Our survey with the Bavarian Finance Centre (BFZ) of 48 European banks reveals what they think about the impact of digital and their adoption profile


  • BearingPoint and the Bavarian Finance Centre (BFZ) (note 1) have surveyed 48 European banks to get a unique perspective on their views and adoption of digital
  • Regulatory restrictions, low interest rates, changing customer behaviour and emerging non-traditional players all challenge banks; these evolving market conditions have heightened the importance of strategically addressing digitalisation
  • The successful adaptation of banks’ business and operating models to the challenging environment in which they operate will be based on a big picture perspective, collaborative competitor approaches and enabling corporate cultures
  • The results of our survey show that the implementation of digitalisation is in the expansion phase in most banks
  • We offer guidance for the development of a targetoriented digitalisation strategy

Over 2 million news pieces have been published on ‘digital banking trends’ (note 2). Why has the ‘D-word’ come to epitomise the ‘perfect storm’ banks face? (see infographic).

Digital technologies have both the potential to help banks cut costs and seize new growth opportunities whilst at the same time being a vector for new competitors to challenge them.

To find out how banks approach this dual nature of digital – a threat and an opportunity – BearingPoint and the Bavarian Finance Centre (Bayerische Finanz Zentrum, BFZ) have surveyed 48 banks in Europe, representing a cross-section of bank types in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, France and other countries.


only of banks have reached a high level of digital in retail... yet 67% of banks say digital is very important to this area of their business (note 3)

1 Why are banks investing in digital technologies?

Almost all banks are now keen to show off their technological prowess as digital technology transforms how we work, play and manage our money. Asking why banks are so keen to go digital may seem like a naïve question, but the answers go to the heart of banks’ purpose, their financial health and their role in society.

The most common reasons for digitising are higher sales and lower costs. Growth is expected to come from giving customers more digital products, more efficient operations, and improved product differentiation and market penetration rather than entering new markets.

Consumer pressure is the most pressing digital issue for banks, with all banks surveyed saying internet and mobile platforms for banking services are vital.

Digital technology is becoming increasingly important for banks’ retail businesses, helping them attract and retain customers and improve efficiency, as indicated by 67% of banks surveyed. Despite this, only 17% of banks surveyed say they have achieved a high degree of digitalisation for their retail business.

There is a digital hierarchy within bank service lines: retail banking and private-wealth management are priorities for digital technology, with M&A business the least

There’s a digital hierarchy within bank’s service lines. Banks surveyed said retail banking and privatewealth management are priorities for digital technology (91% and 81% respectively) and M&A business the least.

By business function, banks said that, unsurprisingly, IT was the most important function to digitise, followed by marketing, sales, and risk management.

The need to grow top-line revenue through sales and customer conversion rates is driving investment into digital channels. Due to this, the areas that will see the greatest spending in 2015 are mobile and online banking, with 52% and 51% of banks respectively seeing their budgets grow.

Kieran Hines, practice lead, financial services technology ovum (note 4).

2 What is 'digital' for banks?

Most banks plan to spend ‘high amounts’ on digitising their business. Deutsche Bank said it plans to spend up to EUR 1 billion on digital technology until 2020 (note 5). About half (EUR 400-500 million) will be allocated to private and business clients.

According to Celent analyst, Gareth Lodge, banks in North America, Europe and Asia-Pacific are expected to spend USD 196.7 billion on IT in 2015, up 4.6% from 2014 (note 6).

Even so, are banks too cautious and complacent about digital technology? Nearly all (95%) banks we surveyed said being the first to introduce innovative digital technology provides ‘first mover advantage’ but, apart from the ‘direct banks’ (online banks without high-street branches), the majority of banks described themselves as ‘second movers’.

For example, BPCE Group, France’s second-largest bank, wants over 80% of its services to be available online by 2017. One of its subsidiaries, Caisse d’Epargne, has turned the nation’s favourite ‘piggy bank’ account – the traditional ‘Livret A’ – into an instant savings account where parents or relatives can make a deposit online into a child’s account and leave messages, even if the adults are not clients themselves. Cédric Mignon, Head of Development at Caisse d’Epargne, says ‘[Our online savings product] proves that with digital innovation even the most traditional products of the classic French brands, which are cherished by the French, can be spruced up and given a new lift at any time’ (note 7).

Our survey also suggests that most banks have a passive attitude to digital technology and customer services: 61% of banks surveyed develop digital services in response to customers rather than using their initiative and developing technology they think will be popular with customers.

According to Ovum analyst, Kieran Hines, ‘a major focus of digital channel investment is enhancing the customer experience and providing greater functionality. Enabling greater customisation in digital channels is a top investment priority for 21% of banks, but enhancing platform functionality is the leading objective for digital channel investment. This includes the ability to offer statement searches or to set-up payments, and 53% of banks have indicated this is an investment priority’ (note 8).

Our survey also found an apparent gap between what banks say and what they actually do. Take new technology and how to develop it. Seven in ten (69%) of the biggest commercial banks recognise that start-ups are an important new form of organisation. But only 38% of banks BearingPoint surveyed said creating tech start-ups was important.

All the banks that think they are digital pioneers are aiming to increase their revenue and enter new markets rather than make cost savings.

Our online savings product proves that with digital innovation even the most traditional products of the classic French brands, which are cherished by the French, can be spruced up and given a new lift at any time.

Cédric Mignon, head of development, caisse d'epargne (note 7)

3 How are banks facing new digital competitors?

Established banks are facing growing competition from hundreds of ‘fintech’ companies, telecommunication companies and technology giants, such as Apple and Google, which have recently started payment services.

Compete or co-operate? A small majority (54%) of banks surveyed say they want to cooperate with new entrants in banking, 46% say they plan to compete with them.

Although banks have some advantage over new rivals (for example, large and well-established customer bases, experience of complying with regulations), they also have some possible disadvantages. They are much larger and more complicated organisations than newer and smaller rivals, which are often not weighed down by much old IT kit and bureaucracy. So far, banks have struggled to produce technology that’s quicker and smarter than fintech rivals.

There are signs, however, that this balance of power is changing. Some banks are partnering with fintechs to improve their technology and keep up with customer demands.

Deutsche Bank, for instance, plans to meet 500 fintechs each year and sign several agreements to co-operate with some of them via its ‘Deutsche Bank Labs’.

Another example is Crédit Agricole which, like other major banks, has launched a joint-venture initiative. ‘The Village by CA’ is a start-up incubator, with office hub space in Paris (with expansion into French regions planned), aiming to co-create new products and services (note 9).

Cooperating with fintechs give banks access to innovative technology, saving them from having to invest in it themselves. In return, fintechs get access to capital and to a large customer base, which enables them to achieve economies of scale and turn a profit.

So far, banks have struggled to produce technology that’s quicker and smarter than fintech rivals. But there are signs that this balance of power is changing

4 How do banks’ digital performance compare?

Each bank is different in its approach to digitisation, but some patterns emerged in our survey. The European banks fall into three broad categories:

Digital pioneers (direct banks/online only)

These banks, such as ING DiBa (the successful online banking operation of German bank ING), have digitised much of their business and some have created their own technology start-ups. They encourage innovation, and their organisational structure and culture helps drive digitalisation across the business. Online technology, mobile apps etc. are integral to their business.

Digital shy

Major commercial banks and cooperative banks are in the digital mid-table. They offer a lot of different services. They are good at digitising retail banking although there’s still a long way to go before they’re fully digitised. Most of their processes are automated. Online technology is part of their daily business.

Digital laggards

These banks in the survey (often regional banks and small banks) rely predominantly on old legacy IT systems. A significant number of business processes are paper based and/or performed manually.


Digital technology is a surprisingly slippery concept. Online technology is reaching into and transforming almost all parts of our life and work. The technology, like a lens, is even changing how we see and understand the world. Think of digital technology as five lenses.

The first lens is intelligence and instant analysis. For example, just as consumers now have access to price comparison sites, employees can gather information on all their projects and suppliers. Smart analytics is creating an unprecedented data trove not only for a few executives, but enabling and empowering everyone in the value chain.

Lens two is the intelligent machine. Machines are also increasingly connected and autonomous. Examples of this so-called Internet of Things range from tracking your pet through a microchipped collar connected to an app on your smartphone to ‘smart’ energy grids. As devices generate and act on information with ever less need for human intervention, so new opportunities are created for efficiency improvements and service delivery.

Lens three is technology that enables new approaches to staffing and workforce management. Increased availability of mobile and low-to-zero cost online services is changing the way people work and interact. Consequently, job-for-life posts, which were common until a few decades ago, are being replaced with a more fluid workforce in which employees may have three of four careers in different sectors and have higher expectations for their careers.

The fourth lens is that technology platforms (such as social media, communication systems and free opensource software) allow vast numbers of people with shared interests and goals to connect and share views. In effect, these information ecosystems are shrinking the world. These platforms create opportunities for companies as well as challenges, such as how to communicate round-the-clock with more demanding consumers and citizens.

The fifth and final lens is trust. We put increasing trust in machines and data but, at the same time, collectively we are increasingly sceptical of corporations and governments, placing them under great scrutiny. Access to data has to be balanced against the right to privacy.

5 When are digital projects successful?

What does a successful digital project look like?

The hallmarks of a success project, according to the banks surveyed, are corporate culture, customer inclusion and good implementation.

Barclays bank, for example, has trained thousands of its staff as ‘digital eagles’ to help customers understand online technology over ‘tea and tech’ sessions in the UK (note 10).

Factors that hinder digital projects include lack of financial resources and staff (particularly for cooperative and regional banks). For regional banks and local branches of foreign banks a bigger problem is management’s lack of awareness of digital technology and its reluctance to take risks.


  1. Cloud computing. Storing and sharing data on large clusters of internet servers rather than on the customer’s premises has been one of the most influential trends in business IT, whether it’s email, customer relationship management (CRM) or bookkeeping software. It hasn’t taken off in banking yet, but some experts reckon it will soon. Early in 2015 the chairman of Santander told the Financial Times (note 11) that the bank was considering allowing corporate clients to rent data-storage services in the cloud from Santander.
  2. Big Data and analytics. Like utility companies and supermarkets, banks hold huge amounts of data about their customers. After cleaning and organising that data banks can make use of analytics and artificial intelligence software to better understand customers’ habits and needs. Some banks are already well advanced in this, mixing data insight with location-based technology and smart-phones. Bank of America, for example, has a mobile app that can offer customers personalised deals on nearby stores (note 12).
  3. Incubators. Working with fintechs is a developing pattern. If banks can’t out-innovate fintechs they can encourage them and share the digital fruits of their labour. A growing number of banks are partnering with new tech companies through ‘incubators’ − such as Level39 in London, and Barclays Accelerator, a ‘13-week programme designed to accelerate your start-up’ – or ‘hackathons’ and ‘open-source challenges’, where banks including BBVA share reams of anonymised customer data on questions – such as when people buy their clothes and their spending on tickets, books and technology – to help techies develop apps and the bank better understand their customers. ‘Banks that aren’t getting their fingers in the fintech pie will lose out when it comes to building the next-generation bank,’ Chris Skinner, the influential banking analyst and writer, blogged early in 2015 (note 13).
  4. New ways to pay. Contactless payments (payment systems for credit cards and debit cards, key fobs, and other devices, including smartphones and other mobile devices, that use radio-frequency identification or near field communication) are starting to enter the mainstream. More banks, credit-card companies, tech companies (e.g. Apple’s Apple Pay) are offering them. It’s also possible to make payment using a ‘smart watch’, for example from Apple and Samsung. 

6 What is the future of digital banking?

Within five years most of the banks surveyed expect a medium-to-high degree of digitisation in all their departments. Banks reckon the parts of their business with the highest level of digitisation will be sales, business operations, risk management, IT and private banking. The M&A business is expected to be the least digitised part of banks.

Automating areas such as deposit business and capital-market trades is fairly straightforward. Business tasks that are more complicated and require more human intervention, however, such as the acceptance and implementation of a loan, may be trickier. It may only be possible to automate these functions partly.

The bottom line for banks is that they need to invest heavily in digital technology. Our survey suggests that despite some digital pioneers, many (perhaps a majority of European banks) have to refine their digital strategies and become more ambitious and bold in their use of technology to help them cut costs and increase profits, compete against fintechs and satisfy increasingly tech-savvy customers.

And as banks digitise more of their business they may finally replace old back-office systems (a major organisational challenge, potentially at a cost of hundreds of millions or even billions of euros) to gain better value from new digital technology and stop information getting stuck in IT silos.


In the present study, three degrees of digitalisation were defined to determine the level to which companies integrated this topic into their daily business operations.

  • A low level of digitalisation describes an organisational area in which legacy systems are predominant and several processes are paperbased and/or performed manually. Furthermore, the organisational area is characterised by a rather conservative and traditional culture.
  • An intermediate level of digitalisation is described by the automation of a majority of processes in the organisational area. Additionally, in these areas the internet and intranet are part of the daily business.
  • A high degree of automation of both the organisational area and its processes characterises a high level of digitalisation. Because they allow for innovations to take place, the organisational structure and culture are strongly enabling a continuous progress of digitalisation. The internet, intranet, mobile apps and mobile phones are a central part of the work in these areas.

 7 Which tips for digitising your bank ?

  1. Digitalisation should be considered across all business areas of banks and link in all their value chain. Have a broad and holistic view of digitisation: it’s about the bank as a whole, not just retail. Digitisation includes not only interactions with suppliers and customers but also back-office functions such as human resources and finance, the corporate business and security trading.
  2. Digitalisation should be seen as an opportunity to boost growth and improve service rather than only as a way of cost saving. It’s also about educating customers about how digital technology can make banking more convenient for them. It’s more about educating the customers than following them (note 14).
  3. Banks should engage in collaborative activities with new market entrants to foster digitalisation and to stay competitive. They have much to gain, including helping them to bridge the gap with fast-moving technological evolutions and rapidly getting new product and services to market by leveraging a partner ecosystem.
  4. Digital innovation should be decentralised and supported by an enabling corporate culture of openness and receptiveness. In addition, make someone responsible for your bank’s digital technology – perhaps a digital officer with their own budget, or make your chief technology officer responsible.
  5. Check your IT security. Your ground-breaking technology can become a liability if it leaks customer data or is hacked. Review your security software and security policies. Fraud-detection and analytics technology can help prevent intruders from breaching your network and highlight suspicious transactions at an early stage. The ubiquity of digital technology in banking makes security a much bigger issue.


  • Our survey with the Bavarian Finance Centre (BFZ) shows that all European banks surveyed are trying to digitise more of their departments, processes and customer services
  • Banks’ digital priorities: all banks surveyed said accessing the internet and mobile applications for banking services is very important; most banks are investing in new IT (89%) and about seven in ten (72%) said digitisation will create a new organisational and corporate culture
  • Cost saving is the most common goal pursued through digitalisation among most bank types, except for direct banks which compete to enter new markets
  • Banks surveyed said retail banking and private-wealth management were the most important areas in which to leverage digital technology (91% and 81% respectively) and M&A business the least
  • The most important business functions to digitise are IT, marketing, sales and risk management
  • Retail banking divisions and direct banks are the most digitally advanced; regional banks the least
  • Most banks (88%) are adding digital technology to older IT and business processes technology rather than creating separate digital departments or incubator units
  • Most banks plan to spend ‘high amounts’ on digitising their business, even if the exact amount is hard to estimate; differentiating between digital technology and other technology can be tricky
  • Nearly all banks surveyed said being the first to introduce innovative digital technology provides ‘first mover advantage’ but, apart from the ‘direct banks’ (online banks without high-street branches), the majority of banks described themselves as ‘second movers’
  • Established banks are facing growing competition from ‘fintech’ companies, telecommunication companies and technology giants, such as Apple and Google, which have recently started payment services
  • A small majority (54%) of banks surveyed say they want to co-operate with new entrants into banking; the rest say they will compete with them, collaboration with new market entrants will bring more opportunities for banks than will competing approaches
  • Corporate culture, customer inclusion, organisational implementation of ‘digital management’ and good implementation planning are recognised as the most important success factors for digital projects
  • Hampering factors differ across bank types: most banks recognise lack of resource allocation as the most impeding influence whilst some large commercial banks regret a lack of management awareness and risk aversion to innovation


This study – Digitalisation in Banks – was based on the results of a survey conducted jointly by the Bavarian Finance Centre (Bayerische Finanz Zentrum, BFZ note 17) and BearingPoint between September 2014 and March 2015. The survey concentrated on financial institutions in Europe and was completed by respondents using a written questionnaire.

The data came from the analysis of 48 responses from banks. The respondents consisted of managers in European financial institutions: 37% of them are based in Germany, 19% in Switzerland, 15% in France, 2% in Austria, 2% in Liechtenstein and 2% in Spain (23% of the respondents did not state their country of origin). Broken down by type, 27% are major commercial banks, 23% private banks, branch of foreign bank or other, 23% regional banks, 15% direct banks, 6% saving banks, central institution, 6% cooperative banks, central institution, 4% capital investment companies, 4% mortgage banks and 4% banks with special function (multiple answers possible).

  • Notes and Bibliography
    1. ‘Home page’,  Bavarian Finance Centre , Munich, Germany, web, www.bfz-ev.de  
    2. Google news search  
    3. BearingPoint Institute- Bayerische Finanz  Zentrum survey, 2015
    4. ‘Retail banks turn to IT to drive revenue in 2015’, Ovum, London, UK, web, press release, Kieran Hines, 06/01/15,  http://bit.ly/1KjTU0W
    5. General meeting 2015: key topics, Deutsche Bank, Frankfurt, Germany, web, PDF, 21/05/15, http://bit.ly/1W2cJS8
    6. ‘IT spending in banking: a global perspective’, Celent, Boston, MA, USA, web, landing page, Gareth Lodge, Hua  Zhang and Jacob Jegher, 05/02/15, http://bit.ly/1Rk5rCL
    7. ‘Les Caisses d’Epargne créent le livret A connecté’, Les Echos, Paris, France, web, Véronique Chocron, 16/06/15 http://bit.ly/1ODouKs
    8. ‘Retail banks turn to IT to drive revenue in 2015’, Ovum, London, UK, web, press release, Kieran Hines, 06/01/15, http://bit.ly/1KjTU0W
    9. ‘Home page’ Le Village by CA, Paris, France, web, landing page http://bit.ly/1W0GWkL
    10. ‘Digital eagles’, Barclays, London, UK, web, landing page, http://bit.ly/1hLPcCe
    11. ‘Santander to offer cloud computing storage service’, Financial Times, London, UK, web, Martin Arnold, 02/02/15, http://on.ft.com/1LjIsGn
    12. ‘Mobile apps and mobile web features: cash-back deals’, Bank of America, Charlotte, NC, USA, web http://bit.ly/1hN1fz5
    13. ‘Level 39 homepage’, web, http://www.level39.co/
    14. ‘Barclays Accelerator homepage’, web, UK, http://bit.ly/1GekEF5
    15. ‘Data API – Dive into the data and gives extra power to your applications’, BBVA, Bilbao, Spain, web http://bit.ly/1KjV0tm
    16. ‘Four big bank tech trends for 2015’, Financial Services Club, Chatham, Kent, UK, web, blog, Chris Skinner, 08/01/15 http://bit.ly/1GOQD9E
    17. ‘Home page’, Bavarian Finance Centre, Munich, Germany, web, www.bfz-ev.de  
    • ‘Commerzbank’s digital evolution’, BearingPoint Institute Report, Issue 006, London, UK, web, landing page, Dr Robert Bosch, 02/15, http://bit.ly/006CB  
    • ‘The future of mobile banking,’ BearingPoint Institute Report, Issue 006, London, UK, web, landing page, Jean-Michel Huet, 02/15, http://bit.ly/006TIB
    • ‘How can banks engage tech start-ups?’, BearingPoint Institute Report, Issue 006,
    • London, UK, web, landing page, Michael Arndt, 02/15, http://bit.ly/006COB
    • ‘Bank sustainability reaches a crunch point,’ BearingPoint Institute Report, Issue 006, London, UK, web, landing page, Frank Hofele, 02/15, http://bit.ly/006BIB

    * BearingPoint Institute, The eye of the storm: Bank sustainability reaches a tipping point, Frank Hoefele and Robert Bosch, June 2015, http://inst.be/006BIB

    ** SNL Financial’s February 2015 survey, SNL Financial, March 2015, http://bit.ly/1W0AfPB

    *** 2015 Fintech Report: Investment Trends in Fintech, Silicon Valley Bank, 30 January 2015, http://bit.ly/1KhOFie

    **** Anteil der Personen in ausgewählten Ländern Europas, die Online-Banking nutzen im Jahr 2014, Statista, 2015, http://bit.ly/1RigFHU

  • 7 digital questions for banks 1.96 MB Download

Project team

Felix Offermann, Lena Mazzoleni, Marie Witter and Ludovic Leforestier at BearingPoint, Adrian Wende at the Bavarian Finance Centre (BFZ).


The authors would also like to express their gratitude to all the survey participants; and thank Prof Dr Wolfgang Gerke at the Bavarian Finance Centre (BFZ), Dr Robert Wagner, Philippe Roubin, Neil Whittaker and Damien Coffinier at BearingPoint, Nick Huber for his editorial support, Sharon Springell and Tanja Schwarz at the BearingPoint Institute for their flexibility and dedication, Michael Agar for the graphics, Chris Norris for editing and Angélique Tourneux for the layout.

Wünschen Sie weitere Informationen?

Wenn Sie mehr Informationen zu diesem Thema wünschen, wenden Sie sich bitte an unsere Experten, die gern von Ihnen hören.

Toggle master download
Toggle location