By: David Bjorkgren & Paul Kotrotsios, Special to the Hellenic News of America
First of all please allow me to present myself; I am Nancy Papaioannou, President of Atlantic Bank and Chairwoman of the Hellenic American Chamber of Commerce, both historical organizations for the Greek American community in United States.
“I am a humble and proud Greek by birth and American by choice woman who I believe that everything happens for a reason!”
There was a reason I was unanimously elected president of Atlantic Bank of New York in July of 2014 (the first woman to hold that office since Atlantic bank’s inception in 1926). There was also a reason I was named the first woman president of the Hellenic American Chamber of Commerce, in May of 2014 ( an organization formed 70 years ago). Those two positions woven well together give me the ability to do a lot of good for Greeks and Greek-Americans, and of course with the support of Atlantic Bank’s parent company NYC Bancorp.
“When I felt I wanted to do something for Greece during the current difficult situation, I was elected first president of the Chamber and then president of the Bank”
I want to help Greece. I want to keep the tradition to continue in the Greek Community, the Greek language, our religion, our churches, our schools, the Greek American business, the Greek woman in work conditions to be equal with men, things of that nature and I want to make the difference as much as I can.
Now please, let us go with your questions.
- In what ways does Atlantic Bank help the Greek American community?
In many ways. Banking, tailored in the needs of the Greek American client, participation in almost all the Greek societies events, participation in the Greek Parade as the number one Bank of the Community, support all the Greek American media, close ties with the Hellenic American Chamber of Commerce (I am the chairwoman), substantial support of the Greek Film Festival, organized by the HACC annually, etc.
- Why does your community benefit the Greek American community compared to other commercial banks?
Atlantic Bank has a history of about 100 years with close ties with the Greek American Community. Even after the sale of the Bank to the NYCB, these ties remained even stronger. Actually, the benefit is mutual. We support all Greek endeavors and business and the Community supports Atlantic Bank substantially. It is their financial home.
- Why is it important for your bank to focus on the Greek American community?
As explained in our long history, we have managed to grow together with the Greek Community, and our history coincides with the history of our Greek American community. The Greek American Community has grown to be very strong in almost all business activities with emphasis in construction, real estate, food, restaurants business etc., and help us grow through the years and made us the first in choice in banking. Consequently, it is our privilege to serve and concentrate even deeper in the Greek American community.
- What are some of the greatest projects you’ve helped bankroll for Greek Americans?
The answer goes many, many years back in 1926 when Atlantic Bank was the only Greek American Bank and our clients in our branches spoke the Greek language and our Bank was their financial home. I would say that were their partner for a successful business, their consultants on their financial projects etc. and this exists even today.
- When members of the community approach you for financing, what do they usually need the funds for?
We are a full-service commercial bank and we offer all the financial banking products: Mortgage loans, consumer loans, Commercial real estate loans, business loans etc. The Greek American clients are involved heavily in all types of the financial market and Atlantic Bank is their first and in most cases their final stop.
- Does your parent company, New York Community Bancorp, also support your efforts to help the Greek American community? What is their philosophy toward that help?
Actually, our new parent company the NYCB, has offered full support in our efforts and has appointed me as the President to implement this support. I dare to say that under their management we are more flexible and we feel stronger to be of assistance to the Greek-American Community and Greece as well. After all their philosophy is to help “the communities we serve” and they respect the success of the Geek American Community.
- Have you been able to expand your role with the Greek American community in recent years? In what ways?
I am proud today, after almost three years of my presidency to announce that we have penetrated the Greek American community much more than before and we have expanded our activities substantially for our mutual benefit. Clients who left the bank, for whichever reason, are coming back to us, while we are targeting new clients very successfully. Atlantic Bank has 18 branches working with the Greek Americans and its parent company has close to 300 branches, while all the branches are working together on the same platform. I feel that successful banks need to be more than just cold numbers and profit, I believe in bonding between employees and clients. We have managers for more than 15 years. Actually, I work for the bank for more than 26 years! It is very important for our employees to know our clients and be able to help them in good times and in bad times.
- Since the acquisition of Atlantic Bank from the National Bank of Greece to the New York Community Bank Corp., has it been easier or harder to help the community? How so?
Actually, NYCB made a very smart step to leave Atlantic Bank untouched in terms of their client portfolio and the precious human resources, who continue to be the heart for the success of our Bank. My presence is a guarantee of this successful approach for our new parent company. Atlantic Bank is able to assist the community better under NYCB, free from Greek politics and interventions as in the past.
- Since you are a larger banking system now with multiple banks under one umbrella, how do you maintain the personal touch in the Greek community?
I have tried to explain that one of the best strategic decisions of NYCB, was to maintain our people, the human resources of the “Old Atlantic” which managed a smooth transition to the new status of the Bank, while we have been benefitted greatly, belonging to such a big, well organized Banking Institution with so many branches and extremely sufficient back office to expedite our customer needs.
- What are the advantages of being an American bank, instead of one owned by a Greek bank?
The biggest advantage is that the Greek politics have no room anymore to interfere in the management of the bank, which in the past was extremely painful. Under the new Bank we entertain the pure American management which is successful all over the world and at the same time to maintain our target to cater our banking to the Greek American Community.
- Do you have any opinions on Greek’s financial problems and do you have any suggestions on how they should proceed to solve those problems?
Let’s stay out of criticizing politics especially at this difficult time of our brothers in Greece. Nevertheless, Greece is always in our heart!
- Do you see potential in Greece down the road for investors? In what way?
Again, because of the volatile financial situation that Greece is deeply in, unfortunately, I have no opinion at least in this interview. Nevertheless what I can say is that we as Greeks have to be optimistic and believe in the Greek spirit which all along our history has done wonders.
- Why are your Greek roots so important to you?
I am a Greek, born and raised in Greece and I love my country. It is not a matter of roots, it is a matter of life. I have lived in Greece for the most part of my life. I guess that explains it.
- Why should people care about Greece or the Greek American community? From an economic or financial point of view, why should we care about Greece?
We are not “people” we are Greeks. I am a Greek working in this country by choice which I respect and love but at the sametime I am deeply concerned about my country , Greece that is, which I love like nothing else in the world. It is true if you address your question to an American the answer is different. I am not the…one!! Greece is under an unprecedented financial crisis. However, the Greek entrepreneur has a tremendous potential. Greek companies have started expanding in the USA and we are privileged to participate in their financial endeavors. As far as the Greek American Community, I have already explained that it is a dynamic sector of the American financial Market and we are happy to be part of their business activities.
- What drew you to want to work in banking? Why is it of interest to you?
As soon as I graduated from high school I started working with the National Bank of Greece. I served 10 years before I was transferred here in NY, to continue a career that started in Greece. You understand that banking became my life since my early youth. My main attraction to this field is the client. I am very happy to be able to help people in their financial activities and makes me happy to see their progress in the Community.
- To what do you attribute your success in the banking industry? Why do you think you were chosen to be Atlantic Bank’s president?
Actually, before I took over the presidency of Atlantic Bank, I had a thorough experience in all banking works and deep knowledge of all banking services and products. This was the only and main factor that I was unanimously elected as the new President of AB following the late Spiro Voutsinas’ passing. I could attribute my success in this industry in my hard work. Working hard makes you love what you are doing and at the same time makes you stand up from the crowd. ALSO MY LOVE FOR THE Greek American Community was definitely a substantial factor.
- Do you have any feelings about being chosen the bank’s first woman president?
I am proud to be the first woman President of a bank and having set an example for all other women to work hard. One day recognition would come, could come, and definitely should come.
- With all the negative press about Wall Street and banking excesses, why do you think banks are still important to people’s lives?
The job of the Wall Street Journal and even the rest of the Press is to point out exceptions in all professions and criticize for the benefit of their readers. Nevertheless, banking is not only certain violations or exceptions in this industry. Banking is a good friend of the individual in terms of money savings, personal loans, education assistance and almost a friend to all facets of our lives.
I would also like to mention here that when the Greek financial crisis hit, capital controls were put in place and money was tight, I was in Greece and I remember getting a phone call ; it was the president of the holding company , Mr. Ficalora, asking me “Nancy what can we do?” We will do our best as we belong to this nice family and it is very important to help, I replied. I have to recognize Mr. Ficalora, the President and CEO of New York Community Bancorp, for whatever he has done for Atlantic Bank and for me personally.
With his support, Atlantic Bank funds found their way to Greek Charities such as The Hellenic Initiative which is responding to Greek’s economic crisis by helping shape its long term recovery. Its efforts are providing a critical safety net to suffering families with food, health and other types of aid. We are one of the biggest donors of the Hellenic Initiative almost up to $80,000.00.
This year $20,000 was channeled through the Hellenic American Chamber of Commerce to ELEPAP, an organization in Greece that supports kids and babies born with defects. I developed a cordial relationship with the President of ELEPAP who was thrilled and thanked us for this support.
I would also like to mention our contribution to ELPIDA which focuses on the care of children with cancer and to ELIZA to help abused babies from 0-5 years old. The Hellenic American Chamber of Commerce assistance is also remarkable. To help is quite simple, anybody can help as long as there is a will. I would like to mention here that a group of ladies in New York started a fund raising for the needy in Greece and they continue to help tremendously with their own contributions.
Greece is in a financial crisis. Again I am optimistic that it will recover and I am proud that we will continue to be of some assistance to this end.
Lastly, I want to be able to leave something good behind me. Positions are not forever but I want to leave something good in the world, in our community and in the history of Atlantic Bank, because I believe Atlantic Bank will exist and will coincide with the life of the Greek American Community long after me.