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Building the future of banking

Chad Ballard, head of global banking platform tech, consumer and community banking at JPMorgan Chase, explains how future-thinking enterprises are investing in being agile.

In association withJPMorgan Chase & Co.

Across industries, technology transformation is a necessity for businesses looking to ensure longevity and remain competitive. But how can a global finance or health care company use technology to create value for its employees and customers at scale? For large-scale technology transformations, laying the right foundation is the key to ensuring success, says Chad Ballard, head of global banking platform tech, consumer and community banking at JPMorgan Chase.

“It starts and ends with focusing on what customers want: the customer is at the center of what we do,” says Ballard. “And so, we’ve got to bring technology—the way that we think about product, the way that we think about design, and the way that we think about data—together in order to be able to deliver that product for the customer.”

Remaining on the cutting edge of an industry that supports new technological innovation while fulfilling customer needs and boosting efficiency is an intricate balance for large-scale global companies. Such broad transformations are multi-year projects that require a business-led mindset with a clear vision of a business’ goals as well as their pain points. Maturing a business is an incremental process that can lead to organizational fatigue and needs clearly defined and measurable outcomes, says Ballard. At JPMorgan Chase, that means building technology that provides consumers with innovative financial products while vigilantly maintaining the security, reliability, and performance of the existing platform.

“The way that I like to think about this is we really are building the future of the bank,” Ballard says. “The new ledger that we’re building will enhance the scale, it’s going to improve that resiliency, but it’s also going to allow us to build more innovative financial products for our customers and enhance the speed and the frequency in which we deliver that value to them.”

Building and investing in the public cloud is a strong option for any large-scale organization looking to evolve its technology, adapt to customer needs, and get ahead of competition. The cloud is a surefire way to create more time for building customer experiences and spend less time managing storage and computing. According to Ballard, the cloud unlocks access to a greater range of options for how to leverage and scale innovations.

“This allows for us to build better technology that’s more modular, more agile, and more adaptable and more efficient over time,” says Ballard.

This episode of Business Lab is produced in association with JPMorgan Chase.

Full transcript

Laurel Ruma: From MIT Technology Review, I’m Laurel Ruma, and this is Business Lab, the show that helps business leaders make sense of new technologies coming out of the lab and into the marketplace.

Our topic today is large-scale technology transformation. For global companies, everything is done at a large scale. However, when the plan is to ensure longevity and competitiveness into the next century, tackling complexity and laying the groundwork for innovation is crucial.

Two words for you: future foundation.

My guest today is Chad Ballard, head of global banking platform tech, consumer and community banking at JPMorgan Chase.

This podcast is produced in association with JPMorgan Chase.

Welcome, Chad.

Chad Ballard: Yeah. Thank you, Laurel, for having me on the podcast, and for this topic in particular.

Laurel: So, you’ve been working on large-scale transformation in global finance and health care industries for years now. How has that experience helped shape your current charge at JPMorgan Chase, which is to design and build the technical needs of the firm for the next century to come?

Chad: Yes, thank you. Yes, as you mentioned, I’ve been doing large transformation at a number of financial institutions and industries over the years, and you learn a lot along the way, and when you operate at institutions that are global and large-scale, you even learn a lot more. And there’s a few things that I would just highlight from operating large-scale transformation in large global institutions. One is that you must always be business-led and you must always be solving clear business outcomes. So we involve our business partners from the beginning, understanding and defining their pain points and ensuring that our transformation is measurable in addressing their strategic needs. This also ensures that the organization is bought in at all levels, which is extremely important. Additionally, at JPMorgan Chase, product, technology, data and design work and operate together throughout this execution to ensure we’re always delivering the best overall value for our customers.

The second item that I would highlight is that you really must understand your current state to effectively design your target state, and you must consider this in all of your customer journeys end-to-end. This is really important to ensure that you’re creating the most optimal customer and employee experience and getting the full value of your transformation. Core banking platforms are always at the foundation of the bank, so when you change them, it has a ripple impact throughout the organization. So you really must prepare for that fully and include all of the products and platforms that operate around your platform in your design to ensure that you’re always delivering the best overall experience and solving those pain points in your transformation. This also means you must include all of the consumers of your platform, which include those which have a direct customer experience, such as consumer of our products and services through our mobile applications, but also those which drive employee and operations experiences as they also have a direct impact on our customers, this could be the call center, this could be the branch, this could be other operational areas.

So it’s important that you think about your transformation and the impact it has across all of those areas. You must also design an architecture to maximize scale and resiliency in order to be able to leverage the full value of the cloud. The platforms that we manage, they have a direct impact on customers’ day-to-day experiences, buying groceries, saving for college or retirement, or starting and managing a business. So we must ensure that we are never down as this has a direct impact on them.

This must also be considered end-to-end to ensure that the overall experience is resilient for the customer. One component being down has an impact on our customers, we must ensure all components are always available at all times, and we’re able to quickly mitigate any issue which may occur and that we can automatically scale at peak times throughout the year as well. And then the last thing that I would just highlight is that transformation programs which span multiple years, they can create organizational fatigue over time. So you must clearly define when major outcomes will be achieved, you must continually manage expectations over time as to how you’re achieving those outcomes, and you must always deliver incremental value towards your target state. Maturity of these new platforms comes over time as well, and so, as you’re delivering that incremental value, you must always manage risk and control against that maturity.

Laurel: So, this is clearly, Chad, bringing IT to the absolute top of the organization. So IT has a seat at the table to not just ensure the business runs smoothly day-to-day, but is also helping build what the firm looks like for the future. Correct?

Chad: That is right. At the end of the day, the customer is at the center of what we do. And so, we’ve got to bring technology—the way that we think about product, the way that we think about design, and the way that we think about data—together in order to be able to deliver that product for the customer. And IT definitely has a strong seat at that table as it has a direct impact on how those experiences are delivered.

Laurel: So, this does get quite into the day-to-day business of JPMorgan Chase, obviously. So can you describe the concept of building a new ledger for JPMorgan Chase? What are you looking to change and how can those changes benefit customers?

Chad: Yeah. The way that I like to think about this is we really are building the future of the bank. We have an existing ledger that continues to provide a reliable, resilient, and scalable platform for managing financial products of our customers today, which includes managing their balances, their postings, their transactions. The new ledger that we’re building will enhance the scale, it’s going to improve that resiliency, but it’s also going to allow us to build more innovative financial products for our customers and enhance the speed and the frequency in which we deliver that value to them. The new ledger will also let us leverage public cloud and take further advantage of real-time processing of customer data to improve their experiences as well. So in one case, we’re building a new ledger, but we’re building it in a completely different way. And that really is where the opportunity for innovation and new value creation comes for our customers.

Laurel: And that is definitely part of JPMorgan Chase’s charge to stay on that cutting edge to make sure that they are constantly innovating and bringing that value to customers as one of the world’s largest banks as well as oldest.

Chad: Yeah, that’s right. So our customers behaviors may be changing, they may be looking at more digital experiences, they may be looking at different types of products, whether that be lending deposits or cards. We’ve always got to stay very close to what our customers need and we need to be able to build products that allow for us to be able to offer services that not only no other bank can provide, but no other big tech company could provide either, because customers are also looking outside of banks for different products and services, and we want to have the best products in the service in the market at all times.

Laurel: So, the current tech stack for JPMorgan Chase is quite complex, why is it imperative now to move away from technologies like COBOL, a programming language designed in the 1950s, but has been pervasively used in the finance industry?

Chad: Yeah. COBOL in the mainframe have been around in most financial institutions as the backbone of things like core banking for many years. It is a tech stack that is now becoming increasingly difficult to find talent to build, maintain and leverage those skills in the way that we build products and services for our customers and it doesn’t take full advantage of cloud design principles. Meaning that some of those applications may be very large and changing them may be complex in nature, which doesn’t allow us to operate at the speed and differentiation that we want to do for our customers. This has a direct impact on the way that we engineer our experiences and the time that it takes to deliver them. So we want to move to where developers are today and that is in public cloud.

Laurel: And when you talk about that kind of need for speed and scale, what are some examples of that, like you would be looking for the future, as you said, certainly to support the new ledger for the bank, but also just to provide better products and services to customers?

Chad: Yes, that’s a great question, and I’ll give you a good example. Today, if we want to take a financial product to market, whether that is a change to an existing or even a new offering, there are many layers of the organization that we need to be able to develop technology to deliver that. We may have to develop it at the core banking layer, which is that foundation layer. We may have to change many layers of middleware, which are those layers that sit between the data that the customer has and the experience in which they operate. And then we’ve got to also change many experiences. Is this offered in the branch? Do we want to offer it at an ATM? Do we want to offer it in digital experiences or all of them? And as new experiences come out, that also is further adaptation that we have to do.

So, as you can imagine, anytime that you make a change, the ripple effect of that change that it has in the organization is very large. And as a result of it, we have to make sure that we test every layer and regression test every layer. And this just adds complexity, which results in time, time that it takes for us to get this value to our customers, but also time that competitors are also continuing to deliver products at scale. And so, we want to make sure that as we create products in the future, that we’re able to very easily, dynamically propagate those products to all of our experiences in a simple and high-quality way.

Laurel: So, you mentioned the cloud, how can building and investing in the public cloud help the firm evolve with the industry, adapt to those customer needs, and then stay ahead of competition?

Chad: Absolutely. Yes. The use of public cloud not only lets us rethink the way that we develop our experiences using the latest modern software or enhanced databases that the clouds may offer, but it also allows for the firm to continually take advantage of the ongoing investment in innovation that are done by the cloud providers themselves, such as what we’re seeing in AI and machine learning. This allows for us, as an organization, to stay focused on building great experiences for our customers and less time in managing storage and compute. The cloud allows for us to be able to further automate where things have been manual or batch-driven in the past as well. It also allows for us to be faster in our delivery because we’re able to reduce down the size of the applications, which allows for us to make changes in a faster way.

We’re able to automate the way that we deliver those changes into production in a more efficient way, which also lets us get products to our customers faster, and we can improve the quality and overall resiliency by leveraging the scalability of the cloud as well. And while these things don’t happen automatically just because you’ve decided to move to the cloud, the cloud really unlocks and provides access to these greater set of options and will allow us to continually improve with that ongoing investment that others are making in innovation so that we don’t have to always be the one innovating in capabilities, but leveraging innovations of the market. This allows for us to build better technology that’s more modular, more agile, and more adaptable and more efficient over time.

Laurel: So, you mentioned automating and automation being a definite benefit of moving to the cloud, how will that help your team improve, not just what they’re trying to work on, but their daily lives and innovate as well?

Chad: Yeah. The way that I always like to tell people is that there is actually a lot of value in automating yourself at a job because we’ll give you another job, is that we want to be able to reduce down work that we would consider to be low value. And when I say low value, that means that if that work can be automated, that allows for you, as a very skilled engineer, to move on to a higher value set of work.That also makes it better for our customers because the more automated that we are, the higher the quality because we do these things in a very repetitive way, the way that we deliver code, the way that we test code, the way that we run security practices against code, the way that we can rebuild infrastructure from a disaster, that automation allows for us to continually be at a high quality of these and allows for the people that are doing the work to not continue to do the same task over and over, but shift their skills to really creating new innovation and new value.

Laurel: And speaking of shifting skills, what skills and attributes make a team taking on such a large charge like this really successful?

Chad: Yeah. It’s important that you build a culture that is invested in working in an agile way, and JPMorgan Chase does this very well. We want to have an organization that designs, delivers and operates in an incremental way and always manages risk and maturity along the way because again, this is a multi-year effort in most transformations. Along the way, we want people that are going to challenge existing processes continually ask why, and not only look at the way that we operate today, but how others operate throughout the industry. We want people to be experts of technology, but also understand deeply the business. They should be customer-driven always and think about how their delivery impacts the overall customer experience, not just developing their component, but how this component impacts the customer as a whole. We want them to prioritize quality and automation as mentioned in all that they do, we want them to leverage best practices in public cloud that JPMorgan Chase provides, while also looking at ways to contribute new value back to the firm as well.

Because as we continue to mature in public cloud, we are going to find more ways to become more efficient, but we want the firm to take full advantage of that from one area versus another. And finally, they should have fun. Doing this work is extremely challenging and complex when you look at transformation, it is multi-year, you’re spending a lot of time with the people day-to-day in order to be able to deliver these capabilities, but it’s an amazing opportunity to build a platform which provides value for the large customer base that we have at JPMorgan Chase.

Laurel: I remember you mentioning that it is one of those rare challenges that tech teams get to experience is actually deploying tech that goes across such a large customer base. Do you find yourself worried some days and other days just so proud because you actually made it happen?

Chad: No, I think it definitely is both. You do worry because the slightest issue can impact a large customer base. So that is the downside, is that you’ve got to make sure that you think about resiliency in everything that you do. And that is kind of the embedded culture of Chase is that we know that we have a very large scale at JPMorgan Chase, and we’ve got to make sure that we always consider that because the smallest impact could have an impact on thousands of customers. And so, we want to make sure that we take that into consideration in all that we do. But it also is a huge opportunity because if you can build technology that truly scales automatically to be able to support one of the largest financial institutions in the world, you can do that anywhere. And I think that that is a challenge that we take with a badge of honor, that we can develop technology that truly can scale to the largest workloads and provide the best experiences for our customers.

Laurel: Speaking of the future, how do you see the future of banking over the next decade? How is it going to evolve and what innovations are you excited about?

Chad: Yeah, that’s a great question. I mean, the future of banking will include new types of products, products which may span traditional lines of business. Maybe today, credit card, lending and deposits maybe looks very different in the future, or maybe you have one product that can cross over various products like we have today. And so, I see the products themselves evolving in the future. We’re already starting to see some of that in the market today. We also see products that are going to take more advantage of intelligent uses of real-time data to react to the customer quickly, to provide insights to them in a real-time basis to make them have the most relevant data, to make the best experience decision for their lives.

And we want to consider that these may potentially include alternative experiences as well. Maybe it’s not a traditional mobile application, maybe it’s an embedded experience in another application, and we need to think about how the products that we build can provide in other experiences as well. Additionally, we know that big tech institutions are going to continue to build and offer their own financial products as well, so we must have platforms that allow for us to quickly create, innovate, and differentiate the products that we offer for our customers, incorporating the best use of design and data, and this platform flexibility and speed ensures that we can always bring the best innovation to our customers.

Laurel: I really like that, create, innovate, and differentiate. Chad, thank you very much for being a guest today on the Business Lab.

Chad: Yeah. No, thank you for having me, I really appreciate it.

Laurel: That was Chad Ballard, head of global platform tech, consumer and community banking at JPMorgan Chase, who I spoke with from Cambridge, Massachusetts, the home of MIT and MIT Technology Review, overlooking the Charles River.

That’s it for this episode of Business Lab. I’m your host, Laurel Ruma. I’m the global director of Insights, the custom publishing division of MIT Technology Review. We were founded in 1899 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and you can find us in print on the web and at events each year around the world. For more information about us and the show, please check out our website at technologyreview.com.

This show is available wherever you get your podcasts. If you enjoyed this episode, we hope you’ll take a moment to rate and review us. Business Lab is a production of MIT Technology Review. This episode was produced by Giro Studios. Thanks for listening.

This content was produced by Insights, the custom content arm of MIT Technology Review. It was not written by MIT Technology Review’s editorial staff.

This podcast is for informational purposes only and it is not intended as legal, tax, financial, investment, accounting or regulatory advice. Opinions expressed herein are the personal views of the individual(s) and do not represent the views of JPMorgan Chase & Co. The accuracy of any statements, reported findings or quotations are not the responsibility of JPMorgan Chase & Co.

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