Why Malaysia’s AmBank is embracing open source and DevOps

AmBank Group is tapping open source, DevOps and data science to improve customer service and develop bespoke services for a broader market

Malaysia’s AmBank Group has trained its sights on open source, DevOps and data science to serve the growing needs of customers and enhance their overall banking experience, said one of its top executives.

“Our ambition is to do things completely digitally and as remotely as possible for all our customers, whether retail or small and mid-sized enterprises [SMEs],” Iswaraan Suppiah, group chief operations officer of AmBank Group told Computer Weekly during a panel discussion at Red Hat Forum in Kuala Lumpur last week.

Suppiah said banking services are currently not fully digitised and customers still need to interact physically with banks, which is becoming increasingly cumbersome for customers amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Noting that customers have more worries on their minds today than before, Suppiah said AmBank wants to help all segments of the market, especially SMEs, to bank conveniently and alleviate any anxieties they may experience during these tough times.

Suppiah explained that consumers and SME business owners still need to be physically present at the bank to facilitate the “know your customer” (KYC) process as well as to sign documents.

“Some banks do reach out to customers in-person to make it easier for customers, but from what I observe there isn’t a totally digital and remote way of doing things yet,” he said.

“Today, I don’t see anyone leading in this space, and so our ambition is to be the first to totally facilitate, say, an opening of a bank account in a completely ‘touchless’, remote way.”

Quizzed further as to what open source, DevOps and data science would mean to AmBank, Suppiah singled out the advantages of open source software.

With open source, Suppiah said the bank can engineer its software from ground-up to suit its needs, rather than customise off-the-shelf products.

“The innovation and intellectual property are ours,” said Suppiah. “This way, change management is also smoother and subsequent features and functions can be quickly and easily added, which translates into being able to keep our first-mover advantage.”

AmBank participated in the Red Hat Open Innovation Labs programme, which helped it create applications and standard operating procedures to manage agile application development projects.

The bank also used Red Hat OpenShift to build a continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) pipeline for its applications.

Asked if AmBank is willing to work with other open source software suppliers besides Red Hat, Suppiah said the bank is not exclusively tied up with the Rayleigh, North Carolina-based software supplier.

“We’re open to work with any open source player as long as it’s trusted and it is able to serve enterprise-grade solutions,” he said. “Being a bank, we can’t be too ‘cowboy’ in our approach and we cannot be used as guinea pigs to try things on. The open source software we use must be market tested.

“What we like about Red Hat is that it has, to some extent, a management layer and an established open source community for us to turn to, and this gives us confidence.”

Democratising banking

In a wide-ranging interview, Suppiah revealed that AmBank’s goal is to create bespoke solutions for broader market segments, akin to how private banking has met the needs of high net-worth individuals.

He said that in private banking, dedicated human officers can be used to serve such customers because the base is small and the fees are lucrative. But this kind of service was not possible for a larger base of customers, he added. 

The same concept can, however, be applied to a broader market, Suppiah said, noting that there must be a targeted and intelligent use of technology for this to happen.

“Traditionally, banks have tailor-made their solutions based on income,” he said. “But using technology, we can create bespoke products to serve the mass market without having to use as many resources to do so.”

Suppiah said this was why AmBank is focused on capturing customer data and is planning to use advanced data analytics and machine learning to sort out the information and create the right solutions for a broader range of customers. “We want to provide customers with solutions that perhaps even they don’t know they want yet,” he said.

On how AmBank is planning to invest in such initiatives, Suppiah said banks today are spending about 30-40% of their budgets on critical compliance infrastructure, such as anti-money laundering and cyber security initiatives.

“If you exclude that, we will spend almost 70% of our budget balance on all our digital initiatives, which, among other plans, include the aforementioned.”

Read more about open source in APAC

  • Open security will facilitate the interoperability and capabilities of cyber security tools while alleviating vendor lock-in for enterprises, says IBM.
  • MongoDB teams up with Alibaba Cloud to expand its presence in Asia-Pacific as it prepares to release a serverless variant of the open-source database.
  • Singapore’s Government Technology Agency has developed a robotics technology stack that will power robots using capabilities from commercial suppliers and the open source community.
  • Australia’s open source seL4 microkernel project will be supported by a new foundation created under the auspices of the Linux Foundation.
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