FOR DIVERSITY Q.
For young talent considering careers in the world of financial planning and wealth management, gaining an internship is a good route to a full-time position.
Yet, navigating the do’s and don’ts of interview decorum and self-development can be intimidating in an industry that’s not as diverse as it should be. But thanks to the recent financial planning conference by the University of Akron, delegates gained some insider advice from those already in the industry.
Set up by its College of Business Administration based in Ohio, US, the 4th annual ‘Diversitas: Expanding Diversity in Wealth Management’ event featured diverse young professionals and firm leaders who shared their experiences and advice to help others thinking about a career in the sector.
Getting diverse talent into financial planning
During the event’s opening remarks, speakers agreed that financial planning needs a diversity and inclusion shake-up as firms compete over a shrinking talent pool.
From a customer perspective, financial guidance is something that everyone needs, which makes the development of a more diverse talent pool necessary not only for workplace equity but to serve the needs of a diverse customer base.
After welcoming delegates, Akron University President Dr Gary Miller spoke about the financial planning programmes at Akron’s partner universities which will “enrol a student body that is more diverse than the profession itself.”
He said these programmes will create a more diverse talent pipeline of young professionals, which pledge “fair and equitable opportunities to anyone willing to learn the profession.”
Education aside, how can diverse candidates enter these sectors as professionals? This was the question the event sought to answer via advice from financial planning and wealth management employees and leaders about how talent can gain internships and pursue self-development once they get a position.
Diversity of roles
The first session featured young professionals who wanted to share their advice about how they entered the sector. Mathias Schulenburg, a Data Reporting Analyst at M Financial Group, was asked about the diversity of roles and said the sector can be “more creative than one would expect.”
He outlined the variety of roles on offer, from marketing and legal roles to analyst positions. Countering ideas that people are pigeonholed in the sector, he added that “career pivots are not uncommon” and referenced his experience moving from an initial advisory role to a data engineering position.
The speakers agreed that the financial planning and wealth management worlds offer room for diversity of personality, including those that are more introverted than others. On this topic, they gave networking tips for those early on in their careers.
The art of effective networking
Aside from developing her speaking and social skills, Autumn Azar, Relationship Associate at Dakota Wealth Management, said networking helped her gain advice from others. This, in turn, improved her career development, such as learning the do’s and don’ts during an interview and having her CV assessed.
She also said that networking was a confidence booster that got her out of her “comfort zone” and helped her forge friendships in the sector.
Trenton K. Johnson, HNW & UHNW Personal Risk Insurance Advisor AT NFP, said he wished he’d known the importance of following up on connections made in networking sooner, as this is how you build a network in your community.
He said that because he can be both an extrovert and an introvert at times, the confidence he displays in networking when he introduces himself to people isn’t always followed up after the event.
From his learnings, Johnson advises adding people on LinkedIn immediately after meeting them to ensure that you remember the contact and they remember you.
Seeking meaningful internships
When looking for internships to aid career development, candidates should prioritise looking for a compatible company culture where they are more likely to feel included.
The speakers agreed that looking at talent pipeline programmes offered by these firms is important, as interns should be able to see if there is a career path available after the internship ends. They added that asking the interviewer “thoughtful questions” backed up by research into the company can make a candidate stand out as interested and engaged.
Azar said looking for “green flags” in companies is useful to assess for culture fit. She said candidates could do this by researching a firm’s inclusivity, such as how many women are in decision-making roles. Another example of a green flag moment she gives is hiring managers who take the time to read your CV before the interview, which helps you feel “seen” and suggests that a firm cares about retention.
This talk concluded that to recruit more diverse interns and potential future employees, financial services firms must prioritise an inclusive culture and make it clear on all their channels. This includes “how you present yourself as a business” and how you treat job-seekers and current staff.
The power of candidate authenticity
The day continued with advice about securing an internship; the next session started with comments from Crystal Cox, Vice President at Wealthspire Advisors, who explained what she looks for in interns.
She said looking for candidates in Certified Financial Planner (CFP) programmes at their colleges or universities is crucial. Yet, they are broadening their perspective to include finance and financial management in addition to other majors.
Lindsey McKay of McKay Wealth Management said as they are a small and independent financial firm, they are more open to candidates with different academic backgrounds.
During interviews, she looks for drive and an interest in learning and said the interns she gets excited about don’t answer questions based on what they think she wants to hear. For her, these are candidates that are genuine about their goals, including “who they are and what they’re looking to get out of it.”
Cox said that interns should make a connection between themselves and the company they want to intern for. This includes evidencing a culture fit for their personality and aligning experiences outside of the classroom to company culture in applications, which also shows authenticity.
During interviews, the speakers agreed that they value interesting questions from the candidate over “smart answers.” Asking questions not only shows a candidate has done their research about a firm, but it evidences that they are genuine in their search for an internship that aligns with them.