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A 40-Year Journey: Katavatakis looks back on her career at Carter Bank

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05/17/2018 | 07:36 pm

MARTINSVILLE – In 1978, Phyllis Karavatakis first stepped foot in Carter Bank and Trust.

"I worked in the accounting department doing various administrative and accounting tasks as assigned," Karavatakis said.

Merely five years later, she received a major promotion – the first of many.

"In 1983, I earned my first officer position as assistant cashier," Karavatakis said.

From that point, Karavatakis kept moving up the ladder. Four years later, in 1987, she became the vice president and branch manager. In 1999, she became the senior vice president and cashier.

The new millennium held even more opportunities. In 2015, Karavatakis accepted the executive vice president and chief lending officer position. The following year, she became the president and chief administrative and lending officer. In 2017, Karavatakis accepted an elected position as vice chairman of Cater Bank and Trust's board.

This year, Karavatakis became the president and chief banking officer, but also celebrated another career milestone – 40 years with Carter Bank and Trust.

Four decades after she started with the company, things aren't the same as they used to be.

"Federal regulations have grown substantially over the years. We have seen the costs of complying with regulations soar and the result has been less capital available for the small business owner to expand or first-time homeowner to get a loan," Karavatakis said. "While this was not the intent, customers especially in small, rural communities have been hurt by over burdensome regulations."

The number of banks has also decreased over the span of her career.

"The fact remains there are nearly 1,500 fewer banks today than there were seven years ago across the country, a trend that may continue until some changes are made that will provide relief," Karavatakis said.

Through 40 years of changes, Karavatakis ensured that those she encountered at Carter Bank and Trust were well cared for.

"We have managed to stay resilient and found ways of meeting our customers' needs in spite of regulation and the ups or downs of the economy," Karavatakis said.

Changes come

The new millennium also came with technological adjustments.

"Customers and businesses want more than face-to-face banking in branches or drive-thrus. They have come to rely on the internet and mobile devices to bank," Karavatakis said. "Because of this, cyber and data security has become top priorities for banks."

One of the major issues people face – due to technological advancements – presents itself as cyber security threats. Some criminals and scammers steal money through fraud and cyber security vulnerabilities.

"We work 24/7 to protect our customers' information and money," Karavatakis said. "Nowadays, banks must seek out and address vulnerabilities in their own systems and guard against threats that may originate from vendors."

There's also a technological advancement in Carter Bank and Trust's immediate future, something Karavatakis promised the late founder, Worth Harris Carter, Jr., that she would carry out.

"We will be offering online and mobile banking in the first quarter of the new year, so this is an exciting time for us. This new system also will automate processes to become more efficient, more regulatory compliant and the best in cyber security," Karavatakis said. "This is transformational for us. I promised Mr. Carter that I would see this process to the end and do my part to guide our new leadership to be successful within our culture. Carter Bank is in a good place."

When she's not overhauling the operational system, the president and chief banking officer spends her time performing a variety of other tasks.

She is directly responsible for overseeing several departments, like commercial and mortgage lending, retail banking, cash management and marketing.

"I view my job primarily as building relationships and trust in the communities we serve and with people by listening to our customers, shareholders and employees," Karavatakis said. "I make myself as accessible as I possibly can. I try to spend as much time as I can helping people discover their full potential by guiding them into roles that play to their strengths. If I continue to be successful with this, there is no doubt Carter Bank will continue to thrive."

Climbing the ladder to her position over four decades took dedication, a strong work ethic and impeccable mentorship.

"I worked hard, loved what I did and had a great mentor with Mr. Carter," Karavatakis said. "I have been very fortunate to love my job at a place I love. I had a remarkable boss for nearly four decades with Mr. Carter. He not only taught me what is required to do the work, but he also cared enough about me and my development to give me real time feedback, advice and counsel."

Reflecting back

The mentor she found in Carter – who passed away in 2017 – was invaluable. The friendship swayed her from going elsewhere in the bank's 43 years of existence, established December 13, 1974.

"In my career, I thought about going to other banks. I even interviewed once, but realized no other person could match Mr. Carter's knowledge, caring attitude and philosophy," Karavatakis said. "After Mr. Carter passed away, a friend shared with me that when she read Mr. Carter's obituary with his professional and civic accomplishments, she understood why I stayed."

Karavatakis's friend asked why anyone would want to leave the locally-owned and operated bank.

"Her comment sums up my feelings exactly," Karavatakis said. "Mr. Carter took community banking to heart. He viewed our bank as a key stakeholder in the community's growth, health and vitality. Our presence was a symbol of hope and a vote of confidence in an area's future. This sentiment also was conveyed internally. We are family at Carter Bank. The average tenure is 25 years or more."

Karavatakis said retirement will be in her future – one day.

"Retirement is in my near future, but I haven't set date," Karavatakis said. "My family has been supportive of my career, so upon retirement, I welcome the opportunity to travel more with my husband, Nick, of 33 years and spending quality time with my daughters, Olivia and Oxana, and my granddaughter, Rowen."

Amie Knowles reports for the Martinsville Bulletin

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