The credit union movement has generally proven to be open and and inclusive for women, though many large CUs are still dominated by men. One area that has seen lower female participation, however, is the tech side of the shop, in which CUs mirror the larger tech industry.
One exception to that is Catherine Rando. As VP of IS/IT at Modesto, Calif.-based Valley First CU, Rando has been at her current post since 2012, but she entered Silicon Valley in the early 1980s, working in various capacities at tech startups, pharmaceutical companies and more.
“I see a lot of advantages to the credit union industry, including, of course, the philosophy of helping each other and working together, which I have never seen in any other industry,” she said.
In the early 1990s, long before entering the CU movement, Rando was working to redefine the possibilities of women working in Silicon Valley when she earned an executive position and a corner office.
“I got my corner office when I was on maternity leave, so to come back from maternity leave and not only have your job, but also your promotion and the corner office was a really big deal then,” she recalled.
Y2K and culture shock
In 1999, the world braced for the uncertainty of Y2K and the repercussions the programming code represented: a four-digit year with only the last two digits coded. Rando had spent the balance of the 1990s working on high-level security and encryption programming in the private sector, which included interfacing with the banking industry.
At the time, organizations were scrambling for tech talent in this niche Y2K field. When San Jose, Calif.-based Alliance Credit Union knocked on Rando’s door, she happily accepted the position of CIO. Here she was tasked with “cleaning up” the legacy systems and preparing for the unknown of Y2K.
“This was my first introduction to the credit union industry,” said Rando. “Coming from Silicon Valley to credit unions was really a culture chock.”
Part of Rando’s shock was due to the age of technology infrastructure at the CU. With the Y2K fear largely unfounded, Rando and her department quickly went to work implementing a mobile banking platform, which was possible, in part, due to her past connections with securities companies.
“I wanted to keep the credit union at the bleeding edge of technology,” said Rando. The early 2000s, however, was also early on the mobile banking timeline, and she soon grew frustrated that many of the promising up-and-coming dotcoms couldn’t plug into the credit union’s existing core.
From First to Valley First
After a few years with Alliance CU, Rando left the CU movement for a return to the private sector. This move would be short-lived, and in 2007 she accepted a position with Chandler, Ariz.-based First CU. Building on her past experiences and frustrations, she quickly went to work on updating the core processing system. In nine months, Rando converted the existing core to Symitar, which she deemed a more “open” platform.
“We had to determine what we wanted to be what technologies we needed,” said Rando. “I always wanted to be a part of a core conversion. The implementation was so successful.”
After nearly five years of effective tech initiatives at First CU, Rando was offered a position that would bring her back to California. She jumped at the chance, which led her to Valley First CU’s Modesto headquarters.
“They also had to evaluate and implement a lot of infrastructure,” said Rando. “My goal is here has been to simplify, which has included implementing Microsoft 365 Cloud.”
Conceding that she doesn’t keep track of how many hours she works, grass doesn’t grow under Rando’s feet. Since 2012, she and her six-person tech team have addressed a host of issues, including adding new disaster recovery services, infusing a new sales culture with the Synapsys member relationship management tool and implementing Advanced Reporting, which has allowed for more data-driven decision making.
Rando credits her husband and family as key to her success, and she has a motto that applies to credit unions as well as it does to technology: Tech is not about features, it’s about service, support and a solid organization.