Modern urban skyscrapers in downtown Chicago from below to the blue summer sky. Sun reflecting in the glass facades of the urban futuristic buildings. Chicago, Illinois, USA

Summer internships are a rite of passage for anyone pursuing an undergraduate degree in finance or commerce. But many students covet positions with investment banks, private equity shops and accounting firms — not with financial advisory practices.

Rob Pollard wants to change that.

Pollard, senior portfolio manager, private client group with The Wyndham Group at Raymond James Ltd. in Toronto, has hired summer students for the past 20 years, and believes he’s found a method that benefits both his practice and the students.

“The key is having individuals who can stay focused on one thing,” said Daniel Brodlieb, senior portfolio manager with The Wyndham Group and Pollard’s business partner.

Both financial advisors emphasized the importance of having the students work on specific projects, versus supplementing work that existing team members are already doing.

“[Find] something you need done, but you just don’t have time for,” Pollard said, adding that he chose initiatives that don’t require access to client information to preserve confidentiality.

In Wyndham’s case, the projects were building a database of cross-border lawyers and accountants, and performing factor analysis to determine how to bring a model portfolio down to 25 U.S. equities from 35.

While Wyndham didn’t post the summer roles, people in Pollard’s network recommended he hire Ben Barringer, a third-year Queen’s University political science student who’d never worked in finance (or an office) before, and Edouard Larouche, a second-year finance student at University of Toronto who worked at a trading desk in Switzerland last summer.

After interviewing them, Pollard suspected Barringer’s people skills would complement Larouche’s technical experience.

“Retail is talking to clients; there’s a sales component to it that matters,” Pollard said. “But at the same time, you need to have the data and the understanding behind it. Well, let’s bring together these two guys who have very different skills and and hopefully they’re going to learn from each other.”

That hope was realized.

“It’s all about the pairing between Ed and me,” Barringer said. “If Ed can explain something to me and I can understand it, a client can probably understand it as well.”

In addition to working on the database and portfolio construction projects, the pair have sat in on client calls and other meetings.

“We’ve been given real responsibility,” Barringer said. “Typically as an intern, it’s ‘How would you like your coffee, sir?'”

Larouche agreed. “Sometimes it hits me: ‘Wow, this is quite a bit of responsibility; we’d better perform.'”

Getting on the same page

Having seen his son complete a summer internship largely over Zoom during the pandemic, Pollard wanted to allow his summer analysts to reap the benefits of an in-person experience.

To set the tone for the Wyndham internships, he wrote a one-page document outlining expectations such as the 8 a.m. start time, work output and attitude.

He also connected those expectations to their career development. “We’re hoping that, years from now, when you look back on your work experiences, you both will view your time at Raymond James as pivotal in your life,” the document begins. “We believe in order for this to occur, the following needs to happen.”

The document then lists four principles (e.g., “You need to grow in your knowledge”; “You need to exercise your social responsibility”), related advice (“Working for a firm is either adversarial or supportive. My advice is to always pick the latter”) and goals for each category (“build a cross-border database”; “participate in social events”).

Pollard titled the one-pager “Ben and Ed’s excellent adventure” and emailed it to Barringer and Larouche a few weeks prior to their May 1 start date. (Neither of them understood the movie reference, they said.)

Barringer found the document helpful, not intimidating: “We had a good outline on what the objectives were going forward. Coming from school, you’re used to seeing rubrics [that list requirements for success] for everything. It was nice.”

Larouche said the outline was a refreshing change from his experience in Switzerland last summer.

“The first couple of weeks last year, I was completely lost. It was not that clear what I was expected to do; it was very slow,” he said. “This [document] really helped me, even before my first day, to get ready for what was going to happen.”

Planting seeds with the next generation

Larouche said his hands-on experience will inform the rest of his degree. For example, with the model portfolio project, “the main issue we’re facing is that a lot of these new names would trigger a lot of realized [capital] gains and losses. So we have to try to keep a lot of the names on and minimize those tax gains,” he said.

“In terms of going back to portfolio management class … the professor might just talk about the performance and different ratios,” he added. “I’ll think about more implications like taxes and such.”

Barringer also has appreciated the intensive education he’s received thus far.

“There were definitely a couple of moments being out of your depth, but that’s where you learn best, right?” he said. “I’ve learned a lot more in the past 12 weeks than throughout my degrees and schooling.”

At a recent team meeting at Wyndham’s Scotia Plaza offices, Barringer and Larouche were given the floor to brief their colleagues about a securities analysis presentation they attended with an asset manager — while also getting a healthy dose of ribbing from their coworkers.

And it’s not all work and no play, especially because Pollard and Brodlieb expect the students to socialize and build their networks. Later that day, Brodlieb gave Barringer and Larouche a performance review and took them out for drinks with other Raymond James summer students. The following day, the pair joined a teamwide outing to the Toronto Islands to play frisbee golf.

With a month left to go in the internships, Pollard said the 2023 cohort is “the best we’ve done.” He hopes to replicate this success going forward, and the program is in the budget for the 2024 season. (Wyndham funds the summer students’ wages, not Raymond James.)

“I think it’s great for young [people] to see the wealth management business,” Brodlieb said, acknowledging that other areas of finance pay better up front and have more perceived prestige. “This business is where a lot of those guys end up wanting to go 10 years later. I wanted to be in banking; I kind of fell into this. And then I realized this is way better than banking — you’re building something, owning it.”