World’s Best Digital Banks 2021: Round 1

Expanding partnerships fuel the next-generation of mobile apps.

The pandemic-related upswing in digital banking worldwide has continued apace, pushing banks to accelerate innovation and provide better choices and services to consumers and corporate/institutional banking clients alike. It has also increased the momentum of open banking adoption, with banks seizing the opportunities that technology and the free flow of financial information provide.

Additional data shared under open banking offers banks advantages to use artificial intelligence (AI) to glean further insights regarding their customers and develop more innovative products. “The banks that have profited the most from digital technologies and AI investments have revolutionized the overall customer experience,” says Carlton Hopper, UK managing director at IT-services provider GFT. “It has enabled them to harness and exploit the actual value of the mass of data sources they hold and create hyper-personalized products and services. As a result, AI is supercharging innovation capabilities.”

GFT helped Standard Chartered, in partnership with holding company PCCW, Hong Kong Telecom and online travel agency, to create a new Hong Kong virtual bank from scratch: Mox Bank, the Asia Pacific winner of Best Open Banking APIs and Best Bill Payment & Presentment in the Consumer Digital Banks category opened its virtual doors in September 2020 and amassed 150,000 customers by July 2021.

According to Hopper, banks can now swiftly launch more-competitively priced offerings designed around the specific needs of targeted customers rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach. “In addition, open banking technologies have increased transparency within the market, providing clients with significantly more choice, and have made switching providers much more straightforward.”

Opening application programming interfaces (APIs) for third parties to develop new apps and services is ushering in competition, driving bank innovation. For example, in July 2021, Citibanamex, Mexico’s Best Corporate/Institutional Digital Bank and two Consumer Best Digital Bank Awards winner, launched its API hub. As a result, it introduced a slew of new technologies, such as AI, robotic process automation and cloud computing, to help stay ahead of the pack.

CIB (Commercial International Bank) of Egypt, which won an impressive 15 Best Consumer and Corporate/Institutional Digital Bank awards, developed its single API Gateway to provide its clients a seamless experience with its multiple payment and collection products and channels.

Improving Apps with APIs

Smartphones have become such an integral part of people’s lives that many retail banks have leaped on the opportunity of using their apps to also become part of people’s lives. By investing in digital technology and collaborating with third-party providers, they are in effect becoming lifestyle partners.

CaixaBank, Western Europe’s Best Website Design, Best Mobile Banking App and overall Spanish winner among consumer banks, proudly says continual improvements to its app, CaixaBankNow, are fulfilling customer needs while adding new functionalities. The recently added Moments section, for example, helps users locate all the nonfinancial benefits CaixaBank offers, such as traveling, mobility or leisure activities.

Since the launching of Bank of America’s Life Plan in October 2020, more than 4 million customers have used it to set and track short- and long-term goals. The service tracks progress toward these goals, can adjust the goals along the way and gets clients individualized support from a specialist when required.

In Africa, First Bank of Nigeria has added personalization tools, including a personal finance manager, target savings, in-app complaints manager, ATM and agent locator to its FirstMobile app. Users can also enjoy lifestyle services, such as flight booking. Clients of South Africa’s Standard Bank, which won Best Digital Bank in South Africa and six other awards, can view and pay traffic fines and sign up for other bill payments, including taxes.

National Bank of Kuwait, the winner of seven Consumer Digital Bank Awards, has been busy adding features to its mobile banking app, including digital onboarding using a government-issued ID for verification and know-your-customer, geo alerts and a selection of e-payment options with telecom companies, online shopping cards, utilities, digital games, TV channels, other entertainment, school fees, billing services and charities.

Ecuador’s Produbanco implemented Facebook’s WhatsApp Business in 2020 to offer immediate information and service assistance to its customers. Produbanco is integrating an AI chatbot this year with WhatsApp Business, Facebook and online chat to provide further customer assistance.

During the peak of Covid-19’s first wave, the Bank of Ghana, the nation’s central bank, approved the country’s first AI chatbot. LEO offers customers of United Bank for Africa (UBA) Ghana, which won the Best Consumer Digital Banks in Africa 2021 awards for Best Mobile Banking App and Most Innovative Digital Bank, in addition to the Best Consumer Digital Bank in Ghana, improved convenience. LEO aids users in opening accounts, transferring funds to other UBA accounts or accounts with other banks, paying bills and other services.

Bank ABC in Bahrain, which won two Consumer Digital Bank Awards,  has gone further than most with its chatbot offering, having created Fatema—a multilingual digital-human agent possessing autonomous movement and the appearance of empathy. Underpinned by AI, Fatema has over 700,000 impressions on social media and is the first digital banking assistant to have its own social media account.

A year after Bank ABC launched ila, its mobile-only, cloud-based app, the bank’s key performance indicators—including cost-per-acquisition and number of deposits—were 4.5 times higher than expected, proving that delivering what customers want is good business.

Not only consumers are enjoying the benefits of app-based banking, but corporate clients too. Qatar Islamic Bank, which won six Best Digital Bank awards, is one of the only two banks in the country to launch a corporate app that allows customers to manage their corporate banking needs remotely.

Goldman Sachs, which won two Best Digital Bank Awards, entered the world of transaction banking with TxB, its banking-as-a-service offering, has resulted in $35 billion in deposits from 250 clients since its 2020 launch in the US. TxB clients can create virtual accounts, originate and track payments, retrieve activity about their accounts and manage incoming payments.

“Embedded finance enabled by open APIs will allow corporates to provide a more diverse spread of customer offerings and experiences than ever before,” says Lim Soon Chong, group head of Global Transaction Services at DBS, which won eight Best Digital Banks in Asia Pacific subcategory awards in addition to the overall win for Singapore. “It will open up new revenue streams and help them reinvent their services. With the industry’s largest library of APIs, more than 800 clients, a projected 50 million API calls in 2021, and tried and tested expertise, DBS is well positioned to partner with corporates on this transformation journey.”

Russian bank Sberbank, which won a hat trick of Best Corporate/Institutional Digital Banks in Central & Eastern Europe 2021 in addition to the country award, and four Best Consumer Digital Banks in Central & Eastern Europe 2021 awards, has created industry-specific offerings for its corporate clients. “After years of cooperating with our corporate clients, we now know how valuable it is for them to be free of routine and invest precious time in the core processes. And every industry has its own vision of such tedious routine tasks,” says Anna Loevskaya, director of the Digital Corporate Bank division at Sberbank.

The concept of offering an all-in-one solution to cover such mundane operations seemed very straightforward because Sberbank’s ecosystem already had a market-disrupting advantage, with a wide range of services, from customer relationship management systems to online bookkeeping, analytics and geo services, deeply integrated into the digital bank, she says. “What we had to do was just compile service bundles that would be flawlessly relevant to a respective industry, associate services with each other and introduce them into a company’s workflow. Under this approach, the digital bank system identifies a company’s industry and offers a tailored set of products. Thus, a conventional digital bank turns into an industry-specific tool.”

Open banking and APIs have made customer-centric services for corporate customers and consumers both possible and limitless. It’s up to the banks to make the most of the opportunities that open banking presents to them by developing a well-implemented API strategy that brings third-party innovations and improvements to their in-house strengths.


The winners of the Global Finance Best Digital Bank Awards are chosen based on the entries provided by financial institutions. Entrants are judged on breadth of product offerings; success in migrating customers to digital platforms; acquiring and retaining new customers; and the use of digital technologies to improve business processes, cut costs and deliver other benefits. Each entry is analyzed by a team of digital and banking experts at Infosys. All final selections are the responsibility of Global Finance. Round 1 of the awards includes country-level and regional awards in Corporate/Institutional and Consumer subcategories. Round 2—global winners—will be featured in the December issue.