Quantum computing could revolutionise banking in areas like risk analytics, machine learning and cybersecurity. HSBC is joining forces with other companies and research laboratories to investigate the potential of this cutting-edge technology.

From helping detect fraud to answering customer queries efficiently, digital technology already plays a key role in making banking safer and more convenient.

Now HSBC is taking part in a pioneering research project to examine how a revolutionary new type of computer could make banking in the future even better.

Quantum computers promise to deliver a step-change in computational power. They have the potential to tackle highly complex tasks far beyond the capabilities of today’s machines. The technology is still in its early days, so the kinds of tasks those might be and how they might benefit different industries remain unknown.

Due to their vastly greater power, quantum computers could deliver extraordinary developments for banking

That’s what the European NEASQC (Next Applications of Quantum Computing) project wants to find out – and HSBC is playing a key role.

The project involves a consortium of 12 European companies and research laboratories who will work together to develop possible use cases in fields ranging from drug discovery and breast cancer detection to carbon capture and energy infrastructure risk assessments.

Knowledge sharing

Gustavo Ordonez-Sanz, Head of Economic Capital Analytics and Global Risk Innovation Lead, HSBC, said: “Due to their vastly greater power, quantum computers could deliver extraordinary developments for banking in areas like risk analytics, machine learning and cybersecurity.

“Most experts believe we are at least 10 years away from commercially viable quantum computers for general purposes, although recent advances hint at potential breakthroughs sooner. We need to embrace this technology, in line with the bank’s innovation agenda, keeping up with the latest developments and growing our internal knowledge to increase our readiness for the post-quantum world.”

Banking in the future

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HSBC is the only financial services organisation involved in the NEASQC project, and will join a workstream looking at applications for quantum computing within the banking industry.

The four-year project has a budget of EUR4.7 million (USD5.5 million), which has been fully funded from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. It brings together experts in quantum computing with commercial end-users including Atos (IT), Total and EDF (energy) and AstraZeneca (pharmaceutical), as well as HSBC.

Nuno Matos, CEO of HSBC Bank plc and CEO Europe, HSBC, said: “Quantum computing has the potential to solve problems that were previously very resource intensive while improving the customer experience.

“We’re delighted to be part of this important initiative, which is at the forefront of technological research, and I look forward to sharing updates on its progress.”

As well as developing a number of industrial and financial use cases for the technology, the project aims to build and share knowledge with the wider user community and create open-source programming libraries to facilitate quantum computing experimentation by others.

Ordonez-Sanz added: “Unlike the early days of classical computing, cloud technologies provide early access to quantum computing without the need for physical ownership of the hardware.

“Cloud-based quantum computing and working with partners in this field allow early experimentation at lower cost. This way we can stay on top of the latest developments, and will be well placed to judge if and when it’s the right time to invest in this technology.”

HSBC works in collaboration with other organisations and forms strategic partnerships to support our technology innovation. We're investing billions of dollars a year in technology and digital transformation to make banking simpler, safer and more personalised for our customers, helping them to realise their ambitions.

What is quantum computing?

All ‘classical’ computers, from smartphones to supercomputers, work by processing data based on sequences of 0s and 1s. Each individual 0 or 1 is a ‘bit’.

Quantum computers work in a completely different way and are based on the laws of quantum mechanics. Instead of using bits, they use quantum bits or ‘qubits’.

Whereas bits can only be a 0 or 1, qubits can be 0, 1, or both 0 and 1 at the same time, in what’s called ‘superposition’.

It’s sometimes likened to a coin lying flat versus a spinning coin. With a bit, it can only be 0 or 1 (‘heads’ or ‘tails’) – but with a qubit, it’s effectively ‘heads’ and ‘tails’ simultaneously.

Qubits can also be linked to act like each other, via a phenomenon called ‘entanglement’. These properties of ‘superposition’ and ‘entanglement’ are key to the power of quantum computing. In a conventional computer, twice as many bits means twice the processing power – whereas a quantum computer’s power increases exponentially with the number of qubits.

Not only is this expected to make quantum computers faster and more efficient than even the most powerful current supercomputer, it’s thought they could have potential uses and solve problems that we can’t even comprehend yet.