In today's financial landscape, businesses are interconnected, and outsourcing and partnerships are necessary—meaning managing risks associated with third-party vendors is pivotal. Whether you're a small community bank or a multinational financial conglomerate, mastering third-party risk management is vital to safeguarding your institution against the vulnerabilities that third parties can introduce.

This guide provides insight into financial organizations' complex challenges when working with third-party vendors. It covers due diligence, continuous monitoring, and effective incident response, offering practical solutions for managing third-party risk. The guide includes best practices and actionable strategies to strengthen your third-party risk management processes, ensuring your organization's security, compliance, and resilience in today's unpredictable financial world.

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Third-Party Risk in Finance

As financial institutions increasingly rely on external entities for essential services such as technology solutions, payment processing, and customer data management, the risk potential amplifies. Understanding these risks is a regulatory and strategic necessity in today's interconnected financial ecosystem.

Types of Third-Party Risks

There are many potential risks that third parties can bring to an organization, spanning six key areas:

  • Cybersecurity Risk: The risk of cyber attacks, data breaches, and security incidents can be mitigated by performing due diligence before onboarding vendors and monitoring them throughout their lifecycle.
  • Operational Risk: A business may face disruption from a third party, which can be managed through legally binding service level agreements (SLAs). It's wise to have a backup vendor to ensure uninterrupted operations, especially in the financial industry.
  • Legal, Regulatory, and Compliance Risk: The risk of third-party impact on your organization's compliance with local legislation, regulations, or agreements, such as the E.U.'s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), is particularly significant for financial services, healthcare, government organizations, and business partners.  
  • Reputational Risk: Negative public opinion caused by a third party is a significant risk that should not be overlooked. It can result from various issues, such as dissatisfied customers, inappropriate interactions, and poor recommendations. However, the most damaging events are third-party data breaches due to poor security controls.
  • Financial Risk: The risk of a third party negatively impacting your organization's financial success, such as through poor supply chain management, causing an inability to sell a new product.
  • Strategic Risk: The risk of third-party vendor failure jeopardizing business objectives.

Compliance and Regulation Requirements

Compliance with laws and regulatory standards are essential inclusions in a financial organization’s Third-Party Risk Management policy. Financial organizations must understand these requirements to mitigate legal risks, avoid hefty penalties, and maintain their reputation in a tightly regulated environment.

Key Regulations

Several important legal frameworks play a key role in third-party risk management in the financial sector. These regulations come with specific requirements and challenges that financial institutions must comply with for effective risk management. Some of the major regulations include:

  • EU-GDPR and UK-GDPR: The General Data Protection Regulation (EU-GDPR) and its U.K. counterpart (UK-GDPR) set stringent data protection and privacy standards, requiring entities to secure personal data and uphold individuals' rights regarding their data.
  • SOX: The Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) focuses on improving corporate governance and financial disclosure, mandating rigorous internal control assessments and accurate financial reporting for public companies.
  • PCI DSS: The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) establishes security measures for organizations handling cardholder information, ensuring the protection of payment card data throughout the transaction process.
  • BSA: The Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) aims to prevent money laundering and requires financial institutions to keep detailed records and report certain financial transactions to combat financial crime.
  • GLBA: The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA) imposes regulations on financial institutions in the U.S. to safeguard consumer financial information and mandates transparency in sharing such information.
  • PSD 2: The E.U.'s Revised Payment Services Directive (PSD 2) enhances consumer protection, promotes innovation, and improves the security of payment services across the European Economic Area.
  • FFIEC: The Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC) provides uniform standards, principles, and report forms for the federal examination of financial institutions, guiding how these entities manage risks, including those associated with third-party vendors.

Compliance Requirements for Third Parties

Managing third-party compliance is an important and ongoing task for financial institutions. Compliance is not just a best practice to prevent risk exposures but a legal necessity in the complex regulatory environment that financial organizations operate under. Therefore, any third party, whether a technology provider, service vendor, or consultancy firm, engaged by a financial institution must adhere to the same stringent regulatory standards as the institution itself.

Financial institutions must vet potential third parties for their compliance history, understand their approach to regulatory adherence, and evaluate their ability to meet the specific regulatory demands of the financial sector to ensure that their third-party partners are not only aware of these requirements but are also actively compliant. Given the potential for significant financial penalties, reputational damage, and operational disruptions resulting from third-party non-compliance, financial institutions must prioritize third-party risk management as a critical aspect of their overall risk management framework.

For example, the GDPR in the E.U. requires that third parties utilize robust data protection measures, including data encryption, access controls, and breach notification procedures. They must process personal data lawfully, transparently, and for specified purposes only. Therefore, financial institutions must ensure that third-party vendors who handle customer data comply with GDPR benchmarks or similar regulations (like CCPA in California). This includes performing due diligence before onboarding vendors, regular audits, and ensuring that contracts with third parties include clauses mandating compliance with data protection laws.

Risk Assessment and Management

Financial organizations looking to improve their TPRM should focus on critical risk assessment and management strategies. Understanding how they identify, assess, and continuously monitor the risks associated with third-party relationships is a foundational part of an organization’s risk management processes. These include:

  • Identifying Third-Party Relationships
  • Risk Assessments
  • Due Diligence
  • Continuous Monitoring

Identifying Third-Party Relationships

It is crucial to accurately identify and understand all third-party relationships in the financial sector. Financial institutions must keep an organized record of all external entities they interact with, such as technology providers and financial service vendors. This step is essential to understand the level of exposure and potential risks these entities may bring.

It’s important to distinguish third parties based on their criticality, access to sensitive financial data, level of risk, and operational impact. This categorization is vital to the risk management strategy, as it determines how resources and attention are allocated in the subsequent assessment and monitoring processes.

Financial organizations must also establish a strong framework for identifying third-party relationships, such as vendor tiering. The financial industry is dynamic, with frequent regulatory changes and evolving service models, so the inventory of third-party relationships should be regularly reviewed and updated. This constant vigilance ensures that the institution's strategy for Third-Party Risk Management remains responsive to internal organizational changes, changes in vendor risk appetite, and external market or regulatory dynamics.

Risk Assessments

Third-party risk assessments are a crucial part of TPRM in financial organizations. This involves analyzing potential risks posed by every third-party entity in detail. Financial institutions must consider various scenarios, such as compliance violations, data security breaches, and operational risks that could impact their stability and reputation. The assessment process is pivotal in deciding how to engage with each third party while balancing risk with business objectives.

Developing a standardized risk assessment methodology is paramount for the financial industry. This methodology must conform to regulatory requirements and best practices and align with the institution's risk tolerance. Vendor risk assessments should be adaptable yet consistent, ensuring risks are evaluated and managed uniformly across various third-party relationships. This standardization is crucial for maintaining coherent and effective risk management practices within the dynamic and highly regulated financial sector.

Download our guide on scaling third-party risk management despite the odds

Due Diligence and Continuous Monitoring

Financial institutions must conduct due diligence before entering any formal third-party relationships. This process involves a comprehensive investigation of the third party's ability to fulfill contractual obligations while adhering to strict financial regulations and standards from procurement through offboarding. Due diligence involves assessing several factors, such as financial health, regulatory compliance history, and cybersecurity measures, which are vital in maintaining the integrity and security of financial operations.

After establishing a relationship, it's important to continue monitoring the vendor closely. Financial institutions should regularly review the third party's performance to ensure they meet contractual and regulatory standards. It's important to stay alert to any changes impacting the institution's risk profile.

Ongoing monitoring includes conducting routine audits and performance assessments. It's crucial to remain vigilant in the financial sector as it helps detect and address issues promptly. This will ensure the third-party relationship aligns with the institution's overall risk management and regulatory compliance objectives.

Cybersecurity and Incident Response

Understanding how to safeguard financial organizations against the ever-evolving world of cyber threats is another important part of third-party risk management. Financial institutions face unique cybersecurity challenges that require strong incident response mechanisms to prevent disruptions to business operations. With digital transactions being the norm and financial data being a prime target for cybercriminals, these elements are not just a matter of compliance but a fundamental component of risk management.

Cybersecurity Concerns for Financial Organizations

The security of financial organizations is of utmost importance due to the sensitive data they handle and their significant role in the global economy. Cybercriminals frequently target the financial sector with various cyber threats, ranging from sophisticated phishing attacks and ransomware to insider threats and advanced persistent threats (APTs). These threats result in financial losses and lead to regulatory penalties, reputational damage, and the loss of customer trust.

In financial operations, integrating third-party services can add extra layers of risk. These third parties can range from fintech startups to established I.T. service providers, all with varying levels of cybersecurity experience. Therefore, financial institutions need to evaluate and monitor their cybersecurity practices constantly.

It's essential to ensure these third parties follow the same stringent cybersecurity standards as the financial institutions. This involves implementing strict data protection measures, conducting regular security audits, requesting remediation or risk mitigation, and complying with industry-specific cybersecurity regulations.

Incident Management and Response

Efficient management and response to cybersecurity incidents are essential for financial organizations. Various strategies and protocols are necessary for effective incident management and response within financial services. A well-prepared incident response plan minimizes the impact of cyber incidents and ensures swift recovery and business continuity of financial services. Such plans should include well-defined roles and responsibilities, communication strategies, and procedures for containing and mitigating the incident.

Financial institutions should take a proactive approach towards cyber threats by updating and testing their incident response plans regularly. This includes conducting regular drills and simulations to ensure they are prepared and can respond effectively. After an incident, conducting a thorough post-incident analysis is vital to identify lessons learned and improve future response strategies.

The financial sector is highly regulated, so reporting incidents promptly to regulatory bodies is crucial, highlighting the need for a transparent and efficient response mechanism. This proactive and structured approach to incident management and response streamlines a financial institution's integrity, trust, and smooth operation in the digital age.

UpGuard for Financial Services

Financial organizations looking to secure their assets and protect themselves from third-party risk can benefit from UpGuard. Our products, BreachSight and Vendor Risk, help financial services information security teams with Vendor Risk Management, regulatory compliance, data leak detection, continuous monitoring, and more. Check out more features below:

  • Continuous Vendor Monitoring: Unlike traditional third-party risk solutions based on manual spreadsheets, UpGuard monitors your vendors for real-time security exposures.
  • Risk Assessment Workflows: Every vendor risk matters. UpGuard utilizes automation for your risk assessment workflows, accelerating decision-making and helping you to assess, waive, or create actionable remediation plans that are fully auditable.
  • Industry-Standard Security Frameworks: Assess your organization and your third-party vendors. Our questionnaires map to global financial services certifications and frameworks such as ISO 27001, NIST, GDPR, and APRA CPS 234.
  • Executive Reporting: Communicate compliance and risk status across the vendor landscape with reports tailored to assessors, executives, and other stakeholders.
  • Data Breach Protection: UpGuard's proprietary Data Leak Search Engine scans the surface, deep, and dark web and identifies data that presents a risk. Our team of analysts helps you classify, assess, and remediate any leaks before they become costly breaches.
  • Vendor Data Leak Detection: Don't let a vendor leak your data. Provide UpGuard with a list of vendors you want to monitor, and get notified if any of them start leaking data.
  • Comprehensive Security ratings: Our security ratings provide a data-driven, objective, and dynamic measurement of your security posture. We use trusted commercial, open-source, proprietary threat intelligence feeds and non-intrusive data collection methods.
  • Executive Reporting: Communicate compliance and risk status across the vendor landscape with template reports tailored to assessors, executives, and other stakeholders.

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