A lot can change in thirty years.
When Citizens’ Chief Information Officer Michael Ruttledge broke into the finance industry as an engineer in the early 1990s, artificial intelligence was known as a computer beating world chess champion Gary Kasparov.
Thirty years later, AI’s use cases extend well beyond the game of chess, and Ruttledge said he is looking to capitalize on those advancements to speed the bank’s analytical and operational processes, “looking at past faults and errors and getting it to recommend, predict and prevent future problems.” To do this, he and his teams have integrated machine learning algorithms to avoid outages by predicting risks and other factors. Through automation, they have also eliminated cycle times for testing code by 18% in the last year.
Ruttledge spoke to Bank Innovation about Citizens’ roadmap for digital innovation, the role of automation and AI, and the evolution of engineering in the financial services industry. What follows is an edited version of that conversation.
Bank Innovation: You’ve spent more than 20 years engineering in the banking world. What have been some of the most surprising changes in banking automation to you?
Michael Ruttledge: What has happened, probably in the last five years, related to big data and artificial intelligence, is probably one of the most fundamental changes. It’s because of the speed of computers and the cheapness of storage now. You can store literally millions and zillions of zettabytes of data. And you can process it in a matter of seconds, and that really allows you to make decisions that we were never able to make before, whether it’s analyzing and making better fraud decisions, or analyzing and making better credit decisions.
BI: How has automation transformed the back-end technology for Citizens?
MR: We’re implementing what we call a platform-as-a-service development environment. What it really does is it automates the installation for our engineers, for our developers. With a single click, it creates the environment. We have terraform scripts that take care of the infrastructure provisioning, and everything from logging and monitoring is installed on a single command. It really unleashes the developer, the engineer, because it allows them to focus on the code. They only have to focus on the code, they don’t have to do all the operating environment and all the things that surround it; that’s all done for them automatically. It also allows us to build in effective controls into the environment so the security is taken care of and built in from the very beginning.
BI: What is a technology on the forefront of innovation that you’re keeping your eye on?
MR: One of the things that’s always fascinated me is the sort of the top end of the computer spectrum — the really high-powered machines that are just so much faster than they were before and every year. One technology that I’m really fascinated in is quantum, which is still a little ways away. But, once again, it’s going to be a step change in the performance and scalability of computers. It’s both a threat and an opportunity, so that is something that fascinates me, and obviously companies like Google and IBM and Microsoft are working on ways that they can harness that. It’s not stable today, but ultimately I think they’ll get there in the next five to 10 years, and it will just absolutely amplify both the speed of processing and the amount of data that we’re able to process.
BI: How do you see data evolving as we dive even further into this digital world, specifically at Citizens, but also industrywide?
MR: We’ve doubled down on our APIs. We’re making a big bet on Hadoop and have created, like many customers, a lake in the Amazon AWS environments. We’re consolidating all these data villages that were grown up over the many years, all these siloed databases, and bringing them all together into one data lake. We made really, really great progress on that over the last year. We’re starting to look at how do we leverage those things to really add business value, how do we leverage that data — both the internal data that we have on our customers plus the external data — and that’s where marrying the two, you really get the power from big data.
Editor’s note: Hadoop is an open-source software framework that allows for the distributed processing of large data sets across clusters of computers.
BI: What is one thing your team would be surprised to know about you?
MR: I’ve been to six World Cups, probably something people don’t know. I’ve been to South Africa, Brazil and Germany, France and multiple different countries to watch the World Cup. I’m a soccer nut, I love English football. My home team is Leeds United. Another passion of mine is swimming with sharks in South Africa, Tahiti, Mexico and Hawaii.