GBA Member Profile

Philip Bernardi
EVP, Chief Lending Officer
Oconee State Bank
Watkinsville, GA
At Large Member, GBA Credit Committee

Q: What was your first job, and was there a lesson you learned there that you still use today?

A: My very first job was working with a friend’s dad painting houses when I was in high school, but what probably had a greater effect on my career today were the lessons I learned from athletics while playing football at Presbyterian College. Working long hours and doing what it takes to win was ingrained in me at a young age, and this still helps me in today’s competitive banking landscape.

Q: Tell us a little bit about your career journey.

A: When I started graduate school, I needed a job and reached out to a local community bank, Oconee State Bank, where I had the opportunity to start as a teller and customer service representative. While I originally didn’t think I wanted to be in banking, I quickly learned I really liked it, especially the community and personal relationships aspects. After finishing my master’s degree, I found it was a natural fit to continue working in banking. From there, I went to a small community bank in Atlanta and learned more about the lending side of the bank. After that, I led a team of bankers at First Citizens Bank before returning to Oconee State Bank in my current role.

Q: What has been your favorite experience so far working in the banking industry?

A: The best part about working in banking is seeing how people make money in various businesses. For example, in one single week, you can find yourself doing business with a wholesaler, a manufacturer of pre-fabricated metal, a dentist’s office and a flash-frozen food distributor. The breadth and variety of businesses out there is amazing, and the part I really enjoy is being able to help these businesses succeed and see their dreams and hopes come to fruition. It’s satisfying to know that we played a small part of that.

Q: How has involvement with GBA affected your career?

A: My return to Oconee State Bank was really when I got re-introduced to GBA from a career development standpoint. The Leadership and Senior Lending Officer Roundtables are fantastic in terms of networking with colleagues facing similar challenges to what we’re facing and being able to bounce ideas and resources off of them. The GBA Leadership Conference and Credit Conference are opportunities to learn about the industry’s direction so we can communicate that with our Board and people involved in day-to-day operations of the bank. I don’t think that we would be able to navigate all the regulatory legal challenges facing us without networking with colleagues and the resources GBA provides.

Q: What would someone be surprised to know about you?
A: As bankers, we’re kind of boring, but my love of travel is probably up there. They may not know that my wife and I are certified scuba divers, and I really love to go out west and go skiing.