Digital Change in the Bank: Easier Than Thought

Digital Change in the Bank: Easier Than Thought

How can digital transformation be effected in a bank as quickly and as painlessly as possible? This is a question that occupies the thoughts of some banks more than others.

Some take the view that this is all “overhyped” and favour a “drink tea and wait” strategy. Others try to deal with this topic by appointing a Chief Digital Officer (CDO) or Chief Innovation Officer (CIO) and believe that they have landed a big coup. Yet others try to implement the future by burying projects beneath external contractors and are amazed when their own staff struggle because they have no understanding of it. And then there are those that hope to bring digitization in-house via developing PoC (proof of concept) with fintech and/or start-ups.

These models result in expensive and, at best, minimal digitization success. However, it is more likely that this approach will lead to uncertainty and discontent within the organisation along with high costs. Employees refuse to deal with the issue, block it to protect their own position and barely cooperate. Urgently needed digitization of the enterprise grinds to a standstill.

With the help of 5 simple principles, it is possible to quickly and simply move digital change within banks forward:

  1. CEO’s don’t need to understand digitization

CEOs and Board Directors do not necessarily have to understand digitization. In any case, they usually don’t ( ). The CEO or Board of Directors must give the mandate for digitization, but not necessarily take a hands-on role in its implementation or be able to participate in its ecosystem. They should trust the contractor.

  1. Digitization strategy is for freaks

The digitization strategy must be understood by those who have been directly entrusted with implementing projects within the framework of this strategy. The freaks, who are familiar with the subject, have been assigned to the project. These people who are established in this field, feel at home here or simply have a passion for it. Other keywords, such as Industrie 4.0, Fintech, E-Government, Multichannel, Cloud etc. are unclear, confusing and incomprehensible to everyone else. It is also not uncommon for them to feel insecure, which is undesirable.

  1. Influencing corporate culture

Corporate culture does not have to be digitally-oriented as a precondition for starting a digitization project. Apple never consulted us about their product evolution (iPhone, tablets). Also, the internet never asked mankind in advance whether we were ready for it. Corporate culture is automatically enhanced by the implementation of the digital projects, step by step.

  1. Implementing digital projects through “UFO” organization

Project managers should be accountable for the implementation of the digitization strategy and its corresponding projects. No-one should be able to oppose the plans. In so far as possible, such projects should not influence existing day-to-day operations of the business (no matrix organisations). This leads to a “UFO organization”. UFO organization? Maybe you have heard of digitization – some believe in it, others not. But once you have actually experienced the digitization process, you become a believer in both the project and its intended purpose. Just like a UFO. You only accept it if you believe in it. If not, hardly anyone cares.

Figure: Eco-System and UFO-Organisation


  • Project staff are engaged 100% to the project (minimizes conflicts of interest)
  • It is sanctioned directly from the “highest” authority (CEO or BoD issues the order to implement the digital strategy)
  • New opportunities open up for employees
  • Project team members become ambassadors of the digitalization process.
  • No initial troublesome and costly cultural change required
  • The business can continue to focus 100% on its work
  • Projects can be started and stopped easily (existing organization is not affected)
  • No escalation steps exist -> UFO-organizations are directly connected to the highest decision-making authority so projects are “politically” difficult to stop.


  • The reintegration of project employee can lead to unrest (employees do not want to return to their previous position; unrest due to newly created digitization know-how etc.)
  1. Good “little hand” in the selection of personnel

As is so often the case, a successful project stands and falls by the resources involved. Surely, the project staff must be 100% freed up from day-to-day duties. Above all, each project team member should be fully committed to the project.

In addition, the UFO organization needs to fill specific positions from outside the business. Such people should have appropriate networks, know-how and, last but not least, a feeling for tall this so that they can test and evaluate the various parts of the ecosystem on a regular basis or when a situation demands it. It is not easy to find/identify such people ( ). They are in demand and will become more and more so. So-called digital-leaders (for example in Blockchain as described here

Often several digital leaders are needed, as only rarely does one person cover all the bases. Digital leaders come with a deep network in their respective ecosystems and are familiar with the relevant technologies. They also have strong technical know-how of the relevant business sectors and well-developed project management skills. This new profile of specific requirements has so far been difficult to find in the digitization space. Several universities have addressed the issue and are attempting try shift resources to meet this need (e. g. HWZ


There is no need to initiate cultural change or organizational adjustments to an institution and its processes to make the leap into the digital age. It needs a dedicated “UFO unit, equipped with the best possible skills and resources with freedom to operate. Digital leaders can then focus the concentrated power of digital know-how, in a situational and targeted way, to implement digitization in the company step by step.