Meet Our Expert Advisors

Where you see obligation, we see opportunity. In fact, our team brings together more than a century of combined professional experience in developing fringe benefit plans and providing retirement plan guidance to benefit your organization and your employees.

Tom Santa Barbara

Tom Santa Barbara

President

Tom Santa Barbara is the President and owner of DirectAdvisors. Tom started his career over 40 years ago in the insurance and employee benefit business that took him from Boston to California and finally back home to the Albany, New York area.

In 1999, Tom purchased a Third Party Administration business that provided bona fide benefit plans to merit-shop construction companies subject to prevailing wage regulations.  Tom turned that business into DirectAdvisors, a national company with a tradition of compliance, trust, and great customer service.  

Tom is an Accredited Investment Fiduciary (AIF®) and Certified Plan Fiduciary Advisor (CPFA). He is active Board member of the Empire State Chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), currently serving as Board Secretary.

Tom is a graduate of Penn State University, and is an avid Nittany Lions fan and former radio football commentator for Union College in Upstate New York.

Tom enjoys traveling with his wife, Dona and is the proud father of two sons and two grandchildren.

Tom can be contacted at: [email protected]

Jeff Bennett

Jeff Bennett

Co-Founder

Jeff founded the company with a vision of bringing together Compliance and Integrity to provide maximum value for clients. He learned the value of doing things the right way, for the right reasons, early on.

After graduating from Binghamton University with a degree in Accounting, he began his career on Wall Street where he built his skills with the best, but found the culture to be, well, corrupt.

From there, he went to work for a third-party benefit plan administrator with a niche in prevailing wage in Albany, NY. He spent three years assisting merit-shop construction companies on everything from plan design to daily recordkeeping. But he found the culture to be, well, greedy.

That’s when Jeff took matters into his own hands.

He earned his MBA and was hired as Director of Human Resources by one of his larger construction clients. While there, he supervised the payroll, benefits and legal compliance for 400+ electrical workers—and gained first-hand experience with prevailing wage rules and government regulators.

Then, in 2000, Jeff joined his long-time business associate, Tom Santa Barbara, to start DirectAdvisors—raising the bar on service quality and accountability the way he’d always imagined it.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Jeff is an Accredited Investment Fiduciary (AIF®) and Certified Plan Fiduciary Advisor (CPFA). He is also an active board member of the Albany chapter of Entrepreneurs Organization.

Jeff can be contacted at: [email protected] 

Catherine “Kitty” Kilmer

Catherine “Kitty” Kilmer

Chief Operating Officer

After working under Jeff Bennett at a large electrical contractor for many years, Kitty joined DirectAdvisors in 2002. She started as a plan administrator trainee, later working her way up to Chief Operating Officer. Today she’s responsible for “making the trains run on time” and otherwise keeping things humming on behalf of our clients.

Kitty has worked tirelessly to become an expert in every aspect of retirement plan compliance, recordkeeping and administration. She is also an expert at bona fide health & welfare plan compliance and administration for construction companies subject to prevailing wage regulations.

Kitty holds the prestigious designation of Certified Pension Consultant (CPC).

Kitty has many gifts, including:

  • An unrivaled thirst for learning
  • A memory that can be best described as scary
  • An attention to detail that would make a NASA engineer jealous

Kitty can be contacted at: [email protected]

Travis Santa Barbara

Travis Santa Barbara

Chief Administrative Officer

Travis joined DirectAdvisors in 2015. In short order, he has become a skilled player in the trust operations department and has developed an effective approach for working with the employees of construction company clients. As Chief Administrative Officer, Travis is responsible for client services, operations and marketing.

Travis is a graduate of Siena College in Loudonville, NY and earned his MBA from Sage Graduate School in Albany, NY. Travis uses his educational experience to create strategic marketing initiatives to identify new opportunities.

A few things to know about Travis:

  • During his graduate education, Travis focused on competitive bidding strategies for contractors working on Davis-Bacon and Service Contract Act jobs.
  • Enjoys spending time with his wife, Brittany and his children, Brayden and Camryn.

Travis can be contacted at: [email protected]

 

Carla Schlist

Carla Schlist

Chief Marketing Officer

Carla came to Direct Advisors in 2021 and handles all aspects of marketing and communications, functioning as an operational wizard behind the scenes. She brings a breadth of experience that spans over 23 years from working in public, private, and nonprofit sectors ranging in size from sole proprietorships to international brands.

After graduating from Siena College with a Bachelor of Science in Marketing and Management, she worked at a national music retail chain where she was an assistant to the Vice President of Marketing and witnessed up close how digital disruption was going to drastically affect the traditional course of consumerism. Since that pivotal experience, she has dedicated herself to being immersed in technological innovations to keep pace with the speed of business demands.

Carla holds both national and international designations in the field of marketing from the American Marketing Association and Digital Marketing Institute, respectively. She currently resides in Latham, her hometown, with her husband and two children as well as their beloved dog, Lucy, a Hungarian vizsla.

Fun facts:
• Lifelong dancer and retired Zumba® instructor
• Dedicated Girl Scout troop leader and PTA volunteer
• Jet-setting adventurer and travel enthusiast

Connor Walton

Connor Walton

Trust Analyst

Connor joined the DirectAdvisors team in 2021 as a Trust Analyst.  He helps ensure the smooth and efficient running of our Trust operations for our clients.

Before joining DirectAdvisors, Connor worked in the banking industry with Trustco Bank.  As a branch manager, he gained experience in providing excellent customer service with a focus on attention to detail.  This skillset has proven to be invaluable when assisting our clients and their employees.

Connor earned his associate’s degree in accounting from Schenectady County Community College, and is currently working toward a B.S. in accounting from SUNY Empire College.

Fun Facts:

  • Connor enjoys hiking, and is on his way to completing the 46 Adirondack High Peaks
  • Connor hopes to one day backpack across Southeast Asia

Connor can be contacted at: [email protected]

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