by Diane McMahon
Photography by Christian Lee
Tall, willow-slender and crowned with lioness hair, Elizabeth Sullivan Cutshall greeted me in the Hilton Head office of Wells Fargo Advisors. Elizabeth is with the Bezilla-Kinney Wealth Management Group. Her title is Senior Registered Client Associate and recently, she was named Assistant Vice President. We smiled at our quasi-matching business attire—flared black slacks and tailored black/white jackets. She started her college career in fashion merchandising. In fact, there was an illustrated book on fashion in her office. But that was before she moved to Hilton Head and destiny changed course.
Elizabeth arrived here in 1989. As a child, she and her family came from Massachusetts for vacations. Her mother died after a long illness, when Elizabeth was 21. Her father remarried and moved to Hilton Head with her younger brother. Her older brother followed and, eventually, the family magnet was strong enough to attract her to the Lowcountry.
She got a job as a receptionist with a company that leased office equipment and then took over their collections department. Her social life revolved around the beach, biking and working out at the gym her older brother opened after he arrived on the island. Elizabeth worked for the leasing company for five years. In 1994, a young financial advisor, named Gary Bezilla, sublet office space from the struggling leasing company. Gary offered Elizabeth a job as his administrative assistant.
She had no experience or credentials in the financial industry, but Gary intuited the work ethic and drive for success that would lead, over the next 21 years, to a solid business relationship and a life-long friendship. “If anything happened to my husband Bret or anyone in my family, Gary is one of the first people I’d call,” she said.
Elizabeth determined early in life—partially because of her mother’s protracted illness—that she wanted to be financially independent and able to take care of herself in every possible life situation: health, illness, retirement. Since high school, she’d always worked. She saw Gary’s job offer as a major opportunity. She credits Mary Boully as an “awesome” mentor who offered limitless support. She told Elizabeth everything she learned about money management would be valuable whether she chose financial services as an ultimate career or not.
Elizabeth already was skilled at administrative work and had excellent people skills. She was determined to learn her new business and credits Bezilla for teaching her. She learned the perils of credit card debt and paid off her balances. She witnessed the importance of a “savings” plan for financial growth and set up (and met) personal goals. She wanted more education and certification. With Gary’s encouragement and corporate sponsorship, she prepared for professional exams. She woke at 5 a.m. every day and studied for several hours before going to work. She first passed the Series 7 exam and then the Series 65 and Series 66 tests, which enabled her to achieve the securities agent and investment advisor registrations. She knew if she invested her personal time and energy in advancing her career, it would help her immensely. As a recently named Assistant Vice President, she was right.
We talked about women’s attitudes toward money. For many women, the world of finance, investment and wealth management is arcane and intimidating. It feels easier to let it be someone else’s responsibility—typically a husband's. Elizabeth has been surprised by the number of competent, intelligent women who don’t pay attention to their finances. She strongly encourages women to “get smart” about their personal finances.
“Pay attention!” she warned. Know your assets and liabilities, your monthly expenses and income. If you’re married, discuss your detailed financial picture with your spouse. Know what accounts you have, where they are and what’s in them. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions,” she continued. Elizabeth encourages her married friends to maintain some accounts of their own to have independent access to money in case of emergencies.
“Knowledge is power.” Educate yourself with basic information about the stock market, investment options and diversification. Know what a portfolio is and what diversification means. Understand the benefits of strategic financial planning and wealth management. Elizabeth advocated these as first steps for becoming financially intelligent and empowered.
Elizabeth concluded, “Being “smart” about personal finances requires the decision to be informed. It’s not scary to read Money Magazine or The Wall Street Journal or anything that increases your financial intelligence. It just takes a little time and determination and it’s really worth it!” Elizabeth spoke with the authority of over two decades of personal and professional experience.
I left Elizabeth’s office and thought of a quote by Andrew Horton: “Create a set of great personal values; surround yourself with right-minded people; have an optimistic spirit; and develop a strong purpose you believe in and everything you can imagine is possible for you.” I realized Elizabeth is a woman who embodies all that.
Major asset: Husband Bret, whom she met at “Business After Hours” 19 years ago.
Second major asset: natural youthfulness that hasn’t changed in two decades
True measure of wealth: Bret and Elizabeth (and their two dogs) love boating and fishing. “We could afford a bigger boat, but why? We’re completely happy with what we have.”
Elizabeth Cutshall is employed with the Bezilla-Kinney Wealth Management Group of Wells Fargo Advisors, 400 Merchant Street, Hilton Head Island, SC 29926. Wells Fargo Advisors, LLC/Member SIPC is a registered broker-dealer and a separate non-bank affiliate of Wells Fargo & Company. Diane McMahon is not affiliated with Wells Fargo Advisors or its affiliates. CAR-0715-02013