This content is from: Practice Management

Summer Internships Are Surviving the Coronavirus. Here's the Plan if Things Get Worse.

RIAs hope to preserve their programs that serve as important talent pipelines.

In response to the coronavirus, many universities have cancelled classes or plan to continue courses exclusively online for the remainder of the school year. The pandemic has filled the coming days, weeks, and months with uncertainty and future Wall Street interns are losing sleep over whether their career-making summer jobs still exist.

But wealth managers across the country still plan to host interns this summer, one way or another.

Intersect Capital, a multi-family office in San Ramon, Calif. that manages $1.3 billion, established an internship program two years ago to bring in fresh perspectives and potential employees. It’s been successful and the company doesn’t want to pause it. 

In years past, the brightest students overwhelmingly pursued institutional sales or investment banking, but that’s changing, according to Joe McLean, a managing partner at Intersect. More students are considering wealth management and his company has benefitted.

“There is a whole new batch of people coming out of college that are going to be some of the best advisors we’ve ever seen,” McLean told RIA Intel.

Employees at Intersect began working from home two weeks ago in response to the coronavirus. When exactly they will return to the office is unknown but McLean said the internship will go on. 

Zoom, a teleconference service, and Slack, an instant messaging app that advertises itself as an alternative to email, have helped Intersect continue doing business without missing a beat. Interns generally require more help and oversight than employees but that can be done remotely, too, according to McLean. “I think this is the future of how we’re going to give advice anyways,” he said. 

Industry observers say remote work could benefit advisors and their clients.

Still, McLean’s preference would be a more traditional in-office work environment, especially for interns. Face-to-face meetings and interactions mean more opportunities for young workers to find mentors, which he said is critical for good advisors. Mentors are more apt to challenge mentees — a positive component of those relationships — and in-person interactions help coworkers engage in that way. 

If a face-to-face discussion is improbable or impractical, McLean likes to send voice memos so he knows his tone won’t be lost, like it could in emails and other messages. He anticipates he will send them to interns if the company is still working remotely in the summer.

“Obviously this is a very fluid situation,” Jimmy Lee, CEO of The Wealth Consulting Group, said about the coronavirus and his firm’s summer internship. 

But the Las Vegas-based wealth manager with about $2.8 billion in assets still planned to host interns as of Friday. The Wealth Consulting Group has a total of 150 employees and frequently hires interns to join it full time.

On Friday, hours before President Trump declared a national emergency, Lee said his company was considering sending all of its employees home to work remotely. What impact that policy would have on any interns if it continued into the summer is unknown. I don’t know the answer to that yet,” Lee said.

But the executive was optimistic something would work out. Friday morning, Lee had a teleconference call with a client who didn’t have time to make it into the office as planned.

Larger organizations that also custody assets for RIAs did not share details about plans for their summer internship programs. In a note on Friday to RIA Intel, Charles Schwab said it had not made any decisions regarding its summer internship program. Pershing declined to comment on the subject. 

Fidelity and TD Ameritrade did not respond to questions about their internship programs.

Plancorp, an RIA in St. Louis with about 70 employees that last reported managing more than $3.6 billion, also still plans to host interns this summer. Although, the wealth manager’s head of personnel acknowledged that a lot could happen over the next two months.

“I’m in a study group with other HR leaders from large RIAs and we’ve of course been talking a lot about work from home measures for employees, but I haven’t heard of anyone calling off internships at this point. I think everyone hopes we’re back to ‘business as usual’ by the summer,” Amy Jones, Chief Talent Officer at Plancorp, said in a note.

Two interns are still expected this summer at Austin, Texas-based Venturi Private Wealth, an RIA that manages $1.35 billion. But “time will tell” what exactly the program will be like for the coming cohort, Russell Norwood, a founder partner at Venturi, said.

Venturi, which was founded in 2015, posted record revenue and profit in February but that watermark will certainly not be met again in March after the pandemic drove markets into a bear market, Norwood said. Venturi bills clients monthly in arrears. It will likely impact hiring at the fast-growing firm in 2020, but not the internship program, Norwood said.

Carina Diamond, a managing partner and the Chief Experience Officer at Dakota Wealth Management, an RIA in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. that manages more than $1 billion, said business at her office in Akron, Ohio is “continuing on just as it ever was, just with some unique wrinkles.”

The advisor, who only recently merged her own RIA with Dakota, said her company has always taken business continuity plans seriously, whether that means an event that keeps employees out of the office or her own absence. “We play a game in our office called Carina is dead,” she said half-jokingly.

Part of those drills include making sure employees are prepared to work remotely for any reason. This summer, that might include interns, too.

It’s important that wealth managers are flexible and keep their internship programs going if they can. “This whole industry is starved for talent,” Diamond said.

In the next decade, more than 111,500 financial advisors — representing one-third of the workforce and assets under management — are expected to retire and not enough people want to fill their shoes. In 2023, the U.S. wealth management industry is projected to lose a greater percentage of its workforce than the coal mining industry.

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