Today there’s a growing number of high school and college students pursuing careers in financial planning after graduation. According to Financial Planning Magazine, the average annual income for a financial planner with one to four years experience is $59,000 and those with five to nine years average $112,000. Those who stay in the profession over 15 years can expect to earn well over $300,000 per year. In fact, financial planning is such a lucrative profession that over 15% of financial planners are middle-class millionaires with net worths ranging from $1 million to $10 million. But breaking into the profession can be difficult and first requires finding an internship and usually working without an income for a year or two.
How to find a financial planning internship
If you want to become a financial planner you’ll first need to find an internship to gain real, hands on experience. But you won’t find the internship you want on a job board or Craigslist. In fact, you should avoid these sources because what you’ll find are mainly sales jobs disguised as financial planning opportunities, and it may take you a few weeks – or months – to realize this. Instead you’ll want to intern at a “fee-only” financial planning firm which means the company doesn’t sell any products, but instead provides comprehensive financial planning advice to clients for a fee only. The fee-only business structure allows financial planners to make unbiased recommendations for their clients and keep their best interests in mind. The problem with finding an internship at a fee-only firm is these types of companies usually don’t advertise through mainstream media and you may not know they’re out there, but they are. Fee-only firms have built their clientele mainly through referrals as opposed to mass marketing, which means you’ll have to do a little extra work finding them.
To find an internship at a fee-only firm you should locate a list of the top fee-only planning firms in your area as ranked by assets under management (AUM), and then start working your way down the list by contacting each firm until you find the internship that’s right for you. You can refer to your community newspaper or city magazine for a list of annual rankings. You should also check industry websites like NAPFA and the Financial Planning Association for a list of firms in your area that may have intern positions available.
When you find a firm where you’d like to work, introduce yourself as a student looking to gain fee-only financial planning experience and mention you are willing to work for free. Yes, free. In return for providing free labor, you’ll find a more laid back atmosphere and a time commitment that should be in the range of 5 to 20 hours per week. This is the perfect amount of time because it allows you to provide a meaningful benefit to the company while letting you decide if financial planning is a career you want to pursue. You may even find that a few months of free labor will turn in to full time employment after graduation.
Gregg Gonzalez, Senior, Southern Illinois University
I recently received a phone call from Gregg Gonzalez, a Senior at Southern Illinois University, who was searching for a financial planning internship. Gregg will be graduating with a Masters in Economics and Finance in December of 2009 and his short-term goal is to find a financial planning internship that will help him turn his educational background in finance into a professional career that helps clients’ meet their financial goals. Gregg would be a terrific asset to any financial planning firm, but his problem was that job boards were only providing him with leads that turned out to be sales jobs. He decided to follow the strategy provided above and went to the NAPFA website and searched for fee-only financial planners in his area. By the end of the same day he began his search he already had two good leads. He wrote:
“I sent an email to three of the top local financial planners that the NAPFA website listed. I got an email response from one saying there were no positions available at this time, but he would be more than willing to schedule an appointment to discuss the business and career. I received a phone call response from another gentleman saying that, ironically, he had just had an assistant resign and would we willing to schedule an interview next week, which I accepted. He seemed impressed with the fact that I had mentioned the "fee-only" business model was the type of business I preferred working for.”
A week later Gregg informed me that he was offered the assistant planner position and took the job.
Gregg’s story is a great example of how easy it is to break into the financial planning profession if you know where to look. If you reach out to the largest and most successful fee-only firms in your area you’ll find planners who are happy to help you any way they can.
Is your internship a good one?
Once you land an internship you can expect your responsibilities to be limited to scanning and filing client documents at first. But don’t be discouraged, these tasks should only last for a month or two. During your next phase you should find yourself observing client meetings and seeing how planners create financial plans and follow up on client issues. Then, around the six month mark you should find yourself getting to work directly on clients’ financial plans under the supervision of a CFP®. This is when the internship starts to become fun and allows for creativity and problem solving. If you find yourself making cold calls and selling investment or insurance products, you should consider finding a new internship.