WASHINGTON — The best time to be a bank regulator may be when no one outside your field has any idea what you do.

As long as banks are healthy — and staying out of the news — people not engaged with your job may lose interest over talk of call reports and compliance exams and such. Then again, it means banks are in good shape.

"When you try to explain to someone … what you do for a living, it's a surefire way to make sure … you're essentially by yourself at a cocktail party," Steven Antonakes, the deputy director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, said in remarks to the National Community Reinvestment Coalition's annual conference.

But Antonakes, who was the banking commissioner in Massachusetts before joining the CFPB, recalled how that changed with the steady stream of bad financial news in 2008.

His normal routine during that time was, after commuting into Boston, he would go to the same convenience store every day to buy copies of each of the city's two main newspapers. On one particular morning that year, the store clerk decided to make conversation.

"She looked at me and she said, 'What do you do for a living anyway?'" Antonakes said. "I thought back to all those cocktail parties, paused for a moment and said, 'I work for the government in bank and mortgage regulation.' She looked at me stonefaced and said, 'Your job must suck.'"

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