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‘With a $4 billion budget, we can do quite a bit around heritage technology’: Chase’s CIO, Rohan Amin

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‘With a $4 billion budget, we can do quite a bit around heritage technology’: Chase’s CIO, Rohan Amin

So much time and money is spent on maintaining technology within incumbent organizations. Instead of calling this tension “technology debt” or even “legacy technology”, JPMorgan Chase CIO for consumer and community banking Rohan Amin likes to call it heritage tech. I like that description as it gives room for the ongoing investment in the tech stack but also in customers and the brand.

Rohan joins us on the podcast to discuss his mandate as CIO of the largest US bank with a tech budget of $4 billion and over 12,000 technologists globally. We talk about the balance between maintenance and building and creating new products. He discusses how the pandemic affected the businesses he and his team support. We talk about the bank’s approach to accessibility and APIs. Lastly, Rohan talks about his biggest priorities for 2021 and beyond.

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The following excerpts were edited for clarity.

What the CIO role entails

I’m the Chief Information Officer at our consumer and community banking business at JPMorgan Chase. And so what that means is I’m the head of technology for Chase, our retail bank. And that’s a team of more than 12,000 technologists and engineers, and an investment of approximately $4 billion across all Chase lines of business (our consumer banking, credit cards, home lending, auto business, banking, and wealth management).

Effectively, I’m responsible for the technology for everything from our branches, ATMs, our call centers, and things like Chase.com and our mobile app, as well. We’re part of a broader firm JPMorgan Chase, in which we have 50,000 technologists, and we invest more than $12 billion a year in technology.

The technology mandate

The mandate is quite clear. Chase is really about helping our customers make more of what’s theirs. And my job as the head of technology for Chase is to make that happen every single day. We’re very focused on our customer experience. We’re very focused on helping solve problems that our customers are facing every single day, and making it easy for them to manage their financial lives, and giving them access to the tools and capabilities that make that possible.

And in times of need, like, for example, what happened over the past year, we want to make sure we’re there for our customers with things like the Payroll Protection Program. The mandate is to support that overall mission. And increasingly, as technology and digital is just continuing to become a greater part of the customer experience, I’d say that mandate, its importance, continues to grow.

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Managing technology versus building new products

It’s probably not a surprise to anyone that larger organizations — and obviously, banks — have heritage technology. The real question, in my mind, is what are we doing about it. Frankly, with our significant investment capability, and you heard the numbers earlier, it turns out we’re able to do quite a bit about it. We’re very focused on the customer experience, and bringing new things to market (and we’re always bringing new feature functionality to market for our customers). We’re also modernizing the tech that powers that experience, as well.

The results are pretty clear. I’m very proud of the team and the work they’ve done. For example, JD Power recently rated us as having the number one app for wealth management. And so, that’s an example of how staying focused on the customer experience and modernizing the technology along the way is able to achieve that sort of an outcome.

Heritage

[Using the phrase ‘heritage technology’] is a better way for me to speak to the organization about it. We’ve actually been very deliberate about the use of the word heritage as opposed to legacy. It’s not a burden and it honors the past, too. Honestly, many of those systems are still quite critical, and will continue to be for for some time. And so that’s the way we talk about it here.

We’re fortunate that we have the investment capacity to be able to continue to modernize our technology, and keep the customer experience forefront, because at the end of the day, the thing that really matters is making sure the customer experience is there.

Supporting the organization

JPMorgan Chase has four major lines of business, starting with what we call consumer and community banking, or CCB, aka Chase. That’s the part, the technology component of which I’m responsible for. And we have three other lines of business at the firm, our asset and wealth management business, commercial bank, and our corporate and investment bank.

Within Chase, our platform runs on Chase.com. Some of our businesses also leverage that platform, too. So yes, it’s the retail piece of the bank of the firm overall, but the platforms that we run also service the other lines of business as well. So it’s quite horizontal in in that regard. It’s a large organization, a lot of a lot of relationships to manage, and a lot of moving pieces.

The pandemic

The pandemic has accelerated our shift towards towards digital down a path that we have been on for quite some time. But certainly, we saw signs of continued, and in some areas, further, acceleration, during the pandemic. Our view is that the migration that we’re seeing to digital channels and digital adoption will persist, even post pandemic.

Just to share with you some stats, we have nearly 55 million digitally active customers, which is up 6% year on year, and our mobile active customers stands at 40 million. That’s up 10%, year on year. One other point that you might find interesting is that since the start of the pandemic, actually, half of the new digitally active customers that we have are over 50. That speaks to the growing outreach that we have from a customer standpoint.

And two other data points that I think you’ll find interesting is that mobile deposit, our Chase Quick Deposit, allows customers to deposit their checks from their mobile device. It now represents more than 40% of all check deposits. That number was 30% pre COVID. And then in home lending, if you think about home lending and getting a mortgage, that’s a complex process with lots of documents. For many people, it’s one of the most complex and important financial transactions they’ll do in their lives. And more than half of the applications were completed digitally. That’s twice the level of what it was just in Q1 of this year.

The role of the branch

We always look at our branch network. And, just given the safety considerations and concerns for our frontline employees and our bankers, we did have to optimize the branch network and some of the branches closed. But we did that obviously thoughtfully, in regard of the fact that we’ve got a number of customers that rely on us, to ensure that we were able to retain service in those key areas.

Accessibility

I’m personally passionate about accessibility. We pride ourselves on building technology for everyone. And that’s what we call it: building technology for everyone. And accessibility is a key component of that. Accessibility to me, isn’t only in terms of recognizing the importance of being able to reach a broader set of customers, but it also has a technology application in terms of how we think about stability, resiliency, and all the other things that you think about from an engineering standpoint.

Bringing something to life with accessibility is another one of those things that we solve for, in terms of how we build and create software, in our technology. So, it’s quite foundational to our product development: any new features that we launch on Chase.com or in the mobile app always start with our inclusive design principles. That goes through our entire software development process.

I’ll give you a simple example: we leveraged technology to make our mobile deposit feature. In the mobile check deposit feature, there’s a screen reader. If you’re using it in an accessible way, it provides a voiceover for the entire screen. But to make it much easier for visually impaired customers to deposit checks, we took the extra steps to make sure we had some custom code in there to make sure that only the relevant sections of the screen are being read by the screen reader.

So, it’s things like that in terms of just the attention to detail, and making sure that we’re being thoughtful about how different people with different abilities might be accessing our app, and how we think about it in our design, and how it will be used in those mechanisms. We get great feedback on this. A number of a number of customers have told us that they bank with us, precisely because of the focus that we’ve had on accessibility, making sure that the app is is usable by a much broader swath of folks.

APIs and connectivity

The API story for us is really sort of a two part story, if you will. There’s a story internally, and then there’s the external one. Let me just touch on the internal one for just a second.. We want our internal services to be able to be consumed by each other, increasingly through a set of APIs and services, so that ultimately, we can continue to shorten the product development lifecycle and bring more feature functionality to customers in a more rich way more quickly. Having an internal API focus allows us to do that.

But to your point, externally, APIs also quite important to our overall strategy, and allow us to bring different experiences to our customer base. This is another example of experiences that have really paid off. During the pandemic, in particular, our customers were able to take advantage of DoorDash and the benefits there, as well as other partnerships with Lyft, and our integrations with Amazon, and things like paying with points on Amazon. So all of these partnerships, third party integrations, they are all done using APIs, and allow us to bring that functionality in a quick, seamless way.

It also signals to those companies that we are easy to work with. We’ve got quick integrations that provide value to both parties at the end of that transaction. The API piece also allows us to bring in the importance of security, and in something we call Account Safe — we’re able to understand and see and show you which apps and other companies you’ve hooked up to your Chase account. And since those companies are increasingly required to use our secure API for that, they don’t get access to the data unless they come through there. It’s just putting more power and more control in the hands of our customers, more transparency. And so there’s a security story there, along with a story around bringing third party experiences to customers that they appreciate.

We definitely pride ourselves on eating our own cooking first. We want to be able to make sure that we can use the APIs, that they’re developer friendly, because in many cases, the party that we’re working with on the other end is also an engineer and a developer.

Looking to 2021

We’ve already talked about the API bit, which has been and continues to be an important part of the strategy. But one area that we didn’t talk about yet is our focus on machine learning and artificial intelligence. We’re making significant headway on the machine learning front. For customers today, when they’re dealing with unfortunate situations, like fraud, we have incorporated machine learning algorithms into our fraud prevention strategy. It’s a huge benefit for those customers in terms of reducing friction and also reducing fraud losses.

We’ve also been using machine learning to improve the customer experience in terms of personalization. We launched a feature called Snapshot, where the mobile app has tiles in it, and it provides you insights that are specific to you about your spending history and trends. That’s generated through machine learning and other algorithms that we’re using to produce those personalized, snackable insights for customers. More broadly, we’re also using machine learning to streamline our business processes, to provide more consistency and quality and speed to the process.

And then, we’re also prioritizing working on what we call ‘any channel, your choice’. We want to be able to meet customers wherever they are, and have them trust in the channel of their choice. We already talked about accessibility, which is a piece of that. But you know, customers want to be able to self serve things end to end. They might want to start in one channel and finish and another, start an application here and pick it up somewhere else. So we want to make it seamless, we want to make it easy. And customers interact with us both digitally and in the branch. And so it’s not about one or the other, it’s really about both.

Things like video, that’s a growth area, for sure. And in certain client segments, we want to be able to interact with those customers and clients using video. Being able to meet the customer and the channel that they want to — that is something that will also be a a focus for us as we move ahead.

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