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Washington State University
Dividend - Fall 2020 Making An Impact

New Partnership with Brighton Jones Aims for National Leadership in Financial Well-Being

Story and photo by Sue McMurray
Jon Jones, cofounder and CEO Brighton Jones
Photo courtesy of Brighton Jones

When the Carson College of Business began redesigning The Next Carson Coug undergraduate program, one strategy for growth was to increase industry engagement. While industry guidance has always played a role in preparing graduates for success, the college’s new partnership with Brighton Jones aims to transform financial education on a national scale.

The college approached this milestone with an investment in the Dean’s Catalyst Fund by Jon Jones (’93 Acct., Fin., Honors), cofounder and CEO of Brighton Jones, Washington state’s largest wealth management firm. In turn, Dean Chip Hunter drew on the fund, with the backing of Jones and others, to revamp the finance program to include a new track focusing on financial well-being. The fund supported the hiring of finance instructor Christiane Williamson, who is teaching two new courses, Introduction to Financial Planning and Well-Being and Financial Plan Development.

The consecutive courses emphasize financial planning, individual taxes, estate planning, and strong interpersonal communication skills. They are part of a new college strategy offering the financial well-being track and two other tracks to increase all WSU students’ financial literacy, prepare finance majors for rewarding careers, and position WSU as the top choice for a financial education.

Carson faculty and Brighton Jones are codesigning the financial well-being track to prepare students seeking careers in financial services. The track focuses on a distinctive understanding of financial well-being and skills needed to help clients with life events beyond the balance sheet.

MESI Skills as a Foundation for Success

“Our mission at Brighton Jones is to help our clients, colleagues, and global community members live richer lives. While living a richer life means different things to different people, we think most people would agree it ultimately means being happy,” Jones contends. He believes happiness is a skill that can be honed through compassion and mindfulness practices.

Jones developed the Mindfulness-based Emotional and Social Intelligence (MESI) training program to allow Brighton Jones employees to focus on self-awareness, intentional management of emotions, recognition of others’ emotions, and compassion. His advisors are now better listeners, more attuned to their clients’ emotions around money, and aware of how finances relate to broader well-being, Jones says.

“Carson students in the financial well-being track are preparing to work in a world in which firms and their clients increasingly value these same kinds of skills,” says Hunter.

Using these same principles and methods, Jones and his wife, Gretchen (’94 Pharm, Honors), teamed with WSU’s Honors College to create the Mindfulness-based Emotional and Social Intelligence (MESI) Certificate in 2018. The program is led in part by Cory Custer, Brighton Jones director of compassion. The idea is that any person, at any age, in any stage of their education or career, can benefit from more MESI.

A Progressive Path to Master Skills and Practice Relationship Building

As the Carson College’s financial well-being track evolves, Jones suggests a progressive path in which students master traditional financial planning coursework and then practice relationship-building skills.

“Being able to have meaningful, compassionate conversations with clients is invaluable—people won’t trust you on the numbers if they don’t trust that you have their larger goals, interests, and passions in mind at all times,” Jones says.

Jones and his WSU alumni colleagues, including Kaycee LeCong (’07), Kaitlyn Gate (’19), and Brett Carolan (’93), support the college and WSU through guest lectures and panel discussions, in addition to offering internships at Brighton Jones and recruiting Carson graduates.

A Strong Cougar Community

Following their parents’ footsteps, two of the couple’s children are attending WSU. Both are studying business in the Carson College. Gretchen and Jon say their positive WSU experiences and strong Coug spirit are not the only reasons they give back. “It’s also about the desire to effect meaningful change through our giving, and the ability to do so through WSU, a land-grant university that provides equitable opportunity to all students,” says Gretchen.

“Our partnership with the Carson College is the first step to enhance training for future finance professionals, and we aim to help other schools across the nation do the same,” Jon says. “But our goal is for WSU to be number one in the country for financial well-being education.”

“I want every graduate who goes on to a career in financial services to view a client’s wealth not just as a number to grow and protect,” he says, “but as an opportunity to help clients align their wealth with what they care about most in life, ultimately helping them find their richer life.”