In 2016, Banque de France established Le Lab. It marked the start of the central bank’s digital transformation programme. In charge was the newly appointed chief digital officer, Thierry Bedoin, appointed to lead the transformation of the central bank and the country’s supervisory authority, L’Autorité de Contrôle Prudentiel et de Résolution (ACPR).
This was a first for any regulator, and so Banque de France set four goals through which it could track progress: to develop a digital culture, to digitise business processes, to maximise the institution’s data, and to foster innovation.
Le Lab was established to aid the central bank’s goals and inject new practices and technology by anticipating changes in how Banque de France and ACPR would develop their activities. Le Lab is currently staffed by a core team of 12 specialists, including designers, tech leaders, trend specialists and IT experts. Their job is to identify where there might be crossovers between business lines and experiment with technology over short and flexible cycles.
During its first few years of operation, Le Lab has collaborated closely with several firms, including start-ups and big tech companies, to test new ideas and solutions. In return, these firms are able to test their own projects and prove their technologies have benefits in real-world conditions.
Like other central banks, Le Lab has developed links with outside innovators, which has resulted in what Banque de France has dubbed a network of ‘innovactors’. These relationships have helped form ties with other innovation labs in both the public and private sectors, as well as with universities.
“Le Lab deals with a vast range of topics, reflecting the broad scope of a central bank’s tasks and activities,” says Bedoin. “Its focuses include advanced data analysis – things like artificial intelligence (AI), data science and cognitive computing – and innovative technological opportunities, such as blockchain, the internet of things and virtual reality.”
Over the past three years, Le Lab has conducted more than 30 experiments that have led to several concrete and operational achievements. Among these has been the deployment of Madre, the central bank’s blockchain, which manages the creditor credentials register for the Single Euro Payments Area, and operates on a co-operative model with French banks. “This is the first operational blockchain set up by a central bank,” says Bedoin.
Digital communication within the central bank has also levelled up following Le Lab’s development of a human resources ‘chatbot’. Using AI, the chatbot answers employee human resources questions in real time.
Clearly, Banque de France has not shied away from technical development. It has become an example to other regulators and supranational organisations worldwide, earning it this year’s Pioneer Award.