Digital transformation at central banks – a review


In the last two years, the coronavirus pandemic has had a strong influence on our daily lives. One topic that has come to the fore time and time again during this period is digitalisation. Developments that would normally have needed years to get off the ground were suddenly being implemented in a matter of months or weeks – reason enough for us to call together an expert panel on the topic of digital transformation at central banks.

This panel met for the first time at the start of October. Judging by the extremely high number of applications we received (more than 100), we suspected we'd struck a nerve. Ultimately, to ensure an in-depth exchange of views between all the participants, 30 of our colleagues in the field – from countries all over the globe – were selected to participate. The expert panel took place – and how could it not, in a course on digitalisation – entirely virtually.

The coronavirus pandemic gave us an enormous boost in the area of digitalisation,” said Fabian Huttner, expert from the Digital Office. Many staff members switched to working from home more or less overnight, and new forms of digital communication had to be swiftly put to the test. Now there was a welcome opportunity to pass on the experience gained.

The first day was primarily concerned with the organisational requirements and challenges inherent to strategically and systematically implementing the digital transformation. In this vein, Fabian Huttner highlighted the four fundamental principles which form the working basis for all digitalisation projects at the Bundesbank:

Digital by default

Digital processes are to become the norm, with the written form being replaced as far as possible by digital solutions.


User focus is anchored in all digital processes. User feedback is used as a key metric for the success of digital applications.


Interdisciplinary cooperation across business units and institutions is to become the norm for digitalisation projects.

Once only

Data are collected only once. Data from business partners, supervised entities and employees are collected only once and are stored centrally thereafter.

These four principles formed the foundation for the Bundesbank’s digital agenda, which in turn was the blueprint for its further developments. Starting off with only a small team, the Digital Office has grown to nearly 20 staff members over the course of one-and-a-half years. “This has allowed us to get in on many more trend-setting technologies on the ground floor and implement them in the Bank,” Huttner explained.

Building on the above, the second day of the course focused on the utility and potential of internal innovation labs, i.e. dedicated (physical) spaces for experimentation with and development of new technologies and innovations. Participants were particularly interested in the Bundesbank’s own newly-inaugurated innovation lab, InnoWerk, especially its underlying processes and integration of decision-making levels.

The topics of new and agile working methods were of course also discussed. The third day saw a vigorous exchange of know-how and best practices, which was happily able to continue on the fourth day as participants presented reports and shared personal experiences.

By the end of the event, all participants agreed that the open dialogue and the exchange of experiences had been very enriching and helpful, especially for the process of convincing their institutions’ own decision-making levels of the importance of a digitalisation strategy.

Ultimately, the participants’ greatest wish was that it would be possible in the future to see InnoWerk in action and witness the creation of Bundesbank innovations. Fabian Huttner summed things up: “This was a successful and exciting event. The personal experiences and examples gained from other central banks were particularly interesting.” He lamented, however, that nothing could replace face-to-face contact and hoped that he would be able to greet the participants in person in Frankfurt next year.

Text: Fabian Huttner