All about Defense
Retirement Planning Specialists protects clients’ hard-earned retirement savings
by Sharon A. Shaw


The last several years have been difficult for investors—especially for those at or near retirement age. Many have lost the life savings they worked so hard to earn because of fraud, risky investments or poor advice. Now, more than ever, the expertise of a trusted financial professional is needed.


Joseph P. Sarappo III of Retirement Planning Specialists, Securities America Inc. in Willow Grove urges those near or in retirement to look for a registered investment advisor who works exclusively with retirement. He distinguishes between two types of investment professionals: the 95 percent who give themselves the title of “planner,” “investor,” or “manager” and whose income is commission based; and the remaining 5 percent—including himself—who are Registered Investment Advisors. These professionals charge a fee for the guidance they offer and therefore have a vested long-term interest in their clients’ financial goals.


Sarappo warns that selling is the driving goal of most investment planners and in order to make a profit these representatives cannot spend much time with their existing clients. “It doesn’t mean they are evil,” he says, “but there is the potential for a conflict of interest if one investment can be recommended over another because it pays a higher commission to the advisor.”


Instead, his business focuses on the individual needs of his clients, creating an ongoing relationship that helps them meet their goals. Sarappo is a two-time winner of Philadelphia magazine’s Five Star Wealth Manager award, given to less than 7 percent of the wealth managers in the area who have been evaluated by survey participants regarding service, integrity, knowledge, communications, value, success and satisfaction.


Retirement Planning Specialists manages more than $160 million in assets for clients who trust in Sarappo’s experience and the resources of his team. Together they have more than 140 years of combined professional experience and can offer clients access to services such as wills and trusts, accounting, insurance, and bank and mortgage services to address their financial needs. Suburban Life spoke with Sarappo about his experience and approach to investing.


Suburban Life: Why is it important to manage retirement savings?

Joseph P. Sarappo III: Few people have pensions anymore – they have to make up the difference with their own money. They have to do it or it does not happen. Clients say, “It took me 30 to 40 years to save,” and they need it to last the rest of their life. People are so afraid these days that they bury their money in the bank making a half of a percent. I call it “going broke safely.” It is the safe version of losing money.


SL: What do you mean by the phrase “it’s all about defense”?

JS: I believe that once you have saved most of what you will ever be able to save, it’s time to play defense. Stay out of “the deep end of the pool.” You can’t try to earn 15 percent, because you can’t afford to lose 15 percent—or more.


SL: What type of clients do you work with?

JS: I work with people who want advice and guidance of their nest egg. Most, but not all, want a steady, predictable stream of income in retirement. If someone wants to “play the market,” or gamble with their money, we are not a good fit. Slow and steady wins the race.


SL: How does the service function?

JS: Clients pay an advisory fee for my financial guidance. There are no fees to establish or terminate the relationship, and products are not received for the purpose of making a commission. I certainly don’t just depend on the information I obtain through my computer either; I travel to meet with investment managers face to face and provide customers access to my analysis. My website offers them information and tools including articles, calculators and guides. I want clients to have access to information they may need at their fingertips—a sort of financial library.


SL: How are clients’ investments held?

JS: Their investments are held in custody with Fidelity in their name. Fidelity is the largest custodian of retirement assets in the world. I have permission to manage their money, but not access. The statements come from Fidelity. No one but the client can get at their money.


SL: What is your business philosophy?

JS: My company logo—four columns—represents what I believe to be the fundamental elements of wealth management: the creation of wealth, the protection of wealth, the enjoyment of wealth and the legacy of wealth.


SL: What sets your services apart?

JS: My team—they are the liaisons between me and the more than 400 clients we serve. We once got a new phone system that had an auto-attendant feature. Clients did not like it; they want to speak to a person. John Boshinski, who joined us in 1998, is our Contact Manager. He speaks regularly with all of our clients, providing a personal touch to the business we do. Lisa Young has been with me for 18 years. She is my Client Relationship Manager and is my “go to” person in resolving any client related administrative issues. Kelly McDonnell is my Operations Manager and is responsible for administering our compliance requirements and all other back-office operations. Christopher Sacco, also a Registered Investment Advisor, joined me in 2007 and provides investment advice to a significant number of our clients. I’m also proud of my strategic partners. They provide the expertise to address the specific needs of my clients in everything from personal and business taxes, long-term care and estate planning to life insurance and bank and mortgage services.


SL: What is the first step to getting started?

JS: I offer a 90-day “test drive” with no advisory fee and unlimited advice. This allows prospective customers to experience the level of service we offer without cost or obligation. The same 90-day period in the bank might be more like having their money sit in a sock drawer. During this time they are able to gauge the difference and see how our program works.


SL: Why did you choose a career in retirement planning?

JS: I grew up in a large family with three brothers, three sisters, a stay-at-home mom and a dad who worked day and night. I learned a very important lesson early in life: the value of saving money. I was mowing lawns, shoveling snow, selling flowers, delivering papers, even shining shoes—all before I was 13 years old. I came to appreciate the relationship between hard work and discipline, and the rewards that can follow. I would not trade that upbringing for anything.


SL: What are you most passionate about?

JS: My wife and I have, between us, seven children—four who are now in college. We enjoy traveling together and I participate in fundraising for two charities: Philadelphia Veterans Comfort House, which provides services for our veterans while they undergo treatment for serious health issues at the local VA hospital, and also a shelter for homeless veterans; and Amigos de Jesús, an orphanage for impoverished children in Honduras.


SL: How can someone be assured that they are making the right planning decision?

JS: Our experience, resources and personal commitment can truly make a difference. Along with the free 90-day test drive I mentioned earlier, potential clients can make a truly informed decision. It’s essential to work with an advisor that you trust and one that you believe has your best interest in mind. Our complimentary portfolio evaluation can provide you with a comprehensive review and a better understanding of what we offer.


Retirement Planning Specialists, Securities America Inc.

1000 Easton Road 
Willow Grove, PA 19090

Phone: 215-657-8600



Kim Billingsley is a freelance photographer based in Doylestown.


Retirement Planning Specialists Inc. is a Registered Investment Advisor with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Registration of an investment advisor does not imply any specific level of skill or training. Joseph Sarappo III is the Founder and President of Retirement Planning Specialists. This article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute any investment advice. If you’re interested in learning more about this information and how applies to your situation please do not hesitate to contact the Advisor. Additional information about Retirement Planning Specialists and its advisory persons are available on the SEC’s website at