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BBVA explores quantum computing for banking

Early results from BBVA's research into quantum computing shows that the technology's application in complex computational tasks in banking is not far away

Spanish bank BBVA has built a team of quantum computing experts to research its possible benefits in banking, and it expects the technology to be ready for some commercial computational tasks within the next five years.

Quantum technologies have the potential to complete complex calculations, which currently take days to do, orders of magnitude quicker.

Alongside Spain’s Senior Council for Scientific Research, BBVA is working with large IT suppliers Accenture and Fujitsu, as well as startups Zapata Computing and Multiverse to identify the best use cases.

Over the past year, its team has been investigating different financial use cases to establish how quantum technologies could represent an advantage over traditional computing.

Quantum computers will be able to make calculations that traditional computers are fundamentally unable to do. If practical, they would mark a leap forward in computing capability far greater than that from the abacus to a modern computer.

They can deal with complex financial problems that have to take into account a large number of dimensions or variables, which currently take days to complete.

According to BBVA, the advancement is thanks to qubits, as opposed to bits, in traditional computing. “Qubits exponentially increase the computing capacity compared to classical computing. If the bits can perform calculations based on two possibilities (1 and 0), qubits can run calculations on all the possible combinations between 1 and 0 in parallel,” said the bank.

Early results in the project show that quantum computing can resolve some complex problems quickly, accurately and efficiently, said BBVA.

“Although this technology is still in an early stage of development, its potential to impact the sector is already a reality,” said Carlos Kuchkovky, BBVA global head of research and patents.

“Our research is helping us to identify the areas where quantum computing could represent a greater competitive advantage, once the tools have sufficiently matured. We believe this will be, for certain concrete tasks, in the next two to five years.”

A test done by BBVA’s team on the use of the technology for investment portfolio optimisation showed that it could be considerably faster when there are more than 100 variables in a calculation. But the advantages could be the same for less complex calculation as quantum hardware advances, said BBVA.

BBVA is not alone. Dutch bank ABN Amro is working with researchers to explore how the technology can be used to secure online banking. It is working with Delft University of Technology and the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research to prove that quantum key distribution can be used to secure data traffic. In the future, quantum computers will be able to crack encryption methods, and today’s security systems for internet and mobile banking will no longer be sufficient.

Spain’s CaixaBank has used quantum computing technology to develop a machine learning algorithm to calculate customer credit risk as part of its analysis of the technology’s application in banking. This followed tests of quantum computing.

Meanwhile, Standard Chartered is the latest bank to commit to researching the potential use of quantum computing in the banking industry, through an academic partnership. The bank is collaborating with US-based Universities Space Research Association (USRA) to develop quantum computing applications.

Five application areas for quantum computing

  1. Drug and materials discovery: Untangling the complexity of molecular and chemical interactions leading to the discovery of medicines and materials.
  2. Supply chain and logistics: Finding the optimal path across global systems for ultra-efficient logistics and supply chains, such as optimising fleet operations for deliveries during the holiday season.
  3. Financial services: Finding ways to model financial data and isolating key global risk factors to make better investments.
  4. Artificial intelligence (AI): Making facets of AI, such as machine learning, much more powerful when datasets can be too big, such as searching images or video.
  5. Cloud security: Making cloud computing more secure by using the laws of quantum physics to enhance private data safety. 
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