and her church. She lives in coastal Delray Beach. The boy in the photo on her desk is her son, Max.
Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
When Christina Cleveland was hired straight out of college as a stockbroker by the Merrill Lynch office in Tallahassee, the managing director told her that she was either going to be exceptionally great at her job, or hiring her was going to be a “big mistake” on his part.
Thirty-three years later, Cleveland, now a certified financial planner, is still with the company and was named to the Forbes inaugural list of America’s Top Women Wealth Advisers for 2017. The honor was given to the top 200 from among 14,000 nominees.
“It’s kind of breathtaking and humbling,” said Cleveland, a coastal Delray Beach resident who is a senior vice president in wealth management investments for the Merrill Lynch office in Boca Raton.
As a wealth management adviser, Cleveland helps her clients develop customized financial strategies to achieve their personal goals, whether it be saving for retirement, living through retirement, transferring wealth to future generations or helping fund their philanthropic interests.
What Cleveland finds most rewarding about her work are the long-term relationships she has with her clients.
“When somebody comes in and we decide that we’re going to establish a working relationship, this relationship typically lasts their lifetime, and then possibly their children’s,” she said. “I enjoy knowing and caring about them deeply.”
Cleveland finds time to be involved in community organizations that “speak to my heart.” She lends financial support to her pet charities: Spanish River Church, SOS Children’s Village and the Delray Beach Achievement Centers for Children and Families. One Sunday a month, at Spanish River Church, she performs a 30-minute drama program for the 3- to 5-year-olds that pertains to the day’s lesson.
She is the CEO of the South Florida Women’s Exchange for Bank of America Merrill Lynch, which brings women of the company together, regardless of their positions, through networking, mentoring and community involvement.
In her spare time, Cleveland enjoys paddleboarding on the ocean with her husband, Chris, and 6-year-old son, Max. She also has a keen interest in butterfly gardening, which she learned about from her husband, a nature enthusiast.
She and her husband have filled their yard with host plants that attract specific butterflies, such as milkweed for monarchs, cassia for sulphur butterflies, and a lime prickly-ash plant for giant swallowtails.
“No matter what butterfly you want to have in your backyard, if you just plant their host plant, they will come,” said Cleveland. “It’s fun, and it works.”
While at Florida State University earning a bachelor of science degree in finance, Cleveland was a member of student government and was already honing her money-handling skills.
“We were in charge of a big budget with hundreds of thousands of dollars that we allocated among different student programs,” she said.
“Being hired by Merrill Lynch was truly a life-changing event. They took a chance on me when I was very young,” said Cleveland. “It’s the perfect job for me. It’s all about helping people accomplish each of their unique goals in life, whatever they might be, and I enjoy trying to make that happen.”
— Marie Puleo
Q. Where did you grow up? Where did you go to school?
A. My father was an engineer on Long Island and had an opportunity to take a job associated with the space program in Florida when I was 9. It was a chance for us to hopefully have healthier winters and to move closer to his parents, who had retired to Delray Beach.
We moved to Indialantic (near the Kennedy Space Center). As children, it was exciting to watch the rocket launches from our front yard.
My father said I could attend any college I wanted as long as it was in the state of Florida and he’d match me dollar for dollar on cost.
At Florida State University, I was involved in student government from the moment I stepped onto campus. I was elected to office in my first and second year, served as a student lobbyist at the Capitol in my third year, and in my senior year was the gubernatorial appointee to the board of regents. These activities at college would ultimately shape my life.
Q. What professions have you worked in and what accomplishments have you been most proud of?
A. I have a short list of professions. They consist of waitress and Merrill Lynch wealth management adviser. That’s what happens when you get hired into the perfect job for you right out of college.
Q. What advice do you have for a young person selecting a career today?
A. If you don’t know which direction you want to go in life, I would suggest taking a few aptitude tests. The aptitude tests give you careers to think about that match your special gifts. When an opportunity comes along for a job that was on your aptitude list, give it a chance!
Q. How did you choose to make your home in Delray Beach?
A. My grandparents lived in Delray Beach. It was 1992, and housing was still in a slump from the savings and loan crisis, and I started looking for a house. There was this cute little cottage in the Seagate neighborhood that was sitting in an estate waiting to be sold, and it had my name on it. So much has changed since then, in the town and in the neighborhood, but I still love my cottage and Delray Beach.
Q. What is your favorite part about living in Delray Beach?
A. I love the ocean and the beach. So often the water is crystal clear and a magical, tropical blue color. The Gulf Stream comes so close to our shore, it brings amazing breezes all year long.
Q. What book are you reading now?
A. I just finished Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, by J.D. Vance.
Q. What music do you listen to when you need inspiration? When you want to relax?
A. For relaxation and inspiration I like to listen to piano music. For a mood pickup, it’s songs like Happy, Better When I’m Dancing and Bruno Mars’ Uptown Funk.
Q. Do you have a favorite quote that inspires your decisions?
A. Do unto others as you would have done to you.
Q. Have you had mentors in your life?
A. My mentors have been my clients. I’ve had the privilege of having a front-row seat in successful people’s lives. There are gems of wisdom and lessons to be learned in each person that you really get to know. When you see an admirable trait or action, you have the chance to decide if that is something you would like to emulate or develop in yourself.
Q. If your life story were made into a movie, whom would you want to play you?
A. My knowledge on up-and-coming actresses is a little lacking right now since we have only watched animated shows and movies with our son for the past six years. I’m going with Disney’s Elena of Avalor. She is smart, persistent, kind and has a very good heart. She is not easily deterred even in the face of opposition.