What have we learnt about Operational Resilience in the last three months?  

The last three months has taken the world – and Financial Services completely by surprise and further highlighted some major weaknesses in firms’ approaches to operational risk.

In January 2020, infectious diseases or Pandemic Risk, was not in the top 20 operational risks in Financial Services – at the time dominated by Cybercrime, data breaches and financial crime.[1] While many firms’ will have run pandemic scenarios at some point as part of their operational risk scenario analysis programme (probably based on SARs, or Ebola) – it’s becoming increasingly clear that many firms’ business continuity plans were being updated ‘on the fly’ as they moved to crisis management as the pandemic situation evolved. 70% of Operational Risk professionals say that their priorities and focus have changed as a result of Covid 19.[2]

This is understandable. No-one anticipated a situation of near total remote working that the pandemic has called for – even in extreme scenarios.

Many banks and insurance companies now have up to 90% of their staff working from home and are attempting to manage the plethora of associated impacts and increased risks resulting from this new environment.

Risks such as internal fraud or engaging in unauthorised activities are increasing as a direct consequence of the reduced monitoring capabilities caused by distance working as well as simple operational errors, mistakes, and omissions. While many other indirect risks are increasing, such as cyber criminals taking advantage of new vulnerabilities revealed by remote working.

 

Regulators are re-writing the rulebook on how to manage operational risk

The ability of Financial Services to cope in situations such as this has been an area of regulatory focus for some years now, in great part driven by the parliamentary response to high profile IT failures such as with TSB or RBS[3]. Named ‘Operational Resilience’, regulators are looking at the “ability of firms and the financial sector as a whole to prevent, adapt, respond to, recover, and learn from operational disruptions.”

The Bank of England & FCA released a discussion paper in 2018 on this topic, stating:

“The financial sector needs an approach to operational risk management that includes preventative measures and the capabilities – in terms of people, processes and organisational culture – to adapt and recover when things go wrong.”[4]

Covid 19 is a prime example of things ‘going wrong’.

As a result, regulators are closely monitoring this situation as Covid 19 replaces Brexit as the test case for UK financial services’ ‘Operational Resilience’ rules. How firms manage Covid 19 now, will shape the final form of the imminent legislation as firms’ successes and failures are factored into the final rules due in 2021.

A joint PRA/FCA consultation paper ‘CP29/19 Operational resilience: Impact tolerances for important business services’ released in December 2019[5] breaks down their proposed policy and regulatory requirements to reform operational risk management. Namely:

  1. Identification of Important Business services – A firm or Financial Market Infrastructure (FMI) must identify and document the necessary people, processes, technology, facilities, and information (referred to as resources) required to deliver each of its important business services.
  2. Set impact tolerances for those business services – firms should articulate specific maximum levels of disruption, including time limits within which they will be able to resume the delivery of important business services following severe but plausible disruptions
  3. Remain within those impact tolerances – Scenario testing: is the testing of a firm or FMI’s ability to remain within its impact tolerance for each of its important business services in the event of a severe (or in the case of FMIs, extreme) but plausible disruption of its operations.

The shift in focus means moving away from tracking individual risks to individual systems and resources towards considering the chain of activities which make up a business service and its delivery. This includes outsourcing and third party risk management, as made clear in a separate consultation paper. [6] As a result, operational risk management will become significantly more data intensive.

To understand business services’ impact tolerances in ongoing testing requires a significant level of infrastructure and data sophistication. Identifying and assessing the criticality of the ‘chain’ of activities involved is a project in itself, but defining, collecting, and reporting on the right metrics on an ongoing basis would require purpose built infrastructure.

As they stand, the rules under consultation require firms to produce a detailed end-to-end mapping of processes, applications, and people, new and updated policies, standards and procedures. Testing of operational resilience programs will require significant effort from firms depending on the scale and complexity of operations, testing frequency, or level of integration required.

Alongside these operational changes, the regulators expect Boards and senior management to consider operational resilience when making strategic decisions. As a result, robust information tools are needed that incorporate metrics such as KRIs, KCIs or KPIs into informed strategic decision making.[7]

How firms currently manage their operational risks is undergoing a paradigm shift

Firms’ existing operational risk management is primarily informed by the Basel II’s capital requirements legislation[8]. Firms are required to hold Operational Risk Capital (ORC) against aggregate operational risks calculated largely against quantifiable, historical ‘loss events’ (i.e. how much money was lost, and for what reason) and the RCSA[9] scores based on the adequacy of the controls designed to prevent those losses.

Basel II’s more sophisticated, model-based, advanced measurement approach (AMA) has been widely criticised as being difficult to implement and ineffective – leading many firms to default to the simpler Basic Indicator Approach (BIA) rather than invest in the infrastructure to support the AMA and eat the increased capital charges the BIA entails.

As a result, most operational risk scenarios have been largely event-driven e.g. what happens if the trade reconciliation system goes down. Firms largely don’t attempt to track what would happen if that system deteriorated by 20% for example.

This is the key difference in approach between the proposed operational resilience rules and existing frameworks. Where traditional operational risk management is much more siloed and vertical, operational resilience requires a much more holistic, and horizontal, approach internally.

Taking an end-to-end view of the ‘chain’ of activities that make up a service and its associated controls, means tracking the entirety of the inputs and outputs from front to back across business lines, middle and back offices, and 3rd party suppliers and outsourcing (e.g. from sales to execution to settlement).

As a result, analysing the impact of a deterioration in control effectiveness requires data infrastructure and risk management software designed for the purpose that can incorporate the relevant metrics (e.g. volume, uptime, etc.) and track the impact of changes across downstream processes.

Given many firms have challenges managing end-to-end business flows on a BAU basis without significant manual manipulation of data as they are so complex and fractured, there will likely be significant challenges around defining and delivering resilience thresholds which meet the regulatory requirements as the data sets underpinning such thresholds will also be complex and fractured.

Basel II’s system is now being overhauled with the new Standardized Measurement Approach (SMA) under Basel III regulations, now[10] due 2023. As a result, banks will need to ensure their internal loss data is as accurate and robust as possible to substantiate their calculated ORC.

How this system meshes with the operational resilience rules is an open question for the industry. Can they be aligned? or will firms be doomed to operate multiple and potentially conflicting risk frameworks?

 

Movement to the cloud needs purposeful development of operational resilience capabilities

The regulators are clear about how they see the future of Financial Institutions – they should be deeply interconnected with the regulators and be able to provide the data they need ‘on tap’. The move towards more granular, end-to-end views of operational resilience needs to be seen as a continuation of this objective.

According to ORX, the international operational risk management association:

“Risks are becoming more interconnected and traditional operational risk management is not suited to manage them … we have tools, we have tactics, we have value, but that we lack a strategy. We need a strategy to deal with the changing risk horizon, new business models, changing technology and, most of all, new expectations from senior management.”[11]

These are issues the UK regulators understand deeply, however, the Operational Resilience proposals need to be seen in the broader regulatory context. In the UK, the industry spends £4.5 billion in regulatory reporting, but the BoE wants to move towards a more integrated system.

“supervisors now receive more than 1 billion rows of data each month… the amount of data available in regulatory and management reports now exceeds our ability to analyse it using traditional methods.”[12]

As a result, the BoE has tabled proposals to pull data directly from firms’ systems or use APIs to ‘skip the middleman’ and go directly to source[13].

The drive towards innovation and digital transformation means the industry is aggressively moving towards wholescale cloud adoption. As firms such as a Blackrock, Lloyds, sign strategic partnership deals with Google, Microsoft or other cloud providers, in 2020, cloud technology is seen as a real, scalable and safe option for Financial Services.

While cloud security is a well-known concern, firms need to ensure that their cloud-based operating models are not only safe and secure, but address the capabilities required for operational resilience testing. Investment in frameworks and data analytics that can support these capabilities are essential – but should not be limited to purely operational resilience objectives.

Cloud adoption is a huge opportunity for firms to build ‘green field’ infrastructure that can not only support digitisation and business transformation objectives but also support ever increasing data requirements – regulatory or otherwise. The ability to handle and trace iterative regulatory requirements for new data sets need to be built into the fabric of firms’ operating models not just for compliance purposes but to track the impact of that compliance.

Conclusion

How many firms have today a consolidated view of their anti-financial crime, information security, or other non-financial or compliance risks, the resources devoted to their management, or the management information on tap to support decision making? It is clear firms need the right infrastructure and tools to support the granularity, and traceability of these data sets.

Real investment in operational risk data capabilities can yield significant business benefits – not just in the reduction of material risk and future spend on compliance, but as an invaluable source of internal intelligence for resource and business optimisation.

Top-of-the-line risk data positions Financial Institutions to further build out capabilities such as big data analytics, correlation and root cause analysis, and predictive risk intelligence.

However, in the face of the current pandemic, competing challenger institutions, market disruption, and the uncertainties of the future – the ability for firms to provide evidence they are robust and resilient organisations will give them a real competitive advantage as clients seek resiliency as core requirement in their banking/FMI partners.

Ultimately, the most important benefit a robust operational resilience framework can give firms is trust – from both customers and regulators.

 

[1] Risk.Net, March 2020, ‘Top 10 operational risks for 2020’ https://www.risk.net/risk-management/7450731/top-10-operational-risks-for-2020 

[2] Elena Pykhova, 2020, ‘Operational Risk Management during Covid-19: Have priorities changed?’ https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/operational-risk-management-during-covid-19-have-changed-pykhova/

[3] House of Commons & Treasury Committee, October 2019, ‘IT failures in the Financial Services Sector’ https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201919/cmselect/cmtreasy/224/224.pdf

[4] Bank of England & FCA, 2018, ‘Building the UK financial sector’s operational resilience’ https://www.bankofengland.co.uk/-/media/boe/files/prudential-regulation/discussion-paper/2018/dp118.pdf?la=en&hash=4238F3B14D839EBE6BEFBD6B5E5634FB95197D8A

[5] Bank of England/PRA, December 2019, ‘CP29/19 Operational resilience: Impact tolerances for important business services’ https://www.bankofengland.co.uk/-/media/boe/files/prudential-regulation/consultation-paper/2019/cp2919.pdf

[6] Bank of England/PRA, December 2019, ‘CP30/19 Outsourcing and third party risk management’ https://www.bankofengland.co.uk/-/media/boe/files/prudential-regulation/consultation-paper/2019/cp3019.pdf?la=en&hash=4766BFA4EA8C278BFBE77CADB37C8F34308C97D5

[7] Key Risk Indicators, Key Control Indicators, and Key Performance Indicators respectively.

[8] There are a whole host of regulations that impact operational risk management in a variety of ways such as CPMI-IOSCO Principles for Financial Market Infrastructures, the G7 Fundamental Elements of Cybersecurity for the Financial Sector, the NIST Cybersecurity Framework, ISO 22301, the Business Continuity Institute (BCI) Good Practices Guidelines 2018.

[9] (Risk Control Self Assessment)

[10] Delayed by a year as a result of Covid 19

[11] ORX, September 2019, The ORX Annual Report, https://managingrisktogether.orx.org/sites/default/files/public/downloads/2019/09/theorxannualreportleadingtheway_0.pdf

[12] Bank of England, June 2019, ‘New Economy, New Finance, New Bank: The Bank of England’s response to the van Steenis review on the Future of Finance’ https://www.bankofengland.co.uk/-/media/boe/files/report/2019/response-to-the-future-of-finance-report.pdf?la=en&hash=C4FA7E3D277DC82934050840DBCFBFC7C67509A4#page=11

[13]  Ibid

“Risks are becoming more interconnected and traditional operational risk management is not suited to manage them” – 

ORX, The operational risk management association

 

Taking an end-to-end view of the ‘chain’ of activities that make up a service and its associated controls, means tracking the entirety of the inputs and outputs from front to back across business lines, middle and back offices, and 3rd party suppliers and outsourcing (e.g. from sales to execution to settlement).

Given many firms have challenges managing end-to-end business flows on a BAU basis without significant manual manipulation of data as they are so complex and fractured, there will likely be significant challenges around defining and delivering resilience thresholds which meet the regulatory requirements as the data sets underpinning such thresholds will also be complex and fractured.

“firms need to ensure that their cloud-based operating models are not only safe and secure, but address the capabilities required for operational resilience testing. Investment in frameworks and data analytics that can support these capabilities are essential”

No-one anticipated a situation of near total remote working that the pandemic has called for – even in extreme scenarios.

Real investment in operational risk data capabilities can yield significant business benefits – not just in the reduction of material risk and future spend on compliance, but as an invaluable source of internal intelligence for resource and business optimisation.

Nick Fry | Strategy & Post-trade SME

Nick Fry | Strategy & Post-trade SME

Nick Fry
Reg Change, Data SME, RegTech Propositions

Experienced financial services professional and consultant with 25 years’ experience in the industry. Extensive and varied business knowledge both as a senior manager in BAU and change roles within investment banking operations and as a project delivery lead, client account manager, practice lead and business developer for consulting firms

 

Alaric Gibson | Reg Change and Data SME

Alaric Gibson | Reg Change and Data SME

Alaric Gibson
Reg Change, Data SME, RegTech Propositions

Analyst with expertise in regulatory analysis and implementation, customer reference data management, and data driven transformation & delivery. Has worked for a number of RegTech start-ups within Capital Markets.

 

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