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Google’s Ulku Rowe on how innovative financial services firms approach the cloud

  • Cloud technologies are not just a way to reduce costs, but also rethink financial services.
  • Google Cloud's head of financial services joins us to talk about what top companies are doing right with cloud.
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Google’s Ulku Rowe on how innovative financial services firms approach the cloud

Our guest today Google’s Ulku Rowe spends a significant amount of time with financial services companies as they grapple with new technologies like cloud, AI, machine learning and data analytics. Ulku is an engineer with a lot of experience in financial services — capital markets, specifically — as CTO at JPMorgan Chase before moving over to Google.

She is the technical director of financial services at Google Cloud. Ulku and her team recently published a white paper entitled Cloud as an Innovation Platform in Capital Markets: Lessons learned from the Innovators. We talk about the benefits of migrating to the cloud for financial services companies and what really defines success. Open Source software plays a big role here and we talk about what leading capital markets firms are doing with it. She is the technical director of financial services at Google Cloud.

Ulku and her team recently published a white paper entitled Cloud as an Innovation Platform in Capital Markets: Lessons learned from the Innovators. We talk about the benefits of migrating to the cloud for financial services companies and what really defines success. Open Source software plays a big role here and we talk about what leading capital markets firms are doing with it.

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The following excerpts were edited for clarity.

Best practices for the cloud

You don’t have to give up spreadsheets, though they will become more powerful. They’ll also have to give up some screen space to data analytics tools and notebooks. Some of that is being powered by what’s happening in the cloud. At Google, we have have our spreadsheet application Sheets and we’re connecting that to BigQuery, which is our serverless, highly scalable cloud data warehouse. So, through Sheets, you get everything cloud and BigQuery have to offer.

Cloud has something to offer regardless of the size of company or the stage it’s at. I’ll mention two of our customers to give examples. HSBC has been working with us as a strategic partner. They’re breaking down data silos, managing their data better, and running risk calculations in the cloud. They’re using Google Cloud to innovate and work more efficiently.

Scotia Bank is another strategic partner. They call the cloud a method, not a location. They’re actually using the cloud to transform their business. They’re moving all their data into the cloud, including PII data, using it as part of a major transformative effort.

As we work with our customers, we noticed some themes start to emerge. We completed a study of capital markets firms at various stages of cloud adoption, seeing what’s common to adopters we call Transformative Innovators, doing it well and fast.

We learned five things.

  1. They learn from the tech industry. What has made the tech industry so powerful is how we do incremental, fast updates and agile development. We’re seeing that emerge in capital markets.
  2. They create a culture of everyone is a programmer: It’s not just in IT departments. We’re seeing this more in capital markets which has always had a quant culture with traders as programmers. Now, it’s going into middle and back office, as well.
  3. They balance openness and security: They set the guardrails right from the beginning and give everyone access to the tools.
  4. They are adopting machine learning as a core part of their business: They aren’t just adopting machine learning at the tail end. They’re also looking at their data pipelines, making sure they have the right processes to build, deploy, and manage the models.
  5. They’re using open source as a competitive advantage

What stands in the way of migrating to the cloud

Finance is a heavily regulated industry and a business of trust. Every conversation with our customers begins with security, compliance, and regulation. There’s also some inertia at the regulators to move beyond some tried and true models. When it comes to security and compliance, our customers realize that security and compliance improve with migration to the cloud.

These financial institutions have long histories, with lots of mergers and acquisitions. They have a big legacy estate that they need to deal with. Addressing those and revamping them the cloud way is a major undertaking. Lastly, it’s about talent. Reeducating the workforce and hiring people who understand the cloud — undertaking a cultural and technical transformation takes a while.

When we first started talking about cloud a few years ago, it was mostly around reducing costs. Now, it’s an opportunity to streamline processes and optimize infrastructure spend. For the ones who take it as a game changer, it’s an opportunity to rethink a business. What can I not do today that I could if I had the resources and access to computational power? How do I serve my clients better? How can I further reduce my risk? The ones that take this approach are seeing a better impact on their bottom lines.

Real life scenarios of cloud adoption

The Cloud Adoption Framework in capital markets. Source: Google

If you look at the trading floor, more companies are using structured and unstructured data to find better trading opportunities and create predictive models. If you’re in risk management, we’re seeing professionals use the cloud’s computational capabilities that take into account a lot more variables and risk models that run through more scenarios. We’re gradually seeing machine learning embedded in these risk models. If you’re in operations, we’re seeing cloud working on streamlining processing. Whether it’s using natural language processing to understand loan documents or trader communications — there are lots of places we’re actually seeing cloud and its related technologies impacting all aspects of capital markets’ value chain.

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