Tips from an RIA Intern: How to create a meaningful internship experience

About the author: Ria Karcherla is a senior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign studying finance and accounting. This past summer, Ria worked for Schwab Advisor Services - gaining firsthand experience interacting with various teams and advisors. 

By Ria Karcherla, Schwab Advisor Services Intern

Internships are an extremely valuable and sought-after experience for new and diverse talent trying to tap into the RIA industry. 

As an intern, I am looking for an opportunity to learn from the best, to make an impact on your firm, and form relationships that will last long past our time together. For firms, this is an opportunity to learn from the next generation, provide support for your team, see a potential full-time hire interact with your team, and receive a fresh perspective on how things are done, and how they can be adapted or changed in the future. 

Recruiting talent to the RIA industry is critical to keep up with the current growth. According to the 2022 Schwab Benchmarking Study, the RIA industry will need to hire more than 70,000 new staff over the next five years1 to keep up with current growth rate.  

Based on her personal experience and conversations with Chloe Moore, CFP®, Co-Founder of the BLX Internship Program and Founder of Financial Staples, and Kristen Lucas, Chief Marketing Officer of Luma Wealth Advisors, here are some tips to set your firm up for a successful internship experience: 

Tap into colleges and membership organizations to find the right talent
When choosing which colleges and universities to recruit from, "look outside your immediate network, and look for people who don't look like you," says Chloe Moore, CFP®, Co-Founder of the BLX Internship Program and Founder of Financial Staples. 

Consider posting your internship position on schools' websites or social pages, and with online job sites such as Indeed, Glassdoor, LinkedIn, and Handshake. Learn when schools are having their recruiting days, as these are often held once each semester.

Additionally, some associations, like the FPA and NAPFA, host job events that bring together several schools at once, widening your reach. BLX Internship is another organization to consider getting involved with if you're looking to connect with diverse candidates. BLX Internship matches fee-only financial planning firms with qualified Black and/or Latinx students and career changers for summer internships. 

Chloe shared that another thing to keep in mind when promoting and crafting your job description is to be wary of laying out too many specific traits your ideal candidate should possess, such as required skills or education. "When firms want interns to have a specific degree or experience, they could possibly miss out on a lot of talent that may be interested in this industry."

Select an Intern Manager
After finding the right candidate(s), the first step is to appoint someone to serve as the Intern Manager. This person will serve as the point person for onboarding, orientation, and day-to-day work. The ideal person for this this role would be someone who wants to give back to the next generation of talent. It is also a growth opportunity for an employee to explore managing people and learn new skills to be successful in a managerial role. 

For example, Luma Wealth Advisors hosts an internship program focused on high school talent and introducing women to the RIA Industry. Kristen Lucas, Chief Marketing Officer, oversees the program and says, "It is important to have someone who really cares about doing [the internship program]. Otherwise, it's going to be subpar for the interns and not really going to help the organization."
Create networking and mentorship opportunities 
When hosting intern(s), "have them spend time with everyone in the office and make them feel welcome in the beginning of the onboarding process," says Chloe. Introducing the interns to others within the firm, or even just sending them a hand-written welcome letter or gift, is a clear way to communicate that they are an important member of your team.

One of the most beneficial opportunities I've had during my internship was the opportunity to network with leaders across the company and form relationships with them that will carry on after my internship experience. If there is one thing I could recommend to any firm considering hosting an intern, it would be to create networking opportunities inside and outside of your firm. This could lead to mentors and connections that can last a lifetime. 

"I feel responsible to help young women come up and feel supported, because when I joined half of the partners were women…who really helped shape my career" says Kristen. "Networking and mentorship help them connect with other women in the industry." 

Both Kristen and Chloe say that firms should be thoughtful on who they consider matching as intern and mentor. When matching interns with diverse talent, try to focus on pairing women with other women in the financial industry, for example, or with other people of color, so those of the same background can facilitate a deeper connection and more open conversation of their shared experiences. 

Provide leadership opportunities and responsibilities in the firm 
Providing an intern with opportunities like maintaining a project from start to finish can give them a sense of ownership and responsibility. This will allow them to hone their project management, decision-making, and interpersonal skills, and help establish a strong relationship between the firm and the intern, making them feel valued and trusted. 

For example, during the internship program at Luma Wealth Advisors, interns were responsible for "participating in the interview process and choosing the next candidate," says Kristen. She went on to explain how allowing them to take on such responsibilities gave them confidence throughout their internship to speak up about what the firm could improve on, especially regarding diversity and inclusion, or question why the firm does certain practices. 

Provide a virtual option 
Over the last few years, we've had to adjust the way we work, and virtual internships became a realistic employment option for firms to offer. This allowed many students, like me, to participate in internship programs that were previously not on our radar because of the additional expenses like housing and transportation, which go hand-in-hand with taking an out of state internship. 

Offering a virtual internship at your firm could connect you to a new, more diverse talent pool than previously available to you. If virtual is not an option, consider offering a relocation stipend to help ease the financial burden interns may experience in taking your employment opportunity.

"If offering a virtual internship, your firm should be prepared to cover the logistics. If the intern needs a laptop or hardware - you should be prepared to provide whatever they need to work successfully for your firm," explains Chloe Moore. 
Learn more about hosting an intern and growing your team at Schwab Advisor Services RIA Talent Advantage.

2022 RIA Benchmarking Study from Charles Schwab, fielded January to March 2022. Study contains self-reported data from 1,218 firms. Participant firms represent various sizes and business models categorized into seven peer groups by AUM. Past performance is not an indicator of future results.

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Based on median results for the period from 2017 through 2021. Assets from existing clients excludes investment performance. 2022 RIA Benchmarking Study from Charles Schwab, fielded January to March 2022. Study contains self-reported data from 1,218 firms.
Results for all firms with $250 million or more in AUM that selected initiative as a top 3 priority. 2022 RIA Benchmarking Study from Charles Schwab, fielded January to March 2022. Study contains self-reported data from 1,218 firms.
3 Top Performing Firms are those that rank in the top 20% of the Firm Performance Index. The index evaluates all firms in the study according to 15 metrics to arrive at a holistic assessment of each firm's performance across key business areas.

Past performance is not an indicator of future results.

The RIA Benchmarking Study from Charles Schwab contains self-reported data from advisor firms that custody their assets with Charles Schwab or TD Ameritrade. Schwab does not independently verify or validate the self-reported information. Participant firms represent various sizes and business models.

Charles Schwab & Co., Inc. ("Schwab") is a separate but affiliated company and subsidiary of The Charles Schwab Corporation ("Charles Schwab").  

TD Ameritrade Institutional, Division of TD Ameritrade, Inc., member FINRA/SIPC, a subsidiary of The Charles Schwab Corporation. TD Ameritrade is a trademark jointly owned by TD Ameritrade IP Company, Inc. and The Toronto-Dominion Bank.