Citi Banks on Cloud Foundry to Accelerate Its Innovation

October 24, 2019

Citigroup Inc., also known as Citi, is a multinational investment bank and financial services corporation with roots extending back 200 years, and more than $70 billion in current annual revenue.

It embarked on a long-term Digital Transformation initiative a few years ago, to get products and services to market more quickly, in the face of a Fintech revolution by startups around the world that increasingly challenge the long-established big banks.

Managing $4 Trillion Daily

Its initial, ongoing transformation can be found within its Treasury and Trades Solutions (TTS) division, which handles $4 trillion in client payments daily, in 140 currencies.

What are described as “three thick layers” of proprietary, monolithic IT infrastructure are in the process of being migrated to a microservices-driven architecture based on Cloud Foundry. Scrum teams and agile development are replacing a former waterfall process that limited software releases to four times per year.

People and Process, and Tech

Thus, the transformation is not focused solely on technology.

“In order to grow Citi, we first have to grow our own perspective, skills, and capabilities,” according to Stephen Bird, CEO of Citi’s Global Consumer Banking. “We had to grow our curiosity, our openness to learning and trying new things, and our ability to adjust and adapt quickly.”

In the past, it would take as many as 20 development teams to get something new to market. Since adopting Cloud Foundry and all that goes with it, there has been a 57% increase in the speed of development, with collaborative development teams spread across several regions.

Cloud Foundry adoption has increased the speed of application development by 57% at Citibank.

The group likes to think of itself as a tech organization that does banking, even as it operates in a large, highly regulated environment that behooves significant numbers of people focused on the jobs at hand.

Bits and Pieces

Experience has shown that an initial tendency to “chop up” monoliths and send them to the cloud can result only in a new crop of several smaller monoliths, so a more reasonable, iterative approach is proving to be the way to go.

An aggressive approach turns groups of 10 engineers into groups of 20 and then 40, all of whom learn Citi’s development model. The Citi teams are thus able to focus on accelerating transformation, as noted by one team leader.

“Whomever is iterating the fastest will win the hearts and minds of their customers. That’s our accelerator.”

Fighting Fintech with Fintech

Cloud Foundry is cloud-agnostic, which benefits the Citi initiative as it strives to create a multi-cloud environment that continues to have a significant on-premises presence.

As a sign of defiance and respect to counter the challenge of the pesky Fintech Lilliputians, it has created an internal organization that itself is called Fintech. This group is designed to be aligned with building modern, distributed systems.

The teams are moving toward a culture in which previous planning, development, and deployment stages migrate toward the middle, development-centric process.

“This is not just to make ourselves successful, but to enable other organizations at Citi to accelerate their own growth, and to provide to our customers the best experiences as fast as possible.”

Citi’s management has even embedded compliance and legal teams as part of the scrum-team process. Dev teams work with the business as a single, cohesive unit that is incentivized by week-to-week sprints and release cadence.

“The engineers are super excited to unleash their own potential in building software in a way they’ve always dreamed.”

And On To DevOps

Ahu Chhapgar, Managing Director and Global Head of Banking Channels Technology in Citi’s TTS division was interviewed recently about the division’s ongoing transformation. 

He explained how next steps involve developing a full-fledged DevOps culture. “As everybody knows, DevOps is very much a part of what development organizations now own,” he said. “(So) this is all about enabling their future…we’re taking the application and we’re putting it through the ringer via pipelines.”

“As we go through this transformation journey, we have a set of really committed engineers at Citi. They have a great understanding of the existing applications, great subject matter expertise. We want to pair them with people who have expertise in the cloud domain in modern-day architecture.”

A brief video about Citi’s efforts at accelerating innovation can be found on YouTube:

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Caitlyn O'Connell, AUTHOR

As Senior Marketing Manager of Cloud Foundry Foundation, Caitlyn runs content and manages diversity programming.