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Top priorities and trends in banking in 2021

a river running through a city

In this blog, we sit down with Zilvinas Bareisis, head of retail banking at Celent, a leading research and advisory firm focused on technology for financial institutions globally, to discuss top trends and priorities for retail banking, differentiation of customer experiences, risk management, and preparing for the future.

What are the top priorities for retail banks in 2021?

Celent: 2020 has been a year like no other in recent memory. The COVID-19 pandemic forced everyone, not just those in financial services, to react at speed.

While the dust is yet to settle, we believe retail banks should be considering their priorities across three horizons:

  1. When it comes to digital customer engagement, efficient operations, or robust fraud management, banks should identify and close key gaps in capabilities immediately.
  2. Banks need to make sure they have a clear strategy, such as cloud adoption, or how they will participate in the increasingly open ecosystem.
  3. Banks should keep an eye on issues that are not yet urgent but are starting to receive a lot of industry attention, such as central bank digital currencies.

What are the opportunities in digital customer engagement?

Celent: The pandemic has rapidly accelerated the adoption of digital across all aspects of customer engagement, from selling to onboarding to servicing.

Early on, with branches shut and banks struggling to cope with call center volumes, it became obvious how essential digital self-service is, such as being able to request a payment holiday.

Nearly all the banks we surveyed in 2020 told us that enhancing digital self-service capabilities was their top IT strategy priority. This was followed closely, 77 percent, by the desire to improve digital product origination and onboarding. The goal is to design a frictionless, yet secure customer onboarding experience across all products.

An orchestration engine that intelligently determines the optimum next steps based on context (e.g., customer and product risk) can help automate the process for simple products while embedding collaboration, communication, and document exchange tools to enhance the experience for more complex ones.

The leading banks are also deploying machine learning models to identify the next best offer or conversation with the customer and equipping their employees with tools to help selling.

Which areas should banks prioritize to ensure efficient operations and fraud management?

Celent: The banks’ risk models are calibrated to detect out-of-pattern spending behavior, and 2020 has certainly been out of historic norms, forcing banks to review and update those models.

Also, as more purchases are moving online, both fraud and disputes have been on the rise. And it’s not just cards: Authorised Push Payment (APP) fraud in the UK has become the fastest-growing type of fraud.

Our clients tell us they are increasing investments in automating many processes, and especially loan application and processing. Now is also the time to review and upgrade the collections capabilities.

What should banks prepare to address over a longer-term horizon?

Celent: The financial services ecosystem is becoming increasingly open and interconnected, and banks around the world are exploring how they can participate in open banking or support embedded finance.

Banks must also decide their strategies towards new products getting a lot of attention in the market, such as Buy Now Pay Later or Request to Pay solutions.

While branches and offices will not disappear, remote working will be more prevalent post-pandemic, and most organizations, including banks, will have to answer questions reaching far beyond technology to determine the right approach for the “future of work”.

And of course, banks’ attitudes towards public cloud have evolved significantly, with many now recognizing that cloud is an increasingly viable and important component of the banks’ technology infrastructure.

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