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Advisor Emlen Miles-Mattingly had some encouraging words for young financial professionals from diverse backgrounds: ‘You can make it in this career,’ he said, speaking at the Diversitas symposium.

Internship programs are key to getting a more diverse talent pool in the wealth management industry, according to speakers at the University of Akron’s Diversitas symposium, held virtually this week.

Emlen Miles-Mattingly, CEO and founder of Gen Next Wealth, has had a lot of success with BLX, an internship program for aspiring Black and Latinx financial planners he co-founded. Of the 38 individuals that BLX placed at financial planning firms, 20 of them got full-time job offers; the rest either went back to school or interned at firms that didn’t have jobs to offer.

“[Those firms] were ultra-impressed by what they had seen from the people of diverse backgrounds,” he said. “It was an immediate impact into their firms, and it helped every one of them.”

Miles-Mattingly had some encouraging words for young aspiring next gen advisors from diverse backgrounds: “You belong here, and you can make it in this career. Speaking as a person who had to be the only Black person in the room for every job I ever worked at, it’s going to be uncomfortable. It’s going to be different. But understand that if you’re in the room, you deserve to be there.”

He spoke on a panel of wealth management firm executives on how they find interns and what they expect from them. Much of the power, though, lies with the intern, the speakers agreed.

Stacy Serna-Beecher, a senior manager at Charles Schwab, said her firm’s internship program has an 80/20 plan. Eighty percent of the intern’s time is spent on project work, while 20% is spent on development, financial health and learning more about the company.

“The intern should also come in with their expectations of us,” she said. “What do they want to get out of this internship?”

Crystal Cox, a vice president at Wealthspire Advisors, said a good portion of her interns’ daily work involves adding value to client relationships.

“At Wealthspire we really view our internship program as our job to get college students excited to work at Wealthspire,” she said. “They’re not getting coffee; they’re not doing busy work all day long. We really view it as a talent pipeline, and we want our interns to want to work here after they graduate.”

“When you’re a student, you might not think you have this power,” said Kate Healy, a financial services industry executive and NextGen advocate. “But it’s your internship. At the end of the day, it’s your career. Yes, there are going to be expectations from the job, but you’re going into this.”

Healy said she encourages interns to try out different businesses, firms of varying sizes and with different business models.

“The financial planning career is vast. There are many different ways you can do it,” she said. “I always tell folks if you get into one and maybe it’s not exactly what you liked, that doesn’t mean the whole profession is not what you liked.”