Retail Banking Research Outlook 2021

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Getting Ready to Lead in the Post-Pandemic World: 2021 Research Themes

Over the last quarter, the gathering pace of the rollout of COVID-19 vaccination programmes allowed many countries in Europe and North America to start easing the restrictions and begin reopening their economies. However, the pandemic continued to be devastating in many other parts of the world, especially India and Brazil. The “return to normal” has certainly been a longer process than any of us would have wished or expected, but like many other firms, banks are now considering what that “new normal” is going to look like, from customer preferences to whether and how to get back to the offices.

Going into 2021, we highlighted five themes for the Retail Banking research: customer engagement, lending, payments, growing the banking ecosystem, and cloud-led transformation of the core infrastructure, and this remains our focus. In March, we also published the case studies of our Model Bank award-winning initiatives, which cover topics across all five themes.

As always, we want to be nimble and respond to fast-moving developments in our research space. If you have a hot topic in mind, where our research could add value to your organisation, please get in touch, and we’ll endeavor to incorporate it into our research agenda for the rest of 2021.

Optimising Customer Engagement

Retail banks have told us repeatedly during the pandemic: their two most important priorities for 2021 are enhancing digital self-service capabilities and improving digital product origination and customer onboarding. In Q1, we published the results of a detailed survey on the state of digital customer acquisition among financial institutions in the US. One finding was that banks would like to understand better how to measure success and how their performance compares with peers. We intend to run another survey with our Digital Banking Research Panel in Q3 looking to gather anonymized operational KPIs to help understand best practice – do let us know if you would like to participate!

Another finding from that survey was relatively low levels of adoption of modern identity verification tools and techniques. We intend to explore some of the key issues around customer identity management further through interviews and roundtable discussions with bank executives.

Finally, in Q2, we published a report analyzing digital customer engagement platforms, and in Q3 we are going to refresh our research on customer communication management (CCM) platforms.

Transforming Consumer Lending

Customer engagement is also a key theme in our lending and payments coverage. There are some fascinating Model Bank case studies that demonstrate how banks are improving their lending capabilities. In Q2 we published several reports on loan and mortgage e-closing, while the next quarter we will be looking at how banks can enhance their collections capabilities.

Winning in Digital Payments

We continued our coverage of key topics in digital payments, from exploring acceptance innovations, such as MagicCube’s i-Accept solution to helping banks and fintechs ask their issuer processors the right questions about resilience and reliability. In Q3, we will be revisiting open banking payments, and look at how banks can make their card programmes more sustainable and safer for the planet, a topic high on many banks’ agendas at the board level.

Growing the Retail Banking Ecosystem

The retail banking ecosystem is getting more complex with many new players offering financial services to their customers, often in partnership with banks. In Q2 we published our flagship report Demystifying Embedded Finance, which gathered much praise from the clients and interest from the rest of the industry; let us know if you would like to discuss the key findings. In Q3, we will continue coverage of open banking, exploring vendor ecosystem for open banking infrastructure products.

Enabling Cloud-led Core Technology Transformation

Cloud is playing an increasingly important role in transforming the banks’ technology infrastructure. We continue to monitor the cloud adoption trends in banking, how banks make Buy vs Build decisions, and how they work with various technology and service providers to migrate to a modern technology stack. In Q2, we published on technology modernization and the growing importance of the ecosystem of partners.

We have been reviewing IT Services vendors and Low/ No-Code platform providers in banking and will soon publish two reports summarizing those findings. Also, in Q3, we will publish another of our flagship reports on IT spending and the ongoing study on how the financial industry in Japan and APAC is adapting to the post-pandemic world.

Finally, we continue our quest to help clients understand what it takes to transform large organizations. In Q2, we published a report on becoming an agile bank, while in Q3, we will be exploring digital maturity in banking.

Model Bank Case Studies

With Covid-19 wreaking havoc across the globe throughout 2020, we feared banks would not participate in our annual Celent Model Bank awards, now in its 14th year. Instead, we received a near record number of nominations from all over the world detailing courageous stories of customer advocacy, organizational pivots at breakneck speed, and celebrations of jobs well-done. Innovation in banking didn’t slow during the pandemic, it accelerated!

We announced our Model Bank winners on March 10th, as part of our annual Innovation and Insight event. From almost 170 nominations of exceptionally high quality, we recognized 21 initiatives. The case studies of each initiative are available to download for Celent Retail or Corporate Banking research clients, depending on the initiative’s focus.

About Celent

Celent is committed to helping our clients assess the technology implications of external factors across the financial system, from changes in customer behaviour to new strategies and technologies required to respond to an uncertain economic future. We’re in touch with financial institutions and their technology partners around the world and are developing a host of new perspectives, updated regularly, to help you make the right strategic technology choices in the medium and longer term. Our clients have access to our insights through traditional ways – reports, blogs, analyst access – and new media, like interactive virtual roundtables and snap polls.

Because Celent is part of a larger organization, Oliver Wyman and Marsh McClennan (MMC), you have access to our collective thought leadership in areas ranging from epidemiology (Oliver Wyman), to economic modelling (Oliver Wyman), to risk/ crisis management (Marsh), and human resource implications (Mercer). For further information, please see:

Oliver Wyman

One thing is certain: none of us can go it alone. As you face strategic decisions in the areas of technology and partnerships, Celent is here to support you. We can help you vet partners and technologies as you look at shifting priorities, competitive threats, and growing cost pressures.


We continue to deliver different types of insights, from analysis of technology trends shaping the banking industry to vendor analysis. Note that we are publishing Solution Briefs (a short format based on interesting updates we receive from industry players) throughout the year, but there’s no way to predict what those topics will be.

Industry Trends and Case Studies

  • Model Bank case studies from around the world
  • Cloud, AI, APIs, open banking
  • Cards and digital payments
  • Consumer lending, including mortgages

Polls, Panels, and Primers

  • IT spending priorities
  • State of digital customer origination and onboarding
  • AI (and RPA) Imperatives and Lessons
  • Embedded Finance and Banking-as-a-Service

Vendor Analysis: ABCD, Spectrum, Landscape Reports, Solution Briefs

  • IT Services
  • Low- and No-code Platforms
  • Digital Engagement Platforms
  • Modern Card Issuing Platforms
  • Various Solution Briefs

VendorMatch, Celent’s new vendor discovery tool, is playing an increasingly important role in our vendor analysis. See more at

Contact us for more information about what we have planned in Q3.

If you are a client, please sign in to access a full view of our Q3 2021 agenda.