"There's a neat symmetry to coming here," said Antonakes, 49, who joined the bank three years ago as chief compliance officer. "I knew the bank well from my time as a banking supervisor and saw them come through the financial crisis. It was the perfect fit."
Not bad for a Penn State graduate who never imagined working in banking.
But when he graduated in 1990 on the heels of a financial crisis, the law changed, requiring banks be examined annually instead of every two years. At the time, his cousin, who was working as a bank examiner, suggested taking an entry-level job at the Massachusetts Division of Banks as way into financial services.
"It wasn't my dream to be a bank examiner...I would have much rather played for the Red Sox," he said. "But having no other leads, I applied and was thrilled to be making $20,000 in the midst of a recession. It took my career in a direction I never expected."
It's worked out nicely for the father of five.
Antonakes served in various managerial capacities at the state Division of Banks and was later promoted by Gov. Mitt Romney and re-appointed by Gov. Deval Patrick as banking commissioner from 2003 to 2010.
Antonakes previously served as a deputy director at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the federal agency founded by former President Barack Obama and Elizabeth Warren. Created under the Dodd-Frank Act, it was designed to protect consumers in their financial life, including for student loans, mortgages, credit cards and other financial products. Since its inception, $12 billion has been returned to consumers who had been ripped off by lenders, the agency reported.
On the Trump administration's wish to slash its funding and relax rules which President Donald Trump has said "unduly burden the financial industry," Antonakes was philosophical.
"Elections have consequences," he said. "The only thing that irks me is I've been around long enough to know that the seeds of any crisis are planted during good times and ongoing vigilance is key.
During his career, Antonakes has seen lots of banks disappear as companies consolidate. But he said consumers still have lots of choices.
"There are still more banking choices here than in Canada and Europe," he said. "The banking business is fundamentally changing, especially in technology...If they think they can just continue to do what they've been doing, they run the risk of not being in business in five or 10 years."
Robert F. Rivers, Eastern Bank's CEO, said it was a coup to get Antonakes to join the bank.
"We could not be more fortunate to have Steve on our team, particularly during this time of increased regulation and compliance requirements," he said. "As a former Massachusetts banking commissioner and number two person at CFPB, he brings much to the table in the face of figuring out how to navigate the new rules."
Founded in 1818, Eastern Bank is celebrating its 200th anniversary on Sunday. The Boston-based bank, with offices in Lynn, calls itself America’s oldest and largest mutual bank, with $11 billion in assets and more than 120 locations in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.