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Symposium Spotlight: Q&A with Dr. Barry Mulholland, the founder of Diversitas

We had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Barry Mulholland , PhD, CFP®, ChFC®, the founder of Diversitas. Our discussion centered on strategies and initiatives that financial firms can employ to actively engage with college students.

At this year’s Symposium, Diversitas was honored to award Dr. Mulholland the inaugural Financial Beacon Award. This award will be presented annually by Diversitas, celebrating an educator in financial planning or a related field who has shown vision, passion, and impact in the financial planning industry, both in terms of students and the profession. Congratulations, Dr. Mulholland, and thank you for everything you do for this field. To learn more about Dr. Mulholland, connect with him on LinkedIn.


There is an obvious talent and diversity shortage in our industry, and firms everywhere are clamoring to find the top talent. What are the best ways for firms to get in front of college students and attract diverse talent?

There are multiple avenues for firms to engage with college students, but the approach should align with the firm’s specific goals. Merely posting a job listing may not capture the attention of college students. Based on my observations, college students are keen on interacting directly with potential employers. Therefore, I advise firms to proactively engage with students. For those specifically targeting Certified Financial Planner™ (CFP®) students, my suggestion is to explore the CFP® Board website and the Diversitas Career page. These platforms offer a comprehensive list of registered programs in both local and regional areas of interest. This not only facilitates direct connections but also provides insights into available positions and programs for current students.

Additionally, it’s essential to explore available networking opportunities. Investigate events hosted by career centers, such as career or internship fairs, and explore avenues for participation. You can often find more information about these and other events by searching for “career services” on the website of your target university. Use the provided contact tools, like email addresses or links to contact forms, to connect with their team and to be added to their contact lists. Engaging directly with professors to discuss potential guest speaking opportunities can also foster connections with students.

To specifically attract diverse candidates, begin by enhancing your company’s website. Clearly articulate your commitment to diversity in job descriptions and showcase your company’s genuine inclusivity, highlighting a diverse workforce comprising individuals from various racial and gender backgrounds. Targeting universities recognized as Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic-serving institutions, and Minority Serving Institutions Programs can also broaden your reach to diverse talent pools.

I firmly believe that the financial planning industry thrives on building relationships—with clients, students, and employees alike. Forging connections with students requires firms to take the initiative, consistently demonstrating genuine interest and commitment to fostering meaningful relationships.

An internship program can be a great way to create a talent pipeline. How can firms get started? What resources do they need?

Establishing an internship program offers mutual benefits for both students and firms. It is a platform for firms to evaluate potential employees and determine compatibility with prospective interns. Moreover, it can be a strategic avenue for identifying individuals who may transition into full-time roles within the company.

For firms affiliated with custodians or broker-dealers, leveraging available resources is pivotal. Many such entities offer pre-established templates designed specifically for internship programs. These templates encompass career progression pathways, strategies for student engagement, training modules, and retention techniques. Utilizing these tailored resources ensures alignment with the industry and student profiles firms aim to engage.

Alternatively, forging partnerships with university career services can also be advantageous. Universities often provide internship program templates and furnish firms with relevant job descriptions. However, it’s essential to note a potential limitation: while universities offer valuable resources, their templates might not cater explicitly to the unique demands of every industry.

How can smaller firms (with smaller budgets) compete for talent against much larger firms?

For smaller firms, emphasizing a personalized approach is paramount. While budget constraints may pose challenges, leveraging existing resources from broker-dealers or custodians can provide invaluable internship information and tools to attract emerging talent. Beyond these resources, proactive engagement with students and participation in university programs are essential strategies for smaller firms.

In the financial planning sector, relationship-building stands as a cornerstone. Cultivating and nurturing connections—whether with program directors, university career services, or students—is vital for smaller firms aiming to compete with larger entities. By consistently investing time and effort into these relationships, smaller firms can create opportunities to attract and retain young talent, leveling the playing field with their larger counterparts.

It’s worth highlighting that even if smaller firms have infrequent hiring cycles, maintaining engagement with students and universities remains crucial. Continuously fostering these connections ensures ongoing participation in programs, opportunities to serve as guest speakers and potential collaborations—whether through support or financial contributions. Such sustained engagement not only strengthens relationships but also positions smaller firms favorably for acquiring new talent through these established connections.

Who within a college or university should financial firms engage with to foster meaningful relationships with students & How do these firms continue to foster these relationships?

To initiate engagement with students effectively, financial firms can start by exploring the partner university page on the Diversitas website. This resource provides a curated list of universities collaborating with Diversitas. By clicking on the respective university logos, firms can directly access the program’s website, facilitating a swift identification of institutions offering financial planning programs. Additionally, consulting the CFP® Board’s website and navigating to the ‘For Education Partners‘ tab under the education section can enable firms to connect with program directors across various universities.

Proactivity remains pivotal in fostering these relationships. Recognizing that career centers and program directors frequently receive inquiries, firms must demonstrate initiative and persistence. Merely establishing initial contact isn’t sufficient; firms should prioritize consistent follow-up efforts to distinguish themselves as committed partners. By taking ownership of the engagement process and actively nurturing these connections, firms can effectively position themselves to build and sustain meaningful relationships with universities and their students.

What other initiatives do you suggest firms engage in to get in front of college students/recent college graduates?

Offering scholarships presents a compelling avenue for firms to enhance visibility and engagement. Students and university programs consistently seek scholarship opportunities, making even modest annual contributions—such as $1,000—highly valued. Moreover, financial planning programs frequently facilitate student attendance at conferences, often requiring financial support for travel expenses. As a firm, sponsoring a travel scholarship can be an impactful way to support students while fostering connections, especially if the travel scholarship supports attendance at a conference you plan to attend. This allows you to act as a mentor to the student at the conference, thus enhancing their overall experience.

Engaging in conferences also offers significant benefits for both students and firms. Participating in such events enables firms to interact with the local and regional community actively. For firms, conferences serve as valuable platforms to discover new talent, expand networks, and potentially identify candidates for internship opportunities. By actively supporting scholarships and participating in conferences, firms can strategically position themselves to forge meaningful connections with emerging talent.

View the Symposium here to catch up on what you might have missed!

Barry Mulholland Headshot

Barry S. Mulholland, Ph.D., MBA, CFP®, ChFC®, is currently the Director, Financial Planning Program and Associate Professor of Practice in the Department of Finance, College of Business at The University of Akron. The program is registered with the CFP® Board of Standards. He oversees program development, and financial planning industry relationships, assists with student recruitment, and advises the industry-affiliated student organization. His teaching includes personal finance, corporate finance, financial planning fundamentals, and the financial planning capstone course. He has led efforts to make financial planning technology available to universities. His research includes the use of financial planning technology and life insurance consumer behavior.

Dr. Mulholland is the Founder of Diversitas: Expanding Diversity in Wealth Management, a symposium that brings industry professionals together with career influencers and high school and university students to discuss why and how the wealth management industry and financial planning profession can become more inclusive. He is a member of the recipient class of the LUMINARIES 2023 Award for Thought Leadership & Education, a finalist for the 2023 & 2022 RIA Intel Industry Advocate of the Year Award, and a 2022 finalist for the Investment News Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Diversity Champions Award.