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RIAs stick with summer interns, but from a safe distance

As financial planners adjust to the new normal of remote work and virtual meetings, their summer internship programs in many cases are coming along for the ride.

“It’s been very different, but it’s giving me a whole new perspective on working and the possibility of working remotely once this is all over,” said Camryn Taylor, a recent graduate of Virginia Tech who is three weeks into an internship at Olio Financial Planning in Tysons Corner, Va.

Like most interns this season, Taylor had been hired and was scheduled to start working before the COVID-19 pandemic triggered mandatory social distancing rules and remote work policies.

Although this internship experience will likely be unique from her two previous internships, Taylor is grateful that Olio Financial Planning was open to the idea of a more virtual experience.

“Without being in the office, I’m not able to take part in the confidential things that come along with this job and I was worried that it might hurt my experience a little bit,” she said. “I really wanted to see what the back end was like and what goes into running a financial planning firm, but without this experience I never would have been able to see what it’s like to work from home this way.”

This summer’s virtual internship model isn’t just different for the interns.

“We’ve been giving Camryn a lot of one-off assignments because this is different than our normal internship program,” said Christine Damico, a financial planner and director of human capital at Olio.

Over the past few years the firm has operated internship programs, the normal process has been to expose the intern to various aspects of the planning business, from prepping for meetings with clients and participating in meetings to shadowing advisers and learning back-office functions, Damico said.

But in the past few weeks since Taylor has been onboard, she has been assigned to do research for blog posts, update client data and help advisers prep for virtual presentations.

This week, Taylor is working in the office, staying at least 10 feet away from Damico, to fill out compliance paperwork and get her computer. But until the pandemic passes, and social distancing rules are relaxed, Taylor will mostly be spending her six-month internship in her home in Reston, Va.

It’s a similar story across the financial planning industry as advisers adapt to keep internship programs running and interns adjust to the new virtual model.

“The plan is subject to change, but we’ve already hired one intern who is supposed to start June 1,” said Richard Saperstein, principal at HighTower Advisors’ Treasury Partners, a New York-based firm that normally hires two interns a year.

Since he doesn’t know when his firm will be back to working in the office full time, Saperstein is considering ways to build a virtual internship program that might be able to accommodate more interns.

“We don’t want the intern to lose the opportunity of the experience, but the challenge now is navigating more virtual concepts,” he said. “We have one intern that we’ve committed to and we want to make sure he has an exceptional experience, whether it’s in the office or virtual. The plan is if we have to do it virtually, we’ll still do it. It will be more work, but we’re strong believers in the program.”

That intern, Christian Ruf, a sophomore at Bucknell University, is already adjusting to virtual schoolwork and is up for the challenge of doing a virtual internship.

“I’m still hoping to be able to do it in person, but if necessary we will do it remotely,” Ruf said. “Whenever I look at some of these internships, one of the things I was thinking about is the learning process. I want to make sure I learn the skills that will help me be competitive and that’s still the way I approach it. I will embrace it either way it comes.”

David Shotwell, president of Shotwell Rutter Baer Financial Planning in Lansing, Mich., is also embracing the challenge as his firm embarks on its first-ever internship program.

“We were just gearing up to get this program launched when Michigan was shutting everything down, and all the students at Michigan State were being sent home,” he said. “We had planned for our intern to start the second week of May, but we knew this could get funky.”

As part of his scramble to create a useful learning experience for his intern, Shotwell has signed him up to attend a virtual conference next month hosted by Dimensional Fund Advisors.

“We have stressed to the intern that we will all have to be flexible, and with him being younger and used to doing more online, I told him to feel free to bring up any ideas he has that might help,” Shotwell said. “I think he was afraid we would have to cancel his internship, but we’re not going to do that.”



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