The COVID-19 pandemic dominated the regulatory landscape early in 2020, with cybersecurity dominating the last couple of months. Here is a look back at important regulatory changes and trends in 2020 and a look ahead at what to anticipate for 2021.
Characterizing Causes of Weakness
When it became obvious that the pandemic would have a pervasive and wide-ranging effect, the Federal Financial Institution Examination Council’s (FFIEC) issued several statements to address the situation. The FFIEC outlined some of the adjustments and accommodations that regulators expect bankers to make concerning lending, operational risks, and other areas. For instance, if an exam results in downgrading component or composite ratings for an institution, a distinction will be made between any weakness caused by the pandemic vs. management and governance issues.
Essentially, examiners will differentiate between a weakness resulting from an external event versus an internal systemic issue—even if the event is beyond management’s control.
The statement issued in June 2020, states, “Examiners will consider whether institution management has managed risk appropriately, including taking appropriate actions in response to financial and operational stresses caused by COVID-19 impacts.”
It is uncertain exactly how this issue will be interpreted in a post-pandemic world. After all, pandemic should be a part of all financial institutions’ business continuity planning, and as such, not completely outside the realm of a reasonably anticipated threat. So ideally management should have anticipated such an event, and have been prepared to respond. The only unanticipated aspect of the current Covid 19 event is the extreme extended duration compared to a standard Pandemic. It will be interesting to see how the agencies square the concepts of a “reasonably anticipated threat” vs. “external factors beyond management’s control”. Aren’t most threats both reasonably anticipated, and also beyond management’s control? We’ll let you know if and when we get any clarification on that.
Regardless of the scenario, documentation is crucial and often overlooked. Most folks are laser-focused on just getting past this and back to “normal” business, but memories fade over time, and documenting what adjustments you’ve made (or plan to make) during the pandemic will make the post-pandemic adjustments easier to explain to management and justify to examiners. Documentation can also help establish your increased ability to anticipate and respond to the next threat, also referred to as “resilience”. Institutions should make every attempt to document all management decisions, such as the minutes from management meetings, communications with third-parties, and any strategic or procedural changes you may have made or need to make. For example, if you’ve implemented technology to enable an increased mobile workforce (a strategic change), have you updated the remote access procedures and best practices in your employee Acceptable Use Policy accordingly (a procedural change)? Have all remote employees signed the updated AUP?
In our next blog post, we will dive into the focus on ransomware mitigation, how best to address cybersecurity, and what to expect heading into 2021.