Our team brings together more than 100 years of combined professional experience in developing fringe benefit plans and providing retirement plan guidance to benefit your organization and employees.

Tom Santa Barbara, AIF®, CPFA®

Tom Santa Barbara, AIF®, CPFA®

President, Co-Founder

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, NY 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. He turned that business into Direct Advisors, LLC.

He current serves as the lead business development point of contact and retirement advisor for the company. Tom is licensed in life, health, property and casualty and has his Series 65 license.

In addition to his daily duties with the company, Tom is an active 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 an avid Nittany Lions fan. He is also a former radio football commentator for Union College.

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

Send Tom a message.

Jeff Bennett, AIF®, MBA

Jeff Bennett, AIF®, MBA

Co-Founder

Jeff co-founded the company with a vision of bringing together compliance and integrity to provide maximum value for clients.

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. 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.

He then 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.

In 2000, Jeff joined his long-time business associate, Tom Santa Barbara, to start Direct Advisors – raising the bar on service quality and accountability the way he’d always imagined it.

Jeff has his Series 65 license and is an active board member of the Albany chapter of Entrepreneurs Organization.

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Catherine “Kitty” Kilmer, CPC, AIF®

Catherine “Kitty” Kilmer, CPC, AIF®

Chief Operating Officer

Kitty joined Direct Advisors over 20 years ago after working at a large electrical contractor for many years prior. She started as a plan administrator trainee and 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 and welfare plan compliance and administration for construction companies subject to prevailing wage regulations.

Her role at the company is to assist in creating custom plan design and overseeing compliance. She also assists with client consulting and overall client operations.

Kitty holds the designation of certified pension consultant, the highest credential awarded by ASPAA.

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

Send Kitty a message.

Travis Santa Barbara, CPFA®, MBA

Travis Santa Barbara, CPFA®, MBA

Chief Administrative Officer

Travis joined the company 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. Travis is responsible for overseeing day-to-day trust operations and handles client servicing. He also serves as the human resources generalist on staff.

He is a graduate of Siena College and earned his MBA from Sage Graduate School in Albany, NY.

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

Send Travis a message.

 

 

Carla Schlist, PCM®, CDMP®

Carla Schlist, PCM®, CDMP®

Chief Marketing Officer

Carla joined the company 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.

She graduated from Siena College with a bachelor’s degree in marketing and management and, since then, 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 with her husband and two children as well as their beloved dog, Lucy, a Hungarian vizsla.

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

Send Carla a message.

Erin Cominole, AIF®, RMA®

Erin Cominole, AIF®, RMA®

Retirement Plan Specialist

After working for a large brokerage firm for nearly 17 years, Erin joined Direct Advisors in 2022. She serves as the point of contact for our retirement relationships, providing retirement plan advice and investment education. Erin believes superior client service can only be delivered through clear and timely communication, and her greatest reward is assisting clients through challenges.

Erin holds the retirement management advisor designation from the Investments and Wealth Institute. She has her Series 65 license along with her life and health license. Erin is a graduate of Johnson and Wales University.

Erin resides in Brunswick with her husband Matt.

Fun facts:
• Enjoys hiking and camping with her husband and three huskies
• Avid traveler
• Passionate about her volunteer work with Patriot Siberian Husky Rescue

Send Erin a message.

Connor Walton

Connor Walton

Trust Analyst

Connor joined the the company in 2021 as a trust analyst. He handles daily processing of trust activity and assists participants with inquiries into their benefit transactions, payment schedules, and online portal access.

Before joining Direct Advisors, 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.

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

Fun Facts:
• Enjoys hiking and is on his way to completing the 46 Adirondack High Peaks
• Hopes to one day backpack across Southeast Asia

Send Connor a message.

Sam DiPace

Sam DiPace

Financial Assistant

Sam joined the company in 2022 after serving as head teller at a local Sunmark Credit Union branch. Prior to that, he worked for Northwestern Mutual as a financial representative.

His role at Direct Advisors is to ensure the smooth and efficient running of our trust operations for our clients.

Sam received his bachelor’s degree from SUNY Brockport with a finance major and math minor.

Fun Facts:
• Enjoys tennis, golf, and participates in a weekly bowling league
• Loves to read non-fiction and self-help books
• Favorite author is Malcom Gladwell

Send Sam a message.

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