Company Culture

Jan. 14, 2021 3:28 pm

PNC’s director of technology on what it takes to uncover emerging tech in the financial sector

Hint: Be prepared to fail fast, learn quickly and drive results.
Vorachat Tamaree.

Vorachat Tamaree.

(Courtesy photo)

There’s always that moment during an interview when you know you really want the job. For Vorachat Tamarree, it was when he found out his potential role at PNC would entail the exploration of emerging technologies — potentially changing the way financial services companies do business.

“I had assumed PNC would function at the pace of a traditional bank,” said Tamarree, now PNC’s director of technology. “But things move so fast here.”

Tamarree’s role requires him to analyze the use of emerging technologies to solve problems and create efficiencies across nearly every banking category, from retail banking to wealth management to cybersecurity.

“We’re looking for tech that can not only make a big impact on the financial services industry, but also improve people’s everyday lives,” Tamarree said. “However, because this technology is only emerging, we don’t always have much context around it.”

The lack of context is complicated even further by the fact that Tamarree may not even have a clear problem to solve yet. After all, how can you anticipate the use of a technology that didn’t exist yesterday?

For example, one morning his team was challenged with improving the user experience of an electronic signature feature. They were tasked with streamlining a process that took days, down to something that took seconds.

“We didn’t know why the original process took days to complete or what exactly we were going to fix,” he said.

They decided to create new APIs in a microservice application. To do so, they quickly explored new technologies and started creating multiple prototypes to learn and test. The next day, the code was completed with 90% code coverage.

"We often reach out to our partners in fintech, or at leading technology companies and universities to better understand problems and options."
Vorachat Tamarree, PNC director of technology

When asked about his process for identifying fuzzy problems and the right emerging technologies to provide solutions, Tamarree outlined his path to discovery.

“Our approach is to first understand a problem as much as we can,” Tamarree said. “We work with our design thinking teammates to better understand the problem and users. Who are the stakeholders, and what are their interests? Who are the key players in these spaces? Then, we list all possible options and start an evaluation. We often came across situations when emerging technology is being developed. In that case, we look into who the leaders, researchers and early adopters are. What are their current challenges?”

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His team conducts a technical evaluation to understand the why, what and how behind a technology’s development and the ways it can be implemented. Armed with that information, they focus on innovative uses of the technology, coming up with new ideas, solutions, products and services.

Headquartered in downtown Pittsburgh, PNC is a large hub comprising seven buildings, four of which sit within a one-block radius. The area offers access to experts across the city’s many research universities and institutions, as well as within its vast network of entrepreneurs and innovation companies.

“We are lucky to be able to leverage the information around us,” Tamarree said. “We often reach out to our partners in fintech, or at leading technology companies and universities to better understand problems and options. When it comes to research and trends, we are fortunate to have good partnerships with professors at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh.”

Tamarree is quick to point out that although they reference research, the most important step in this early part of the process is to take what they’ve learned and test it in the lab.

“We never read something and believe it without trying it out first,” Tamarree said.

Once the technical evaluation process is complete, Tamarree and his team follow one of two models. They either build a strategy around what they learned and present it to the executive team, or build an incubation project that incorporates their learnings from the lab into PNC products and services.

To be successful in a role like his, Tamarree said it is critical to have a deep understanding of not just how emerging technologies work, but the logic behind them and the values and risks attached.

“You need to understand the ‘why and what,’ not just the ‘how,’” Tamarree said. “Those pieces are critical for when you are suggesting one option over the other.”

He also recommends having a passion for technology that motivates you to dive deeply into your work every day, and the ability to fail quickly, learn quickly and move on.

“We often have to adjust our plans — sometimes daily — to manage risk and deliver solutions quickly,” he said. “You must be open-minded and understanding when tackling the unknown.”

If you’re up for a challenge, visit PNC’s company page to learn more about its range of opportunities for technologies.

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