FPA Virtual Externship offers a different path into planning

April 12, 2021

A virtual FPA program that last year advanced hundreds of aspiring planners toward the profession — many from groups underrepresented in the industry — could reach that many, or more, in the second year of the pandemic.

The eight-week training led by financial advisor Hannah Moore and more than 60 presenters from across planning enables students to earn up to 180 credit hours towards their CFP and college internship programs in 2021. The organization opened registration for the FPA Virtual Externship on April 12, and the course runs through the end of July.

With partners in eMoney, Morningstar Advisor Workstation and Kaplan, the program could prove “profession-changing” given the instruction and connections it affords young and mid-career students who find themselves without access to internships due to the coronavirus or because of a lack of opportunity in general, Moore says. At about 20 hours per week, the course costs $249 and includes an FPA “aspiring financial planner” membership (or $199 for members). The externship is different from an internship, which places students at just one firm, Moore says.

“We're taking them into a lot of different companies and giving them this learning experience that we believe is foundational to their career,” Moore says.

Last year, 1,950 people registered for the program, with 922 of them becoming FPA members and 617 participants completing it. The program drew everyone from a high schooler to college students whose schools don’t have CFP-registered programs to stay-at-home parents and even a few advisors who didn’t need the hours but wanted to take part, according to Moore.

More than 65% of the students were between 19 and 29 years old, but there were participants of all ages. The program also came much closer to reflecting the U.S. population than is typical in an industry with severe underrepresentation of Black and Latino planners and other minorities: 59% of participants were white, 15% were Asian-American, 11% were Hispanic and 9% were Black. They learned how to bring planning to underserved communities, Moore says.

“They were not only told it was possible, they were shown multiple business models that could make it happen,” she says.

La Tanya Harris, a Voya Financial retirement specialist and 2020 externship graduate, notes that she represents two underserved groups as an African-American woman. After 18 years leading a team advising city employees’ 457(b) plans in Los Angeles and earlier marketing roles at Transamerica, Harris says she intends to take the CFP exam next year. She’s considering starting her own practice, pursuing coaching or other options after the FPA course “confirmed for me that this is my ‘why’,” Harris says.

“My mind started percolating — I saw so many ways that you could help people,” she says. “When you see other people like yourself that have done it, it makes all the difference.”

Harris went through the program while working full time — a combination that can be challenging for some prospective financial professionals, according to Troy Prince, founder of Wall Street Bound. The nonprofit trains underrepresented young people for financial careers, and it recently completed an introductory “boot camp” sponsored by Morgan Stanley and CME Group. Wall Street Bound will serve more than 200 high school and college students this year.

“Given that the FPA externship program is branded, indicating industry buy-in, virtual, held over the summer, and affordable,” Prince said in an email, “I suspect that with the right partners and marketing effort, it could certainly be a valuable education tool for engaging underrepresented students and others to explore careers in financial planning.”

Purdue University’s planning program sent 16 students to learn the profession through the externship last year and aims to send a similar number this year, according to David Evans, the director of the school’s program. The externship enables Evans to steer students away from internships that revolve around product sales rather than planning.

“I had been preaching that type of message until the externship came along, and then I was able to put some kind of teeth to it,” he says, describing the program as “so desperately needed last year with all of the internships being taken away.”

The ability to provide the path into planning careers at scale could help the calling reach more people who might otherwise not have found it, according to Moore. The organizers are taking a tiered approach recognizing that some students will learn at different speeds while enabling them to finish their coursework on their own schedules, she says.

“If somebody has no experience, we hold their hand through the entire program,” she says. “Anybody can take it, and anybody can get access to it.”