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.

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.

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 2001. 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
Jeff Ricchiuti

Jeff Ricchiuti

Chief Investment Officer

Jeff joined the DirectAdvisors team in 2014. His career in the financial consulting industry has spanned more than 15 years, having previously held positions at General Electric and The Ayco Company (a division of Goldman Sachs). 

Jeff is a proud graduate of Siena College (Go Saints!).  He later went on to earn his MBA from SUNY Albany, where he wrote his Master’s thesis on the correlation of mutual funds’ portfolio performance with management expenses.  He is also a Certified Financial Planner (CFP®), an Accredited Investment Fiduciary Analyst (AIFA®), and a Certified Plan Fiduciary Advisor (CPFA). 

Jeff currently serves as a valuable internal resource, applying his deep analytical skills to help steer DirectAdvisors’ Investment Policy Committee.  He also works directly with our clients to make sure their retirement plans are operating at peak efficiency, and frequently engages with their employees to advise them on how best to structure their 401(k) or 403(b) investment portfolios.

Jeff is a lifelong resident of the Capital Region, and currently resides in Latham with his wife, Rebecca and son, Anthony.

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 Latham, 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.
Grace LaPlante

Grace LaPlante

Administrative Assistant

Grace joined DirectAdvisors in 2019 as their Administrative Assistant.  She has over 30 years of experience in group health care claims management and employee benefit administration.

Her vast experience as an employee with the Prudential Insurance Company of America took her from an entry level claims processor to a Technical Claims Technician, Eligibility Team Leader, and Training Coordinator.  In 2000, she transitioned to the employee benefits arena in the public sector at Albany City School District, which led her to the Employee Benefits Client Manager position with Rose & Kiernan.  She retired from Rose & Kiernan in 2017.

Her Customer Service philosophy and work ethic made her an excellent fit with the DirectAdvisors Team.  Her attention to detail, and willingness to help others, are assets that compliment her Administrative position within the firm.

Grace earned her Associates Degree in Marketing from Hudson Valley Community College.

Fun Facts:

Grace loves Golden Retrievers.  She worked for GRROWLS-NY rescue organization, from which she was awarded the Best Foster Home award for her work with rescued Goldens.

She is an avid classic movie fan and owns wardrobe items from her favorite movie Ben-Hur that were worn by its stars Charlton Heston and Stephen Boyd.

She enjoys painting by numbers to relax and walking with her Golden Retriever, Tyler – a rescue, of course!

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