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Retirement Planning > Retirement Investing

Four Planners Who Get It: Tom Belisari

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The best compliment–and referral–that Tom Belisari ever got came from the daughter of one of his clients.

“She was speaking to a co-worker who had no idea where her money was going,” says Belisari, owner of Key Financial Inc. in West Chester, Pennsylvania. “So the daughter says to the woman, ‘You need to get your own Tom. My mother just calls Tom, and he takes care of it.’” At the time, the mother had a $2,000 IRA account. Belisari says he was referred to one $750,000 portfolio and a separate $1 million portfolio from that one conversation.

Belisari’s philosophy is simple: there is no account too small to manage, and retirement planning should have started yesterday. That’s why he sets no minimum amount on the accounts he takes on. “Just because you’re not going to make money doesn’t mean you can’t help somebody,” Belisari says.

Belisari has been a financial planner for 22 years and manages around $30 million for more than 300 clients at his practice, which he shares with Patti Brennan. About 15% of his revenue comes from fee-based planning.

A representative of Royal Alliance and a CFP, Belisari estimates that about half of his business is devoted exclusively to retirement planning, although he wishes it were more. “Unfortunately people get serious about their retirements too late,” he says.

Belisari has increased the life expectancy he uses in plans for his clients to 95. “We use very, very conservative estimates,” he says. “But I say, ‘Hey, if you can tell me the exact day you are going to die, I’ll make sure that’s the day you spend your last nickel.’”

About one-third of Belisari’s clients are in the distribution phase of their retirements and Belisari is noticing a more liberal approach to their investing than in years past. “Twenty or so years ago, people didn’t know what an international fund was,” he says. “A lot of older investors would say, ‘I fought these guys in World War II, why invest in their country?’ Nowadays, it’s easier for the older generation to see investing as a global issue.”

Belisari is concerned, however, that the retirees of the next generation will need to battle rising medical costs and, in some cases, will need to add an unwanted element to their retirement plans. “Working longer,” he says.–Ryan G. Murphy


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