Leaving NASCUS, Ito Has ‘No Regrets’
CU Times sits down with 32-year credit union veteran Lucy Ito, who will step down as CEO of NASCUS later this year.
By Michael Ogden | June 14, 2021
Since 2014, the National Association of State Credit Union Supervisors (NASCUS) has been led by Lucy Ito. She quietly entered the credit union universe 32 years ago fresh out of grad school at the University of Wisconsin – Madison when she answered an ad in the local newspaper for a research assistant at WOCCU just a few miles from campus.
As she put it, once she absorbed the knowledge of what credit unions were all about and what they stood for, she was in. And now, more than three decades later, she’s retiring at the end of this year. Ito made the announcement in May after giving the decision a lot of thought during months of quarantine at her California home with her husband Rob. After years of splitting her time between California and her work in Washington, D.C., in what she called the “bi-coastal cha-cha-cha,” she’s ready to enjoy her time with her husband and continue perfecting her homemade granola recipe.
Before joining NASCUS, Ito served as EVP and COO at the California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues and as vice president at WOCCU.
She serves on the International Credit Union Regulators’ Network board of directors, the NCUA-SSA Joint Supervisory Working Group, the state issues committee of the American Association of Credit Union Leagues and the African-American Credit Union Coalition’s Cross Cultural Exchange Program.
In an interview with CU Times, Ito said she has no regrets from her professional life as a credit union leader. The following are excerpts from the interview and the answers have been edited for style and clarity.
CU Times: What did you want to accomplish at NASCUS?
Ito: The first thing was to make sure that NASCUS and state regulators were respected and treated by the NCUA as equal partners. Back in 2014 it wasn’t the best relationship between the state system and the NCUA at that time. And then also to make sure that state credit unions and state examiners were not put at a disadvantage given the NCUA’s dual role as the federal prudential regulator and also as the insurer of both. So what I told myself was what I had to do to make sure that the state system, whether it was the regulators or the credit unions, were not put at a disadvantage.
CU Times: What things are left to do before retirement?
Ito: There’s still definitely a ton left on our to-do list. One thing that will require the cooperation of Congress and the White House eventually is … getting one of the seats on the NCUA board designated for someone with state regulatory experience. Certainly it would probably be easier to get that if the board were to be expanded to a five-member board, which we would also be in favor of for other reasons – not only because that would make it easier to assign a seat for a state regulator, but hopefully also enable NCUA board members to talk with one another and openly talk one-on-one without then setting off the Sunshine Laws that make it right now, with a three-member board, two people speaking constituting a quorum so it’s an official meeting. They can’t talk one-on-one as easily as you would want folks to be able to exchange ideas and to think out loud. So that’s a big one that’s left on our to-do list.
CU Times: Was there any extra pressure you felt being a leader and a woman?
Ito: I myself don’t instinctively think of myself as being a woman leader. I’m just a person. However, I’ve come to realize over the years that I have a responsibility to encourage other women and objectively look and see yes, there are certain positions where women seem to be underrepresented. I think of myself as a person first, but I have over the years felt my sense of responsibility to other women has really grown, and when I think about how I try to be as a leader, I don’t think it’s a woman that makes me different. I try to be empathetic. And I found over the years that if you can see both sides and not deny the position that is different from yours, if you really try to understand both … it builds your credibility with others to demonstrate that you’re looking at it from both sides, all sides and not only pushing your own view.
CU Times: What are your thoughts on the DEI efforts happening in the credit union space?
Ito: Way back when I first started, I’m Asian-American and I always felt way back then that credit unions seemed to be more accessible to white communities than to Americans of color. It’s just something I observed in my early work with international [credit unions] and I would just watch what was going on in the U.S. And then a few years ago the CU Underground folks held a session during one of the GACs and they had a diversity panel on there that I participated in. And they asked the question to the panel, “What pisses you off?” And my response to that question was that credit unions do not look like America. And it’s much better today than when I started off my career 32 years ago. But still today I find that not everywhere, but in a lot of places, the credit union option just doesn’t reach certain communities. There are Asian-American members but I don’t think there are as many as there could be.
I do think, as horrible as what happened last year to George Floyd was, I am grateful that it woke up so much of the country, including those in credit union-land, and I definitely perceive a difference. The key is going to be, we can say what we believe in, but then how do we behave? How do we hold ourselves accountable in our own organizations and in our own lives? That’s going to be the big challenge going forward.
I am just so amazed at how the African American Credit Union Coalition has always carried itself, but especially in the last year and how inclusive they have been. They are the most inclusive, broad-thinking organization, I think, in the credit union system. And being welcoming of so many different other groups and bringing folks together and building those bridges – I just think the world of them and I really admire how they are galvanizing the whole credit union system.
CU Times: What made you a good leader at NASCUS?
Ito: I tried at NASCUS to continue NASCUS’s tradition of bringing regulator thinking and credit unions, the kind of a reality check from the operational side, together before we create a rule or finalize something. That consultative process – we should be embracing that because we come up with better and longer-lasting solutions when we look at both sides.
CU Times: Anything you’ll miss?
Ito: Of course, people. Everybody at NASCUS loves to geek out. We are kind of a nerdy bunch in different ways. So I’ll miss geeking out on that stuff. But [I have] no regrets. I feel that NASCUS has come a long way. The credit union system has come a long way and it’s going to do great. You know, I do worry about responding to the cyber and digital challenges ahead, but we’ve got great people working in the credit unions. So, no regrets. It’s going to be exciting to get out of the way and let things happen.
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