Schrodinger’s Bank: Truist partners with IBM to get quantum ready

  • This month Truist announced IBM as a partner in its Innovators in Residence program, as well as the bank’s own entry into IBM’s Quantum Accelerator program. 
  • Banks are not sitting on their hands to wait for the day that tomorrow's processors leave today's in the dust.

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Schrodinger’s Bank: Truist partners with IBM to get quantum ready

Banks are peering inside Schrodinger’s box to see if quantum computing has what it takes to solve banking’s most complex problems.

“It's always good to be at the tip of the spear,” said Ken Meyer, Divisional Chief Information & Experience Officer at Truist on the value of keeping up with quantum’s evolution.

Meyer, who leads the bank’s innovation arm, adds that proliferation of quantum computing may have a direct impact on the bank’s capability to safeguard its customers. Today, consumer data is protected by encryption standards that would take a normal computer many years to break. The long computing time needed to break these encryptions wards off would-be attackers. 

However, quantum computers will have computing powers that will leave today’s shiniest processors in the dust. And they will be able to break these encryptions not in years, but days. Estimates vary on exactly when quantum computers will be able to break today’s encryptions. But most agree that we need to at least triple the amount of qubits available on quantum computers today to reach the unenviable encryption-breaking future. Some have pegged this evolution to occur within the next 15 years

A trend line showing the number of quantum bits per processor from 2016 to 2022. The number has dramatically increased since 2021 from a little over a 100 qubits to more than 400 qubits per processor in 2022.
Source: Our World In Data

But estimates can be flaky – there is a whole legend out there that Bill Gates once said that 640KB of usable RAM “ought to be enough for everybody”. The quote is most likely a misattribution but it shows that predicting the future works out better in comic books than in reality. Another example is that of AI: Moore's law predicts that the number of integrated circuits (IC) doubles every year, but AI technologies have grown at a much faster rate. So far, it’s doubled every six months or so. 

And Meyer seems to agree. Banks and their quantum technology providers are not shooting for a date. “People ask, when do you think you have to be ready? When do you think you're gonna have a workload running in quantum? The answer that I think everybody will give is: it's probably three to five years. But the reality is, we really don't know,” he said. Banks don't need to have a deadline to start exploring the technology; the idea that quantum presents opportunities and risks is enough to demand action. 

Innovators in Residence Program by Truist

The banking sector’s activity around quantum computing is primarily exploratory. This month Truist announced IBM as a partner in its Innovators in Residence program, as well as the bank’s own entry into IBM’s Quantum Accelerator program. 

“We get to join a group of not just FIs, but other companies that IBM is working with as part of their accelerator programmes, and just listen and learn and understand. We also get access to quantum computers, to do proof of concepts and to try certain things in a lab type of an environment that doesn't increase the residual risk for the bank or for our clients,” said Meyer. 

Moreover, as part of the partnership, IBM employees will be stationed at the bank’s innovation center, to educate, inform, and build products with the bank’s employees. “The bank has access to IBM’s quantum computing systems, and they will also have the opportunity to work with IBM Quantum experts to explore how this technology can benefit their specific domain—and to prepare their teams,” said Noelle Ibrahim, Associate Partner, Quantum Computing, Banking and Financial Markets at IBM Quantum.

The bank also has access to domain experts, foundational training on quantum computing and algorithms for executives, as well as technical training to up-skill and re-skill the bank’s workforce. The Truist-stationed IBM employees are selected for their knowledge of IBM technologies that are prioritized by the bank and their ability to build cross-functional teams that can test out proof of concepts, according to John Duigenan, General Manager of Financial Services, Global Industries at IBM. 

For Truist this presents an opportunity to foster interest about quantum computing within its employees as well as present a resource from which engineers and security experts can learn. “If you're an engineer in the compute area, you better have a point of view about what this could mean for  your work. Or if you're in cyber groups, you need to really understand it because it's not an option,” he added. 

Meyer thinks that once the technology is up to par, quantum could have implications for multiple banking operations such as security and fraud to derivative pricing. He also doesn't think that the future where banking is actively using quantum technology will entail banks having a quantum computer in-house. Instead, he suspects that quantum’s adoption is more likely to resemble that of the cloud, with companies utilizing quantum computing as a service. QaaS, anyone? 

Truist is also not alone in its exploration of the technology. Multiple major banks are eyeing quantum’s potential: JPMC has been developing quantum algorithms around optimization, machine learning, and natural language processing. HSBC and Goldman Sachs are taking similar exploratory steps and conducting research on applicable use cases of the technology.

Truist’s approach however is a bit different from the others. It's less about one-off research projects and more about education and co-creation. Its Innovators in Residence Program brings in other industry leaders such as AWS and Verizon, the latter of which is helping the bank roll out 5G capabilities in all of its branches. 

Having experts on-site is likely to foster a partnership that will give the bank the room to grow at the pace of its employees as well as keep a close eye on regulations that may emerge in the sector. 

“As the technology continues to evolve and emerge, we might change our approach and our focus,” Meyer added.

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