Janet Garufis, Chairman and CEO, Montecito Bank & Trust

It’s been a whirlwind year for Janet Garufis, chairman and CEO of Montecito Bank & Trust in Santa Barbara, Calif.

First she has been working to make the most of her one-year term as president of the national Community Depository Institutions Advisory Council for the Federal Reserve. She feels a sense of responsibility to visit as many bankers in the central coast area of California as she can to gather information about actionable items to pass along to the Fed Governors.

This is vitally important, Garufis said. Though many in the industry complain about regulatory burden, Garufis said regulators are listening and taking concerns from bankers seriously.

“The council has given community bankers a real seat at the table,” Garufis said. “We haven’t always had that. I think the Federal Reserve and other agencies are beginning to understand that community banking as an industry has an impact and makes a difference.”

But Garufis acknowledges that the pace of change can be painfully slow.

“The Fed always asks us questions about, ‘What do you need us to do for you?’ ” she added. “Things don’t move swiftly. But they did say, ‘We hear you.’ ”

Garufis became involved in her local advisory council for the 12th district in 2014 after a Fed relationship manager stopped by her bank. After a chat, the woman said she thought Garufis would be great for the Fed bank’s local council. After her first meeting, Garufis was asked to serve as chairman of the body.

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“This has given me a great deal of respect for the task at hand and the work that the Fed does for us,” Garufis said.

Garufis has faced challenges at her own bank this year. In April, she added the title of chairman after Montecito’s beloved founder, Michael Towbes, decided to step down due to an illness. He passed away a few weeks later.

She realized during that time the bank’s employees would look to her for leadership. Garufis met with every department toward the end of Towbes’ illness to let them know that a succession plan was in place. Employees later told Garufis that this frankness was helpful.

Now Garufis is looking to continue Towbes’ legacy.

“The bar was set really high when he was alive. No one wanted to disappoint him,” Garufis said. “Now that he isn’t here the bar feels even higher.”

Jackie Stewart

Jackie Stewart covers community banks and mergers and acquisitions for American Banker.