How one local firm fills the age, gender gap in finance

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Managing director John Tripoli and the former interns strive to meet clients' financial needs and help them achieve personal goals. Photo by Northwestern Mutual.

The finance industry isn’t quite balancing the numbers. The average age of a financial adviser in the U.S. last year was 51, according to Forbes.

With the majority of financial leaders historically being older males, the industry is excluding the next generation of talent. As the older generation retires, who will take on those financial roles? 

Northwestern Mutual, one of the top five U.S. independent broker-dealers, offers a unique internship program to start filling the gap. 

“You have an incredible demand for financial advisers today, and very few financial firms are doing the hard work of growing and developing new advisers in this space,” says John Tripoli, managing director of the Greenville, Spartanburg, and Asheville offices.

Nationally for Northwestern Mutual, the average age of a financial adviser is 42, Tripoli says. The Greenville firm’s average is even lower — high 30s. “We are committed and continue to be excited about the opportunity to introduce young professionals to this industry, because the need is there and we do it well,” he says.

The internship program at Northwestern Mutual consistently ranks at the top of the list for U.S. internships, as highlighted in Insurance magazine. Those rankings don’t happen by accident. In the past six years, 18 interns have made the transition to full-time associates at Northwestern Mutual.

“We’re being very intentional about identifying talent that can represent the markets we want to serve,” Tripoli says. “All people have a need for financial literacy and an opportunity to make great decisions.”

The interns

Kelsey Lambdin, a former Wofford College athlete graduating as a psychology major last May, brings a unique approach to finance. 

“My family and I didn’t grow up with money,” she says. Applying for the Northwestern Mutual internship program to learn more about finance for herself, Lambdin also gained the opportunity to impact others. She now works full-time as a financial representative at the Greenville firm.

“I’m really grateful for the opportunity, because now I know I’m not going to put myself in that position that my family’s been in,” she says. “Hopefully, I can help turn that around for other people who are maybe like me.”

Tripoli says the educational system lacks in teaching students financial planning. “So any intern that’s with us is given the gift to learn those,” he says. “Whether they have an opportunity to pursue this as a full-time position, they’re going to walk away with an incredible knowledge base of personal finance that will serve them for the rest of their lives.”

In addition to financial knowledge, Northwestern Mutual interns learn relationship-building, personal engagement, and presentation skills. 

Financial adviser Zach Banks started as an intern in 2008 and has been with the firm for almost 11 years now. “We get an opportunity to build our client base and network with people that we never would’ve come in contact with had we not done the internship program,” Banks says.

Upon hearing the words ‘financial adviser,’ many imagine someone sitting behind a desk typing away on a computer researching mutual funds and watching stocks rise and fall. However, Northwestern Mutual is diminishing that common misconception in the minds of college students. 

Alex Dahlstrom, now a financial representative, was one of those students. Earning his master’s in economics at Clemson University, he initially thought the internship would consist of mostly quantitative work, writing algorithms. 

“I really had no idea what the financial services industry was all about,” Dahlstrom says. “You spend most of your time trying to get in front of people and trying to make an impact in their lives.”

Financial representative Jordan Burns realized through the program how many opportunities exist in finance. “I saw that my impact could expand in generational ways,” Burns says. Being at the center of clients’ lives, Burns can help people make wise decisions to achieve financial security and meet personal goals.

“This is absolutely a relational business, so you’re in front of people and you’re engaging individuals and families the majority of the day,” Tripoli says. 

The numbers

  • The Greenville office of Northwestern Mutual receives over 300 resumes each year for the internship program.
  • In the past six years, 104 students have participated in the program.
  • One in three eligible interns converts to a full-time financial representative.
  • Since 1967, 59,000 students have participated in the internship.
  • The Greenville firm recruits from eight local colleges.
  • About 57 percent of field management started as interns.
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