Two major banks have become charter members of a quantum computing network established by IBM, another sign of how far financial services companies are going to make themselves more competitive and to steel themselves against security threats.

JPMorgan Chase and Barclays are among the partners in the development of the IBM Q Network, a widely accessible, 20-qubit quantum computing system that the technology company unveiled Thursday. IBM has for some time made quantum computers available for broad use and an open-source platform for developing programs for them.

JPMorgan is looking at using IBM’s quantum computing systems for trading, portfolio optimization, asset pricing and risk analysis, among other things. Barclays is just beginning to investigate potential uses for the financial industry.

Many banks are interested in using quantum computing for risk management. Risk calculations entail large numbers of complex simulations.

“On conventional computers you have thousands of cores deployed for those calculations, and at the end of the day you are constrained by the sheer cost of the hardware,” said Keith Bear, vice president of global financial markets at IBM.

The banks want to find out if they can calculate risk and analyze portfolios at quantum speeds.

Limitless possibilities
Quantum computing could be useful in things like the mathematical algorithms banks use to calculate risk and price derivatives. It could also potentially help identify fraud faster. Adobe Stock

There is a race of sorts going on in quantum computing, with IBM, Microsoft, Google and D-Wave all coming closer to live implementations of the technology, which runs in zero-degree environments and can potentially perform 100,000 times faster than classical computers.

Microsoft announced on Monday a programming language called Q# and tools that developers can use to write software for quantum computers. In October, Google announced that by the end of this year it expects to achieve quantum supremacy—the point at which a quantum computer can outperform a classical computer.

Quantum computing directly leverages quantum mechanics, the laws of physics that govern the smallest particles in the universe, to solve problems at high speeds. Traditional computers only allow bits of information to live in one state at time — as 0s or 1s. A quantum computer, operating in an extreme environment (the chips run at -459 degrees Fahrenheit), uses qubits (quantum bits) that enable bits of information to be a 1, 0 or both 0 and 1 simultaneously.

This technology can be harnessed to create a computation system that can manipulate and assess many combinations of information concurrently.

This could be useful in things like the mathematical algorithms banks use to calculate risk and price derivatives. It could also potentially help identify fraud faster.

“It enables many more complex calculations as soon as you start working out how to program against this type of architecture, which is obviously quite different,” Bear said. “The further potential is to solve problems that are difficult to do with conventional computing even if you throw a lot of hardware at them. The challenge is mapping from the theoretical possibilities to the real-world problems banks and other industries face.”

Hence, the involvement of JPMorgan and Barclays.

Bear says he is also working with a bank that is using quantum computing to understand the security implications of the technology. There is a fear that cybercriminals could take advantage of quantum computing to break encryption. This bank wants to learn how to quantum-proof its systems.

IBM is building quantum computing labs with MIT, Oak Ridge National Lab and Oxford University.