OCC: Banks Face Higher Compliance Risks Due To Pandemic

OCC: Banks Face Higher Compliance Risks Amid Pandemic

The pandemic has heightened risks for pretty much everyone, including U.S. banks. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) said in a report this week that it will examine how the coronavirus is impacting compliance by financial institutions (FIs).

The virus has spurred a flurry of bank activity across relief programs like the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), forcing firms to handle more interactions even as some have less staff due to layoffs or reassignments.

Grappling with such increased demand with fewer resources might make it challenging for banks to satisfy at least some regulatory requirements, such as data privacy. In its report, the OCC said that “operational risk is elevated, with banks implementing new processes and procedures, adopting pandemic-related continuity plans and responding to increased fraud and cyber risk. Compliance risk is increasing due to new assistance programs for consumers and small businesses, resulting in high call volumes and reassigned staff implementing new practices and procedures.”

The agency noted that while work-from-home arrangements and other initiatives allowed banks to maintain their operations and to continue to serve customers, such moves “also have the potential to introduce new risks.”

The new processes include the use of video conferencing services and other remote telecommunication technologies that the OCC said can increase cybersecurity vulnerabilities.

“Additional steps may be necessary to properly segment and secure bank networks if employees use personal devices to connect to bank systems,” the OCC wrote. “Sensitive processes performed outside of bank-owned or authorized properties and devices can increase the risk of fraud and potential for exposure of customers’ sensitive information.”

In terms of recommendations, the OCC said that “operational workloads, service levels and third-party service provider performance should be closely monitored so that potential reductions in their service delivery levels because of pandemic responses and other operational issues can be addressed in a timely manner while continuing to meet banking customer needs.”

As noted in this space last month, Brian Brooks, acting Comptroller of the Currency, said in letters to the National League of Cities, U.S. Conference of Mayors and the National Association of Governors that local shutdown orders “potentially threaten the stability and orderly functioning of the financial system.”

For example, he wrote that mandated business closures could impair debt repayment ability, which would lead to increased defaults within the U.S. banking system.

“I ask that your members carefully consider the impact of their lockdown orders on the health and function of our shared national financial infrastructure,” Brooks wrote.