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5 Compliance Lessons Learned in 2021 to Bring into the New Year

5 Compliance Lessons Learned in 2021 to Bring into the New Year

As the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic persist, there are important compliance trends and new regulatory guidance that financial institutions should consider to ensure they are well prepared to begin the New Year.

Accounting for Operational Risk

During the pandemic, banks and credit unions have made necessary adjustments that have increased their operational risk. Two prime examples are switching to a remote workforce and accommodating a more remote customer base. Having employees work remotely extends an institution’s network out to that endpoint and, in effect, broadens security considerations to that point as well. Serving a remote customer base—including expanding e-banking and implementing electronic signatures—creates a similar risk. Security implications multiply as more employees and customers access services electronically.

Rapid changes in operational practices and increases in fraud and cyberthreats can cause a heightened operational risk environment if not properly managed. Examiners will want an account of how institutions determined what changes were necessary, how those modifications were implemented, whether those changes were temporary or permanent, and if controls (primary and compensating) have been adjusted for any resulting operational risk increases. They will review the steps management has taken to evaluate and adjust controls for new and modified operational processes. For instance, for permanent changes, did the institution factor in the operational risk of downtime relating to the new processes?

As a measure of governance effectiveness, examiners will also very likely:

  • Assess actions that management has taken to adapt fraud and cybersecurity controls to address the heightened risk associated with the altered operating environment.
  • Review management’s post-crisis efforts to assess the controls and service delivery performance capabilities of third parties.
  • Consider how imprudent cost-cutting, insufficient staffing, or delays in implementing necessary updates impacted the control environment.

Temporary vs. Permanent Changes

For the most part, because we are still dealing with the impact of the virus and its variants, institutions have chosen to maintain many of the temporary measures they implemented during the pandemic. So, because they may have rolled out the changes anticipating an eventual rollback, it may be necessary to “backfill” some documentation to address what is now permanent. Examiners will want to know if the changes were properly risk-assessed prior to implementation, including any new processes and interdependencies. Institutions should be able to provide a report to regulators if they ask—and ensure their board is appropriately updated. This could be a matter of going back and reviewing previous board reports to ensure that any gaps in their risk management reporting were addressed and properly reported to the board.

Ransomware Self-Assessment Tool (R-SAT)

With the pervasive occurrence of cyberattacks, regulators are increasingly concerned about cybersecurity, particularly reducing ransomware. Consequently, regulators in some states are more aggressive than others about having institutions fill out the Ransomware Self-Assessment Tool (R-SAT), which is based on the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) cybersecurity framework. However, most state regulators we’ve spoken with are not going to make completing the R-SAT compulsory—although they may recommend it. If they do, the majority of what is asked by the 16-question tool should already be in place in the institution’s existing incident response and business continuity plans. Your decision to complete or not should be based on a self-assessment of your existing efforts in this area.

Regulatory Updates

New Architecture, Infrastructure, and Operations (AIO) Booklet

Earlier this year, the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC) revamped its Information Technology Examination Handbook series with a new Architecture, Infrastructure, and Operations booklet. The revised guidance provides examiners with fundamental examination expectations about architecture and infrastructure planning, governance and risk management, and operations of regulated entities. Credit unions, banks, and non-financial, third-party service providers are expected to comply with the new guidance, which replaces the original “Operations” booklet issued in July 2004.

The FFIEC indicates that the release of the updated booklet is warranted because of the close integration between institutions’ architecture, infrastructure, and operations. “Updates to the booklet reflect the changing technological environment and increasing need for security and resilience, including architectural design, infrastructure implementation, and operation of information technology systems,” explains a June 2021 FFIEC press release.

An important component of the new booklet is the resilience and proactive measures that must be built into an institution’s AIO components. Importantly, the handbook also recognizes special treatment for smaller or less complex entities, which is reasonable because examiners are starting to indicate that smaller entities will often implement these concepts differently from large, multinational, multi-regional financial organizations, while still achieving the same objectives. The refreshed guidance also takes a different approach to data classification; it factors in value, along with criticality and sensitivity. However, (and this is consistent with all FFIEC Handbooks released in the past 3 years) the new booklet states that it does not impose requirements on entities; instead, it describes principles and practices examiners will review to assess an entity’s AIO functions. (Of course, we have always found that anything an examiner may use to evaluate, or grade, your practices becomes in effect a de facto requirement.) A much deeper dive into the booklet is here.

New Cyber Incident Notification Rules

Another big update that will impact 2022 and beyond, the new cyber incident notification rules. Officially called “Computer-Security Incident Notification Requirements for Banking Organizations and Their Bank Service Providers”, they were proposed and submitted for comment in early 2021, approved in November 2021, and become effective in April 2022. Visit our partner site, ComplianceGuru.com, to read the latest post and gain an understanding of how these rules will impact both you and your third-party providers going forward.

To learn more about these and other critical compliance topics, listen to our webinar on “2021 Hot Topics in Compliance: Mid-Year Update.”