Retail Banking Research Outlook 2021

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

The COVID-19 pandemic has turbo-charged the trends in retail banking that had been simmering, particularly highlighting the importance of digital customer engagement. Instead of retrenching, retail banks in the vanguard are increasing technology budgets and accelerating projects. They are playing the long game, with multi-year, well-defined strategies, and are getting ready to lead in the post-pandemic world.

Five themes will dominate our 2021 Retail Banking research, with analysts focusing on customer engagement, lending, payments, growing the banking ecosystem, and cloud-led transformation of the core infrastructure. The case studies of our Model Bank award-winning initiatives will be published in March and will cover topics across all five themes.

As always, we’ll look 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 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. We will seek to help our clients raise their self-service game, whether it’s supporting their initiatives around virtual assistants or determining the role of physical channels. We will continue to cover best practices in digital onboarding and will be looking how banks use data and AI tools to nudge their customers towards financial wellness or determine their next-best offer.

Transforming Consumer Lending

Customer engagement is also a key theme in our lending and payments coverage. We will be looking at how banks are deploying new types of data and analytics to improve credit decisioning and implementing technologies that enable to e-close lending deals in a socially distanced world. We also expect retail banks to be focused on operational efficiency in consumer and mortgage lending and enhancing their collections capabilities.

Winning in Digital Payments

We will continue our coverage of key topics in digital payments. We will seek to help clients make decisions around some of the new products, such as Buy Now Pay Later, or real time payment digital overlay services, such as Request to Pay. We also intend to explore the changing face of “card issuers” and the evolution of card issuing platforms. Finally, we will continue to keep an eye on commerce and shopping innovations and implications of those for payments.

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. Banking-as-a-Service and Embedded Finance are among the hottest topics in the industry and we intend to track the developments there. We will also be helping clients to think through the opportunities to commercialise their investments in open banking.

Enabling Cloud-led Core Technology Transformation

Cloud is playing an increasingly important role in transforming the banks’ technology infrastructure. We will 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. And we know that many of our clients look forward to our flagship IT spending report every year.

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 Companies (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
  • Banking-as-a-Service and embedded finance

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

  • IT Services
  • Digital Engagement (aka Unified Communications) 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 Q2.

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