After 46 years in the credit union movement, including 13 years at Visions Federal Credit Union in Endicott, N.Y., Cynthia Schroeder is set to retire from the $5.6 billion asset credit union.
The senior vice president (SVP) of digital assets will do so as the 2022 CUNA Technology Council Professional of the Year, capping off a career focused on coaching, leadership, technology, cybersecurity, and innovation.
“I could not be more honored,” Schroeder says. “What a wonderful and rewarding award to receive during this transition.”
Schroeder moved from SVP/chief information and innovation officer to her current role on Jan. 1, 2022. Now, she builds awareness of the opportunities and challenges within the digital asset ecosystem.
She helped create a digital assets advisory group, strategy, playbook, and roadmap, including offering members opportunities to buy, sell, and hold bitcoin.
Digital currencies are just one aspect of current-day financial institutions that weren’t on anyone’s radar when Schroeder was hired as a teller in 1976. Many technological advancements have taken place since her data processing team worked off “dumb terminals,” backing up their systems with floppy disks.
“Having the opportunity to grow in a technology role over the past 46 years has provided me an opportunity to see incredible innovation and unbelievable value for our employees and members,” she says. “We implemented our first ATM in 1984, first personal computer in the 1980s, and first laptop in 2008. Now, all employees work off laptops with the ability to work fully remote at any time.”
Schroeder believes she was able to navigate technological advancements and career transitions due to her emotional intelligence, drive to find solutions, understanding of “people helping people,” education, and “a strong understanding of a financial institution’s mechanics and how they all work together.”
Her advice for industry newcomers: Build a strong network, including a mentor who can provide guidance and direction, and use your voice to make a difference.
Schroeder grew Visions Federal’s information technology department by more than fivefold. This allowed the credit union to mature its cybersecurity efforts, implement a vendor onboarding program, improve convenience and cost savings, evolve ATM technology to offer multiple languages, and build a change and project management program.
Her proudest accomplishment? “The employees I’ve had the opportunity to mentor and coach over the years and the success I’ve had an opportunity to watch,” she says.
Other accomplishments include the new tools, systems, processes, and innovation she implemented to improve employees’ work lives, members’ finances, and Visions Federal’s bottom line, she adds.
In her free time, Schroeder reads and spends time with her children and grandchildren. In retirement, she plans to keep tabs on all the new technologies ahead for credit unions.
“The next two to three years are going to be amazing,” Schroeder says. “I see credit unions excelling with conversational artificial intelligence to remove friction for members and provide service and services when and where they want to engage. I also see great advancements for credit unions with automation tools, machine learning, data analytics, smart contracts, NFTs, and much more.
“I have always believed in the philosophy of credit unions: people helping people,” she continues. “My first CEO instilled this belief in his employees. Many of the team I started with at that small credit union are still with credit unions in leadership roles or have recently retired from credit unions. That says a great deal about the power of the credit union industry.”