The Virtual Externship Opportunity

As you read this, the Financial Planning Association is engaged in one of the most consequential initiatives in its history, and for some reason this important program is getting zero publicity.

I’m talking about the FPA Virtual Externship, which currently enrolls 1,950 college students and career changers, who signed up for a full summer of 20-hour weeks of video content plus weekly live office hours with subject matter experts. The students get full credit for those hours qualifying toward their CFP Board experience requirement. But most importantly, they get an enhanced version of the hands-on learning experience that was denied them when the COVID-19 pandemic forced everybody out of the office.

“We realized in the spring that the pandemic was going to cause a lot of students to lose their internships over the summer months,” says program coordinator and creator Hannah Moore, of Guiding Wealth in Dallas, TX. Moore is responsible for the ongoing FPA podcast, “You’re a Financial Planner. Now What?” and over the past few years has been largely or personally responsible for virtually every successful new program that the FPA home office has initiated. “We started thinking, could we actually pull off an internship experience?” she says.

The obvious answer was “no.” You can’t have in-person, in-office experiences when planning offices are empty and every staff advisor is working from his or her kitchen table. But if the planning professionals are working virtually, shouldn’t there be a way to create virtual internships as well?

“I started digging into and examining, what are internships?” says Moore. “What is the value that students get out of them? I talked with students and advisors, and the number one thing students told me was: I want to know what direction to take my career. That’s why I do an internship.”

Would it be possible to do something more than give students a chance to sit in on client meetings and shred or scan documents for several months? “We found an innovative way to foster career readiness for students,” says Moore.