Demetrios Kastanis was born in New York, however, when he was four years old his family decided to move to his father’s paternal birthplace, Mistras, a historic section of the Peloponnesos. Demetrios stayed there until he was 16 years old at which point he returned to New York and attended St. Demetrios High School in Astoria for the last two grades of high school. Thereafter he went on to complete a joint Bachelors and MBA program in Finance at Pace University. Demetrios has extensive experience in banking with over 15 years of experience and held positions at several Greek-American banks that operated in New York such as Alma Bank and Quontic Bank. He is now a Senior Vice President with TriState Capital Bank.
The National Herald: How did you first get involved in Finance?
DK: I got involved in the Finance field by chance. I graduated in 2001 from Pace University with an economy already in bad shape and which deteriorated further after 9/11. Prior to graduation, I had accepted a job as an associate at KPMG Consulting, specifically the non-profit division. With the economy in trouble, the non-profit organizations that were the clients of the group started terminating their contracts with KPMG and things looked bleak. I had only been there for six months but my then-boss, with whom I had become good friends, came to my rescue. He managed to get me a job as a Finance Analyst at the City University of New York Department of Construction.
I still remember to this day that I was at a large career event taking place at a school auditorium when I received the call that I got the position at CUNY. It was a great relief since the career event I was attending seemed hopeless at that time. Until this day I still keep in touch with my old boss.
TNH: How did you transition to banking?
DK: I stayed at CUNY for 3 years and it was a great job but not very fulfilling. A close friend of mine at that time that was working at Citibank mentioned that a local Greek-American bank in Astoria, Marathon Bank, was looking for an analyst with construction experience. He felt I would be a great choice for the position and he could set up the interview.
I ended up going to the interview and the manager was trying to convince me to take a residential loan analyst position they also had available instead of the construction analyst job. I told him that I would think about it and get back shortly. Later that night I had a drink with the friend that had set up the interview and asked for his advice. He told me to call Marathon Bank and insist on the construction analyst position, and if he thinks I am not a good option for it I should continue looking elsewhere for a commercial job. It worked and I got the job and in retrospect, it was one of the best career moves I ever made. The commercial banking field has so many more possibilities than residential/consumer finance.
Even though my family, mainly through my maternal grandmother, was active in commercial real estate this position was great training and opened my mind to the overall industry to the point that I also started investing personally in commercial real estate assets.
TNH: How do you define creativity in your field?
DK: I must admit that commercial real estate is not one of the most creative of finance fields. Other than some IT breakthroughs, commercial banking is not so different from the time of Medici in Renaissance Italy. I act as a middleman trying to find a compromise between keeping the bank’s and in a larger sense depositors’ money safe while at the same time providing financing solutions that make sense for the end borrower/client. I take pleasure when I help a real estate investor develop his first large project or helping a business reach the next level. In a way, it is a great feeling when you have helped someone achieve his American dream.
TNH: How do you spend your free time?
DK: In my spare time, I also teach two courses at NYU. One is Introduction to Finance for undergraduates and the second one is Commercial Real Estate Finance for graduate students. I take pride being a mentor and guiding the students in my class on how to navigate the finance field.
I serve on the advisory board of Safe Horizon, the largest victim assistance agency in the United States and once a quarter I instruct a financial literary workshop in a battered woman shelter. It is sad when you see the women in the shelter that have been deceived financially by their prior husbands and boyfriends. I would encourage everyone in the finance industry to dedicate some of their time during the year to mentoring high school students or volunteering at a non-profit or a church.
TNH: What is your recommendation for someone just starting out in Finance?
DK: I would also recommend to someone that would be interested in getting involved in finance that they start from an analyst and associate position and take it one step at a time. If they don’t enjoy the field they can always pivot into something different. It is not easy starting from a sales position in today’s financial environment. It is a saturated industry with slow to stable growth at this stage and everyone seems to offer the same financial solutions and products. You need to have developed significant contacts over the years and also be able to work out solutions on your own. Having started as an analyst gave me such an advantage when I transitioned to a sales position.
Your name is everything in this business. It is your foundation and guiding principle. I see myself more of a consultant than a salesperson. Numerous times clients have approached me, and I let them know that maybe I don’t have the best product or solution for them, but I know someone that does. Offering honest advice goes a long way in this industry in building goodwill.
You also need to be relentless and always develop new business relationships and clients. An old wise boss once told me that it takes 10 years to build a new relationship and 5 minutes to destroy it!
Although I enjoy my job very much, Commercial Finance can be emotionally and physically draining. You are really on call seven days a week all day. I put a lot of work into writing credit memos or discussing deals with clients over the weekend.
Carving out some personal time when you find the opportunity is important. At the same time, you can’t be complacent or detach yourself from your business environment. When I first started in this business I lost plenty of deals for not making a phone call on a weekend and acting like I am a 9 to 5 weekday employee. A finance deal will not wait for you, but at the same time, you have to draw the lines and prioritize your time and not get bogged down with the trivial.
As for advice to anyone that would like to follow my career, I am a big believer in networking and interpersonal relationships and not a big fan of online job platforms or recruiters. Almost all the positions I got in my lifetime where through an introduction by my network. Learn how to network, follow up on all promising leads and be persistent.