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Financial advisory firms offer 'returnship' programs

Key Points
  • Internships for professionals who've taken a break from the labor force are becoming more popular at financial advisory firms.
  • So-called returnships provide a particularly good way to bring in women, who are largely underrepresented in the financial sector, experts say.
  • Nearly a quarter of educated mothers age 25 to 54 are not in the labor force, and research shows most of them are interested in returning.
Karen Simons
Source: Karen Simons

Karen Simons was out of the professional world for more than 20 years to raise her three children. Now she's a financial planner at the investment advisory firm Yeske Buie.

She made that change happen through a "returnship," the grown-up version of a college internship that companies are increasingly offering to professionals who've taken a break from the labor force.

"I never thought I would have an opportunity to explore an entirely new career," said Simons, 60.

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Goldman Sachs offered one of the first returnship programs, in 2008. More recently, Apple, Ford and Johnson & Johnson have launched programs, and Procter & Gamble has just announced they will be offering returnships.

In the last year or so, the reentry positions, which are paid and typically last between six weeks to six months, are growing among financial advisory firms. Northwestern Mutual, TD Ameritrade and Vanguard now offer them.

Firms must get creative in recruiting employees amid record low unemployment, and returnships provide a particularly good way to bring in women, who are largely underrepresented in the financial sector, experts say.

"In the financial advisory world, in particular, it is an asset to have life experience," said Carol Fishman Cohen, CEO and co-founder of iRelaunch, which works both with professionals seeking to return to work and with employers interested in hiring them.

Nearly a quarter of educated mothers age 25 to 54 are not in the labor force, Cohen said. And research has found that most (93%) highly qualified women who are "off-ramped" from their careers want to return to them.

In 2017 the Certified Financial Planning Board partnered with iRelaunch to bring returnships to advisory firms. There are currently 11 companies involved in the initiative, including Fidelity and Edelman Financial.

In the financial advisory world in particular, it is an asset to have life experience.
Carol Fishman Cohen
chief executive and co-founder of iRelaunch

"Our goal is to encourage firms to widely adopt reentry internships as a vehicle to attract and onboard professional women into the profession," said Marilyn Mohrman-Gillis, the executive director of the Certified Financial Planing Board Center for Financial Planning.

It's not just mothers who are applying to returnships; veterans and retirees "unretiring" are also popular candidates, Cohen said. Wall Street and the financial services sector go on to hire more than half of returnship participants, Cohen said. Employment of financial advisors is projected to grow 15% by 2026, compared with 7% for all occupations.

Advisory firm Moisand Fitzgerald Tamayo is currently hiring for its first returnship role.

A Fidelity Investments branch.
Nicholas Pfosi | The Boston Globe | Getty Images

The position will last six weeks, although "ideally, this person will fill a need in our Melbourne office for a mature advisor down the road," said Sara Nash, office manager at the advisory firm.

The job is open to candidates who've had a break from the workforce for two or more years. Applicants don't need to be a certified financial planner, Nash said, "but must be willing to work toward that after hiring."

Although Fidelity's returnship program is open to women and men, it's more the former the firm had in mind when it created the initiative, said Rachel Book, director of diversity recruiting partnerships at Fidelity.

"We know that more women tend to take career breaks for personal reasons and find it difficult to reenter the workforce," Book said.

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