PNC’s Debbie Guild Leads Cybersecurity at Major U.S. Bank

If a high-performance company is like an IndyCar – comprised of thousands of pieces that must work in unison to succeed – then cybersecurity is the protective paint coating that wraps around the car, the lubricants that allow the engine to propel it over 200 mph, and the machinery holding it together, ensuring that the performance of the vehicle is greater than the sum of its parts.

That’s what cybersecurity is to me. It is the protection, the safety, and the circuitry that launches that high-performance, IndyCar-of-a-company to the front of the pack. And it is the security, and the people behind the security, that allows it to stay in the lead.

As the chief security officer for PNC, I live and breathe cybersecurity. I have for a long time, but I’m not an army of one. We’re a team, and that team helps PNC succeed. I learned this at a very young age, long before I earned the spot as the leader of PNC’s security and enterprise technology teams. It was impossible to know at the time, but immense satisfaction lies in a team of people coming together to ensure customers can trust the systems they’re using in their everyday lives. At PNC, that’s what we do.

Like I mentioned, my interest in helping provide people with secure experiences came early. I was 15 when I began to code. I credit my father, lover of anything with an engine (the above analogy makes sense now, doesn’t it?), for the gene of enjoying and valuing the entire process of putting together complex parts – in my case, algorithms and syntax – to create systems and programs that worked beautifully in unison. At that early impressionable age, understanding the endless possibilities with coding appealed to me. That was when the seed was planted. 

As my career progressed, I continued watering that seed at places like Intel, where I worked as a software engineer. I told myself then that if I mastered the use of semiconductors, I could work for one of three companies in the world, but if I developed my skills to apply technology to business problems, I could work anywhere I wanted. So, I chose the latter, and I entered the business world with Bank of America. 

Then, as if I had hit the fast-forward button, I moved to Pittsburgh to work at PNC. Today, I lead a 2,000-person team for what could soon become a top-five bank in the U.S., pending regulatory approval of PNC’s acquisition of BBVA USA.

PNC is where it really started to come together for me. The world has experienced some of the most intense, complicated and devastating cyberattacks since I started my journey with the company. To meet that level of sophistication, we needed to be equally sophisticated and high performing in the areas of detecting and deterring fraud, fending off potential cybersecurity attacks and protecting against physical crime. 

Remember I said the whole is greater than the sum of its parts? This is where it’s tangibly realized. At places like our Enterprise Fusion Center, we’re monitoring threats 24/7. The mission of the team in this facility is to protect the PNC experience. We deter, prevent, detect, respond and recover from all technology-related disruptions. Here, technology teams collaborate on solutions, in many cases before potential disruptions affect our customers. 

For example, during the past year, our team upgraded authentication technology and procedures across the bank. These efforts have become even more important during the pandemic, when in general, fraud, scams and certain types of cyberattacks have spiked. Being in Pittsburgh, one of the centers of the cybersecurity universe, helps. Not only can we hire talent from Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Pittsburgh and other area institutions that are considered among the leading cybersecurity universities in the world, but we also have the FBI’s High-Tech Computer Crimes Task Force, the CERT Division and the National Cyber-Forensics and Training Alliance, all of which contribute to Pittsburgh being an epicenter for cybersecurity.

Because of the spike in activity during the pandemic, our team has found ways to remain as close as ever while staying physically distant in this remote work environment. It certainly has been a great challenge. But I’ve committed to my team to stay engaged, whether we’re in an office or at a kitchen table. Cybersecurity can be exhilarating, but like any demanding role, it can be taxing. Regardless if we’re working remotely or get back into the office eventually, the acknowledgment that we’re people first is essential to maintaining our performance for our customers.