Fortune

HOW JPMORGAN CHASE LEARNED TO LOVE THE BLOCKCHAIN

To take advantage of finance’s buzziest innovations, America’s biggest bank had to figure out how to collaborate with hacker types like Amber Baldet and Patrick Mylund Nielsen. It hasn’t always been a comfortable fit—but the cultural collision could soon pay off.
UNLIKELY WALL STREETERS Patrick Mylund Nielsen and Amber Baldet on Baldet’s roof in Brooklyn.

RANK

20

COMPANY PROFILE

JPMORGAN CHASE

REVENUES

$113.9 BILLION

PROFITS

$24.4 BILLION

EMPLOYEES

252,539

TOTAL RETURN TO SHAREHOLDERS (2007–2017 ANNUAL RATE)

12%

AMBER BALDET FLINGS an oversize yellow die atop a display counter at a Best Buy near Times Square in Manhattan.

Five.

“It’s odd,” says Baldet. The outcome dictates her choice of laptop. Today she’s making all her decisions this way—a precaution intended to confound any trailing spies. Dressed in an army-green flannel shirt and black leather boots with studs, Baldet selects a $249 Lenovo computer, the “odd” designee, vs. a neighboring $169 “even” option.

“You sure you don’t want to roll again until you get the cheaper one?” asks Patrick Mylund Nielsen, her colleague. Negative. He whisks the box to a cashier.

On the mid-March Tuesday when this eccentric shopping trip takes place, Baldet is head of the blockchain program at JPMorgan Chase, the biggest bank in America and No. 20 on the Fortune 500. And Nielsen is lead engineer of the JPMorgan Chase–built blockchain Quorum, a distributed accounting ledger adapted from the technology behind the cryptocurrency network Ethereum.

The pair is taking off from work today… sort of. They’re planning to load data onto the laptop—a “burner,” literally to be incinerated—as part of a process aimed at upgrading the code behind Zcash, a cryptocurrency similar to Bitcoin except with significant privacy enhancements. Zcash enables anonymity, in theory, through mathematical techniques called “zero knowledge proofs.” To contribute their portion of the code for the proofs, Baldet and Nielsen must cook up a secret formula—and destroy the ingredients. If a bad actor compromised the data, the troublemaker could manufacture an infinite supply of Zcash, an inadmissable proposition.

“What are you going to use this for?” inquires a blue-shirted checkout clerk, scanning the package’s bar code.

“Doing one thing, and then we’re going to destroy it,” Nielsen deadpans. Any hint of grin is obscured under his chest-length thicket of beard. The sales rep, undeterred, continues his

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