Special Alert: Federal Reserve Board Guidance On Managing Outsourcing Risks Mirrors Recent OCC Guidance

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On December 5, 2013, the Federal Reserve Board (FRB or the Fed) issued Supervision and Regulation Letter 13-19, which details and attaches the Fed’s Guidance on Managing Outsourcing Risk  (FRB Guidance).  The FRB Guidance sets forth risks arising out of the use of service providers and the regulatory expectations relating to risk management programs. It is substantially similar to OCC Bulletin 2013-29, which the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) issued on October 30, 2013.

The FRB Guidance supplements existing guidance relating to risks presented by Technology Service Providers (TSPs) to reach service providers that perform a wide range of business functions, including, among other things, appraisal management, internal audit, human resources, sales and marketing, loan review, asset and wealth management, procurement, and loan servicing.

While a complete roadmap of the FRB Guidance would be largely duplicative of our recent Special Alert relating to the OCC Bulletin 2103-29, key supervisory and enforcement themes emerge from a comparison of the two guidance documents.  Like the OCC, the Fed signals broadly that failure to effectively manage the use of third-party service providers could “expose financial institutions to risks that can result in regulatory action, financial loss, litigation, and loss of reputation.” The Fed also emphasizes the responsibility of the Board of Directors and senior management to provide for the effective management of third-party relationships and activities.  It enumerates virtually the same risk categories as the OCC, including compliance, concentration, reputational, operational, country, and legal risks, though its discussion of those risks is slightly less comprehensive.

The FRB Guidance makes clear that service provider risk management programs should focus on outsourced activities that are most impactful to the institution’s financial condition, are critical to ongoing operations, involve sensitive customer information, new products or services, or pose material compliance risk. While the elements comprising the service provider risk management program will vary with the nature of the financial institution’s outsourced activities, the Fed’s view is that effective programs usually will include the following:

  • Risk assessments: Institutions should evaluate the implications of performing an activity in-house versus having the activity performed by a service provider and also consider whether outsourcing an activity is consistent with the strategic direction and overall business strategy of the organization. This section of the FRB Guidance closely aligns with the section titled “Planning” in OCC Bulletin 2013-29.
  • Due diligence and selection of service providers: Institutions should address the depth and formality of due diligence of prospective service providers consistent with the scope, complexity, and importance of the planned outsourcing arrangement. The Fed emphasizes processes designed to diligence a potential service provider’s (i) business background, reputation, and strategy; (ii) financial performance and condition; and (iii) operations and internal controls. This section is less detailed, but nonetheless consistent with the section titled “Due Diligence and Third-Party Selection” in OCC Bulletin 2013-29.
  • Contract provisions and considerations: Service provider contracts should cover certain topics, including, but not limited to: (i) the scope of services covered; (ii) cost and compensation; (iii) right to audit; (iv) performance standards; (v) confidentiality and security of information; (vi) indemnification; (vii) default and termination; (viii) limits on liability; (ix) customer complaints; (x) business resumption and contingency plan of the service provider; and (xi) use of subcontractors. The key provisions noted generally mirror the “Contract Negotiation” section of OCC Bulletin 2013-29.
  • Incentive compensation review: Institutions should establish an effective process to review and approve any incentive compensation arrangements that may be embedded in service provider contracts to avoid encouraging “imprudent” risk-taking. While OCC Bulletin 2013-29 does not break out incentive compensation as a separate program feature (it is included among factors to be considered in due diligence and selection), it does identify the need for banks to review whether fee structure and incentives would create burdensome upfront fees or result in inappropriate risk-taking by the third party or the bank.
  • Oversight and monitoring of service providers: Institutions should set forth the processes for measuring performance against contractually-required service levels and key the frequency of performance reviews to the risk profile of the service provider. This section of the FRB Guidance, consistent with the “Ongoing Monitoring” section of OCC Bulletin 2013-29, also recommends the creation of escalation protocols for underperforming service providers and monitoring of service provider financial condition and internal controls, which may also trigger escalation if the service provider’s financial viability or adequacy of its control environment are compromised during the course of the relationship.
  • Business continuity and contingency plans: Institutions should develop plans that focus on critical services and consider alternative arrangements in the event of an interruption. The Fed specifically notes that financial institutions should: (i) ensure that a disaster recovery and business continuity plan exists with regard to the contracted services and products; (ii) assess the adequacy and effectiveness of a service provider’s disaster recovery and business continuity plan and its alignment to their own plan; (iii) document the roles and responsibilities for maintaining and testing the service provider’s business continuity and contingency plans; (iv) test the service provider’s business continuity and contingency plans on a periodic basis to ensure adequacy and effectiveness; and (v) maintain an exit strategy, including a pool of comparable service providers. Notably, OCC Bulletin 2013-29 addresses business continuity and contingency plans under third-party risk management, rather than as separate program features.

Finally, the FRB Guidance notes a number of “additional risk considerations” not singled out by OCC Bulletin 2013-29, which cover: (i) confidentiality of Suspicious Activity Report (SAR) reporting functions; (ii) compliance by foreign-based service providers with U.S. laws, regulations, and regulatory guidance; (iii) prohibitions against outsourcing internal audit functions in violation of Sarbanes-Oxley; and (iv) alignment of outsourced model risk management with existing Fed Guidance on Model Risk Management (SR 11-7).

Topics:  Bank Service Providers, Banks, Due Diligence, Federal Reserve, OCC, Outsourcing, Risk Assessment, Risk Management

Published In: General Business Updates, Finance & Banking Updates, International Trade Updates

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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