for full-time positions, Stanasolovich says.

"The most valuable aspect of internships is the opportunity to see a potential core staff employee in action," he says. "We can have a first-hand view of their work habits and overall fit within our organization."

Linda Tarbox, president of Tarbox Equity Inc. in Newport Beach, Calif., has been working with interns for the past ten years as part of her role as a teacher in the financial planning program at the University of California at Irvine. During that time she's seen a dramatic increase in the number of financial planning firms that have created internship positions. "In the beginning, we had a lot more interns than potential sponsors," says Tarbox. "Now it's quite the opposite."

Among the reasons firms have been hesitant about taking interns are concerns about how much training a program requires, whether the training time is worth the benefits and, to some extent, a concern about whether students should be given access to private client information. The tradeoff between training requirements and the benefits of having an intern are judgments that have to be made by each individual firm, she says. But she adds that one of the most important things an intern gets out of working in a financial planning firm is just watching planners in action. This is something Tarbox learned herself when she fretted over whether she was giving one of her interns enough work. "She kind of sat me down and said, 'If I could just sit and listen to you, I will learn so much,'" Tarbox says. As for the confidentiality of client information, she says, it's routine to have interns sign a confidentiality agreement.

Advisors considering an internship program should start the process by contacting local colleges and universities to find out what type of financial programs they may have, those involved in the programs say. The depth of programs will vary by institution, as will the existence of a formal process for recruiting interns.

Guyton also lists some basic steps an advisory firm can take:

Get ready to receive an intern. A successful internship program should create an environment that's beneficial to both the intern and the firm, Guyton says. That means, for instance, that the firm should set aside 30 to 50 minutes each week to meet with the intern to discuss their role and their performance, and to receive feedback.

Guyton says firms should also have a set of written procedures for working with clients. This, he says, makes it easier to assign interns jobs such as inputting data, preparing an agenda for a review meeting, updating portfolio reports or drafting a follow-up letter from a review meeting.

"If these are things you do already, it makes it a lot easier to take a skilled person and plug them into the process," he says.

Know what you're looking for. Deciding on an intern's duties before selecting a person for the position is crucial, says Guyton. For example, is a firm looking for someone with an analytical background to do behind-the-scenes work? Or will the intern play a role in working with clients or observing advisor/client meetings, in which case people skills will be helpful? Should an intern be proficient in Microsoft Office walking in the door, or is the firm willing to train them? Firms need to realize, Guyton says, that students majoring in financial planning and those with a finance major will have different skills to offer. He cited the experience of one planner in California who decided hiring finance majors as interns was the wrong way to go. "He said it took him three months to convince them that being a financial planner was a good thing," Guyton says. "He finally said, 'I'm sick of doing that. I want financial planning majors.' They come in already having made a decision that this is a career they're at least interested in."

Follow a smart hiring process. Firms should insist that their interns have either completed or enrolled in a CFP-registered program, unless there is no area institution with those programs. Guyton says the reason for this is twofold. First, it provides the firm with someone who has an interest in the field. Second, he says, it provides a point of entry into the field for an intern with a serious interest in the financial planning profession. "When these opportunities are available, you need to be sure they go to the folks who have already made an investment in learning about financial planning," Guyton says. "Once you get it down to a couple of top candidates, screen them the way you would any prospective employee.