Study: "Digital Transformation" in Reality

“Digital transformation? Practice what you preach!” What do DAX30 companies promise their investors in terms of digital transformation? And how well is it implemented in practice?

A study conducted by IR.on AG and NetFederation GmbH shows that the DAX30 corporations have huge potential in fusing their analog and digital communication activities. The study examined the 2017 annual reports and the IR-websites of these companies with a view to what they promise and what reality looks like. The results show the full bandwidth from unkept promises to the pragmatic adoption of user-oriented innovations.

September 27, 2018 – According to their annual reports, one fourth of the DAX enterprises regard themselves as digital pioneers. Digital transformation is seen as an opportunity, and 90% of the DAX companies define digitalization as part of their corporate strategy, also with regard to communications. Unfortunately, the promise is rarely perceivable in reality to users and potential investors.

Commerzbank clearly brings in the rear of the companies surveyed. While the company promises a lot of digital transformation in its annual report, it does not implement it at all. There is no mobile, responsive IR website, a lot of A4 format on PDF shelves and all that on slow, obsolete technology and with an outdated design. Commerzbank CEO Martin Zielke has announced to cut 9,600 jobs and to digitalize about 80% of the processes. So far, however, the bank has been unable to show its stakeholders on its IR website that this strategy is successful.

The study focused on strategy, reporting and user experience. There is a huge discrepancy between what Germany’s largest listed companies promise and what they actually deliver. One thing is for sure: there is always room for improvement, especially when it comes to implementing new formats quickly.

How was the study organized?

IR.on AG is a consulting firm for investor relations and financial communications headquartered in Cologne, Germany. In the context of the study, IR.on analyzed the latest annual reports of all DAX30 enterprises with the communication focus on “digital transformation”, with the main emphasis on:

  • The importance of digitalization: Does digitalization play an exposed role for the companies?
  • Own view: How do the companies see themselves with regard to digital transformation?
  • Communications: What role does digitalization play in the reporting?

NetFederation GmbH is a management consultancy for digital corporate communications headquartered in Cologne, Germany. For the study, NetFed analyzed the realistic representation of the digital user or reader behavior on the IR websites of all DAX30 enterprises. Here, the key question was:

  • Reality check: How digital is the communication? How well are investors reached?

Results of the study – our conclusion:

  • Digitalization is a key topic in the annual reports of the majority of the DAX enterprises.
  • One fourth of all DAX companies see themselves as “digital pioneers” in their line of industry.
  • The DAX CEOs see digitalization as an opportunity for their business model.
  • 90% understand digitalization as an element of their corporate strategy.
  • Even though digital transformation plays an important role in the annual reports, this does not mean that the websites actually live up to this claim.
  • Half of the companies have considerable need for improvement; 20% do not live up to their own expectations.

There is such a thing as the Digital Professionals:

  • Digitalization plays a key role and forms part of the corporate strategy.
  • The topic is strongly communicated in the annual report.
  • The investor relations departments communicate in an innovative and modern way and at digital eye-level with their target group and are able to implement the strategy in their area.
  • The Digital Professionals include Allianz, BASF, BMW, Daimler, Telekom, Deutsche Post, Henkel, SAP and Volkswagen.

The Pragmatists are characterized by:

  • Digitalization is mentioned in the annual report but not consistently filled with life in their financial communication.
  • The investor relations departments show good starting points and use the available materials.
  • A lot of potential remains unused, however.
  • This group includes Bayer, E.ON, Fresenius Medical Care, Linde, Merck and Vonovia.

Enterprises for which digital transformation plays no or only a minor role and which have not implemented anything so far (Rookies) are characterized by:

  • Digitalization is mentioned only moderately in the annual report and is not reflected in the digital corporate or financial communication.
  • Investors are left alone with their expectations of the digital growth story.
  • The Rookies include Continental, Deutsche Bank, Deutsche Börse, Lufthansa, Fresenius, Infineon, RWE, Siemens and ThyssenKrupp.

The Absolute Theoreticians that communicate according to the motto “Overpromise, underdeliver!” presented a negative surprise:

  • Digitalization is of key importance and forms part of the corporate strategy.
  • Digitalization is strongly communicated in the annual report.
  • By contrast, the experience of the digitalization story is a great disappointment. The IR Departments are unable to adequately implement the requirements and are lagging far behind the general standards (e.g. mobile website).
  • The losers of the study include adidas, Beiersdorf, Covestro, HeidelbergCement and MunichRe. Commerzbank clearly brings in the rear.

Even if the digitalization promise plays an important role in the annual report, this does not mean that these claims are actually filled with life on the corresponding channels,” says Thorsten Greiten, Managing Director of NetFederation GmbH.

Relevant corporate information must be attractively presented with great sensitivity and taking into account the constantly changing regulations. This is a permanent challenge,” Achim Josten, Management Board member of IR.on AG, added.

For more information on the companies surveyed, visit or check the “Company” section of our website. Please do not hesitate to call or e-mail us if you have any questions or suggestions.