We hear it all the time: “If you believe in what you do, it can be an astounding motivator and lead to incredible success.” It’s become something of a quotidian phrase, offered up by guidance counselors and self-help texts. But anyone who has sat down and spoken with Phil Cannella knows that this old adage can still be true. Cannella has spent his life safeguarding people’s retirements.
The coverage generated over 3,000 calls, e-mails, and letters, a fact made more amazing that no contact info was included in the article.
Cannella’s belief in the work is deeply imbedded, beginning when he was only 20 years old selling nursing-home insurance and continuing today with his most recent consumer-advocacy venture: First Senior Financial Group and Retirement Media Inc. Cannella has teamed up with Joann Small, a 30-year veteran of the insurance industry herself, to provide what they call “crash-proof retirement vehicles” for today’s seniors, while maintaining an honest approach focused on educating the consumer.
The profound impact Cannella’s humble beginnings had on him is evident, as he has trouble getting through the story without getting emotional. “I grew up with my grandparents,” he says. “My dad was a milkman and had trouble making ends meet, so we all lived under one roof to make things easier.”
When a stroke sent Cannella’s grandfather into assisted living in 1974, the bills once again became a burden. “As my grandfather faded away, he thought that he had left us impoverished, and that stayed with me. I couldn’t understand how someone could work a lifetime and, because of an illness beyond their control, lose it all,” Cannella says. The experience prompted Cannella, at age 20, to spend the summer selling nursing-home insurance door-to-door, telling people about what happened to his grandfather. “I made $20,000 dollars in 90 days doing something I believed,” Cannella says. “I never went back to school.”
After years of exploring a number of different areas of the retirement-insurance sector, Cannella founded First Senior Financial Group, which safeguards retirees’ nest eggs with crash-proof investment accounts, something Cannella started exploring in 2003 and perfected in 2007. These accounts are outside of Wall Street and the securities market, and were unaffected by the recent economic downturn. In fact, in the last three years alone, First Senior Financial Group has safeguarded over $300 million of people’s assets.
Cannella attributes this quantitative success to his forthright approach, something of a rarity in the world of financial advisement. “You have to tell the truth; you can’t be deceptive,” he says. “I call it carrying the sword of truth. A lot of people can’t carry it, but if you can, it becomes a weapon.” The idea of integrity is important to Cannella, who insists on an educational approach rather than a slick sales pitch. He has a strict no selling and no closing policy for his advisors, whom he calls educators.
One of the hallmarks of First Senior Financial Group has been its weekly radio show, which airs on a local CBS radio affiliate in Philadelphia. The show, called “The Crash Proof Retirement Show,” perpetuates the company’s philosophy of consumer advocacy and education. To further his goal of illuminating the public to the pitfalls of common retirement investments, Cannella has stepped down as CEO and started his own media company called Retirement Media Inc., which will focus on bringing pertinent financial information to the recently retired from a variety of sources. Small has stepped in to take the reins at First Senior Financial Group, bringing a high level of experience and enthusiasm to the company. “My greatest pleasure is talking to our clients and watching their shoulders go down,” she says. “They physically relax. The burden has been taken off. We’ve showed them a happy road.”
In addition to being an advocate for people in their retirement years, Cannella and Small have been active in local philanthropies, most notably with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s annual fund-raiser, where they have been the hospital’s top contributor for the last three years. Given Cannella’s disposition, such service is hardly a surprise, as he has strong feelings about assisting others, especially seniors. “I look at people in their retired year as if they were my own grandfather and grandmother,” he says. “These are the moms and dads of our country: they built this country, they are the backbone of this country and they should be treated as such.”