Innovation Through Inspiration: How New CEO Ronaldo Hardy Sees the Future of NACUSO

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CUSO Magazine: Thank you for joining us today, Ronaldo. First of all, congratulations on your new role as President and CEO of NACUSO!

Ronaldo Hardy: Thank you, glad to be here!

CUSO Magazine: Starting off, what led you to NACUSO and inspired your interest in leading the organization?

Ronaldo: In my career, I tend to follow my passion and listen to what the journey says to me along the way. Every interaction I had throughout this entire process indicated that NACUSO was absolutely the right path for me.

From the moment I saw the job posting, so many key aspects spoke directly to who I am as a person. It reflected the things I love and the traits I see within myself. I was pulled in. I knew that whoever got the position would be in a joyful job and opportunity.

Ultimately, what really inspired me to consider it was the opportunity NACUSO has to lead the industry in innovation and collaboration. I spent a lot of my early career having conversations and dialogues about the future and what it looked like to be progressive and innovative, and I love being in an organization that’s driving that forward for the whole industry.

This means I get to show up as myself. I get to come into an environment where my desire to create and innovate is appreciated, and I get to help the rest of the industry to join in that journey. Right now, we’re at a critical turning point, where the steps that we take forward really do matter. We have an opportunity at NACUSO to stake our claim in helping the industry see a future that is not lagging behind others in the financial sector but leading the way. That’s why I’m here now.

CUSO Magazine: You’ve been at NACUSO for a few months now, how have you been settling into the role? What has been your main priority?

Ronaldo: I feel the greatest leaders, they build with intentionality by making sure that they bring thoughts and voices to the table that will help contribute to making that future look right for all parties involved.

With that in mind, I’m really on a listening tour right now. I’m having as many conversations as I possibly can to understand both where NACUSO is and where the staff is. I’ve had a lot of listening sessions with our employees and with the board, both collectively and one on one. I’ve been engaging them to hear what’s going on and how I can best serve in my leadership role.

I’ve spoken with industry partners and leaders and I’m seeking to have more listening sessions with CUSOs and FinTech leaders in our space, as well as assembling a credit union advisory council to help us gain insights from credit unions on what would be appealing to them and encourage them to be a part of the ecosystem we’re building. I really am interested in hearing from as many leaders as possible. That’s where I am in the role at the moment.

CUSO Magazine: Looking forward, do you have any long-term goals for the organization?

Ronaldo: Believe it or not, there are still people who don’t know about NACUSO or what we offer. To increase awareness, we absolutely must amplify our brand and increase our value proposition so that those who have access to us understand what’s in it for them.

I believe doing so will create additional growth for the members that we currently have in ways that will cultivate growth for the industry as a whole and add value to all the organizations that connect with us. I want to clearly convey what we offer, why we are here, how we are helping organizations to advance, grow, and improve. I want to create more connection points for us as well.

This means not just relying on our big family reunion that we have at the NACUSO Network Conference, but also creating smaller opportunities regionally to connect and educate. To support that goal, there are a number of different initiatives that you will see roll out over the next year.

CUSO Magazine: NACUSO values collaboration and innovation, how do you hope to support and expand collaboration efforts in your role?

Ronaldo: My goals is for NACUSO to be the focal point for innovative solutions for our industry and the conduit, if you will, for people to come together and recognize that this is a place where they can connect with like-minded individuals to take ideas from simple thoughts and turn them into things that transform our industry and move us forward. I want us to emerge as the authority in that space, to be able to provide ideation without limitation.

When our industry thinks of innovation and collaboration and when they want to engage an industry partner that is focused on getting things done, my mission is to make sure that NACUSO emerges as that partner. I want to ensure we take organizations through ideation, through incubation, through implementation, and turn those ideas from thought into actual living, breathing solutions.

By nature, I’m a very creative person, and so I’m very passionate about creating a hub where people who feel that same way, who get energized by thinking about the future, can come and be innovative together. I want them to have a place to go. I don’t want thoughts to just be thoughts, I want them to become real, tangible solutions.

CUSO Magazine: Diving back a little into your career, you started out working as a bank teller and then as a banker before you jumped into the credit union industry and then stayed there for a long time, working up to where you are now. What inspired you to stick with the credit union industry?

Ronaldo: I love the philosophy of credit unions, that at the core of who we are, we really exist to serve and empower those who are often overlooked. When you really look at the genesis of our movement, that’s why it started, and that purpose speaks to who I am as an individual.

I was not raised in the most financially affluent situation; we struggled when I was growing up. I watched what life looked like for my parents to have second chances and be given opportunities to come back from that. When I came to credit unions, I felt that credit unions represented the organizations that gave people like my parents another chance, and I could see it in our founding values. I wanted to do work around that, supporting those values, and I’ve been here since.

I constantly advocate for us to return to those principles of our founding. At times, there are segments of our industry that tend to forget our origins and have lost their way a bit because they’re so focused on being conservative for different reasons. Sometimes they’re afraid of the regulators, and instead of engaging the regulators more and helping them to understand the necessity of certain business models and understanding how to implement them, they become fearful. That fear does little more than keep us from our full potential.

CUSO Magazine: You’ve had some great supporters and mentors throughout your career, do you have plans to create some kind of mentorship program or help those who are budding in our industry to reach their full potential?

Ronaldo: Absolutely! I credit some of the earlier mentors I had, as well as those who helped me to understand our industry better, for inspiring me to stay in the industry for nineteen years. This has led to me leading credit unions, consulting with credit unions around the country, and now leading NACUSO.

In the spirit of that, one of the first things that we are working to develop at NACUSO is an emerging leaders program. I’ve spent a lot of my career creating opportunities and access for the next generation in our industry, and one of the things that I love is that several in our generation really did champion that work in a way that I feel connected us more to the industry. We’ve built so many young professionals networks around the country, and I’ve seen the impact that it has made on my generation and even some of the access that it’s creating for the generations coming up behind us.

Now, NACUSO has the opportunity to do the same, so it’s one of the first things that we’re working to build out. We also want to create a desire and interest to engage with the industry to ensure we are protecting the future of innovation through the next generation as well. We don’t want all that passion to leave with the generation that was ahead of us. If they leave and we don’t pass that energy on, that excitement on, or that knowledge base on, we could lose it, and we don’t want to do that.

The good thing about us is generationally, both in our own generation and in the one that’s coming up, there is a desire to make social impact. There is a love for the utilization of technology, for advancement. NACUSO is a great center point for that, as we are engaging the industry in a way that makes great social impact. In the end, the outcome of what’s developed makes social impact, but you also get the joyful experience of being innovative and utilizing technology to make that progress.

So why would we not announce ourselves and create space for generations that are coming up to come together and collaborate with us? We have to do that, and we will. It’s going to be a joyful experience.

CUSO Magazine: Finally, you previously mentioned your favorite part about living in Louisiana was the food. If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Ronaldo: Easy, steamed Dungeness Crabs!

CUSO Magazine: Thank you again for joining us today, Ronaldo. We cannot wait to see where you lead NACUSO.

Ronaldo: Thank you so much for having me.

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