Transformation through inclusive approaches to internships

The Independent Financial Advisor (IFA) internship seeks to build a pipeline of young black talent into the IFA space.


The Independent Financial Advisor (IFA) Internship, which has been running since 2016, is one of a two-pronged transformation initiative funded by various ASISA member companies(1) through the ASISA Enterprise and Supplier Development (ESD) initiative. While one programme focuses on supporting and developing existing black-owned IFA practices in a 12-month programme, the year-long IFA internship seeks to build a pipeline of young black talent into the IFA space.

The ASISA Academy has delivered the IFA Internship since its inception in 2016, and since then 252 black graduates from various universities around the country have come through the programme. This includes the 31 interns entering the final three months of their internship which will conclude in February 2024.

Many university graduates emerge from their tertiary education experience poorly prepared for the professional world of work. Add to this the complexity that most black youth face in our country – poverty, hardship, unemployed or underemployed parents and siblings, many of whom have not seen the inside of a university lecture hall, let alone a corporate boardroom. You’ve barely survived life as a student, now you are expected to take on the working world and be the consummate professional, and you may well have to shoulder the responsibility of taking care of your family members financially. An added burden is that of student debt you may have accumulated because – go figure. Can we even begin to fathom this scenario?

Through the generous sponsorship of ASISA members, ASISA Academy provides graduates applying for a spot on the IFA internship with a head start, firstly by providing them with guidance on what to expect during job interviews and how to show up for them. To those selected for the programme, a two-week work readiness course is delivered, which helps them bridge the gap between student life and working in a professional work environment.

Topics not only ensure that they understand how the financial services industry hangs together and what the business of an independent financial advisory practice is all about but also include a variety of the world of work skills, often referred to as soft skills. These include topics like office etiquette, dress code, grooming, effective communication, conflict management, teamwork, mental health and wellbeing, resilience and dealing with failure, managing personal finances and so forth.

The feedback we receive from interns after the work readiness course is always highly affirming of how the content helped to prepare them for the world of work. They emerge from those two weeks of training well-equipped with the knowledge and skills to start their journey towards becoming professionals.

The Academy also allocates a dedicated mentor to each intern, who has years of life experience and a sincere interest in seeing young people thrive in their first year of work.

While challenges form part of the experience, it is encouraging that the successes far outweigh any of the challenges we have encountered while running this internship. Each year, the Academy sees more than 90% of interns completing the programme and between 80% and 85% of interns being retained by their host practices. The remaining interns are fortunate in that they are quickly snapped up by the broader industry.

While the overall success lies within the dynamic partnership between programme sponsors, the ASISA Academy and the IFA host practices who provide interns with 12 months of full-time, on-the-job work experience, a great deal of credit must go to the host practices who keep making it work year after year. We are most delighted to see certain practices growing their teams by absorbing their interns and continuing to participate in the programme by taking a new intern each year.

IFA internship groups
The ASISA Intern Programme

Here are a few additional reasons why we believe certain host employers make a success of the internship year after year:

  • Commitment to diversity and inclusion.
  • Bringing their teams on board and ensuring open channels of communication.
  • Having the right people conducting the interviews and selections.
  • Selecting the graduate who is the best fit for their business.
  • Excellent onboarding processes that are well-implemented.
  • Treating the interns respectfully and like adults.
  • Providing clear reporting lines.
  • Creating a welcoming environment for the intern and working systematically with the set of learning outcomes provided.
  • Having cultural intelligence (CQ) – an awareness of the cultural differences that exist between people working in the business and celebrating this rather than shying away from it.
  • Exposing interns to learning opportunities such as product training.Making time. Time to work and time to play. Time to train, give feedback, chat and learn about their intern.
  • Involving their intern in as much as they can.
  • Giving their intern a clear set of responsibilities and holding them accountable.
  • Genuinely caring. 
Alicia Davids, CEO, ASISA Academy
Alicia Davids, CEO, ASISA Academy

1Founding Sponsors: Allan Gray, Coronation, M&G Investments and Ninety One

Other Sponsors: Camissa Asset Management, Colourfield, Marriott, Old Mutual, Perpetua Investment Managers and Swiss Re