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Technology 17 Feb 2020

BBVA's journey to be quantum-ready

Quantum computing has taken a short time to make a big leap: from R&D laboratories to corporate meeting rooms. BBVA began its quantum journey almost two years ago and now has a team specialized in quantum development, business units involved in the initiative, strategic alliances agreed, and various lines of research in place.

The latest advances in quantum computing have peaked the business community’s interest in understanding where the mere promise of this technology’s application ends and where real results begin. IBM is one of the tech firms leading research in the field, and last week they met with the chief technology officers of various Spanish companies, including BBVA, in order to discuss what steps businesses should take if they want to take advantage of the potential of this still-developing technology.

Elena Yndurain, one of IBM Q’s business consulting team, explained that from a scientific standpoint there are already solid foundations that demonstrate the advantages of this technology, as compared to classical computing, for specific use cases in various industries. Nevertheless, for now the challenge lies partly in nailing down the functionality offered by the technology; among other things, for example, ensuring that qubits — the smallest unit on which this new computing paradigm is based — conserve their unique physical properties for the longest time possible so that computers can be used to tackle increasingly complex problems.

The other aspect of the challenge involves ensuring that the commercial benefits are truly accessible to the business world as soon as possible. Yndurain indicated that the benefits of quantum computing will begin to become commercially tangible between 2023 and 2025. She went on to define four necessary steps companies should take in preparation for the “arrival of the quantum age.” First, build up knowledge about the technology. Second, plan the organization’s internal adoption strategy, which implies anticipating the “repercussions that it will have on different processes” and the business value chain, in addition to how it might be involved in areas like regulation and talent acquisition. Third, businesses should “have access to the technology” via the different cloud-based platforms in the market. Finally, they should begin to test different use cases that could be applied in each sector.

Steps BBVA has taken

BBVA set out on its quantum journey in mid 2018, when it kicked off research activity following the same internal approach it uses to investigate other technologies and advanced sciences, explained Carlos Kuchkovsky, Chief R&D and Technology Officer in BBVA’s New Digital Businesses (NDB).

“We are already exploring how this technology can contribute to the bank’s strategic priorities”

According to Kuchkovsky, the first phase was “discovery” during which the bank’s experts spent three months analyzing the potential impact quantum technology could have on the sector in the next five years. “Out of this we saw that, yes, quantum computing could have an impact on banking prior to the five year time horizon, so we moved to the next phase of the process, exploration,” the NDB technology head explained. During this second phase, an exhaustive analysis of the technology’s state of play was conducted; the most important participants on the international stage were identified (including both public and private organizations and institutions), and potential banking applications were studied.

The next step was the creation of the BBVA Quantum Hub, a multidisciplinary and autonomous working group comprised of different experts specializing in quantum technologies that follow the same model BBVA uses to research other technological and scientific areas. Kuchkovsky explained that with this team, the bank was able to consolidate its internal talent around the new technology, both in terms of knowledge as well as in skills. “It’s a research and development team that in our case sits within a business unit.”

Once the team was pulled together, it began to work with different business units — such as Corporate and Investment Banking and BBVA Asset Management — in order to understand any pain points they might have and how they could be addressed by the new technology. “Out of this work, we created a list of more than ten specific and real candidate problems on which we could begin working, applying existing technology and in a reasonable timeframe, and always aligned to both the strategic goals of each business unit and the group,” he added. From this list, the team is already working on cases where benefits from the greater computing capacity represented by this technology are most evident. Examples include the optimization of financial calculations for the management of investment portfolios and improvements to banking’s most frequent statistical processes, such as Monte Carlo simulations.

Learn, explore, collaborate

At this point, the bank also began to explore the first research alliances with the external ecosystem, and BBVA established a collaboration agreement with Spain’s National Research Council (CSIC) in order to create a joint research team dedicated to exploring an array of the technology’s financial applications.

All of this work has contributed to the launch of a number of proofs of concepts (PoCs) with different business units, and they are now yielding initial results and allowing for the validation of different hypotheses. The BBVA Quantum Hub now finds itself entrenched in a new set of challenges: to expand its partnership network in the international quantum computing ecosystem, progress the list of identified cases, and together with the bank’s other business units, define new uses cases with far-reaching potential.

“At the same time, we are already exploring how this technology can contribute to the bank’s strategic priorities: specifically, how can it be used to help our customers’ financial health and help them in the transition to a more sustainable future,” BBVA’s tech expert concluded.

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