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BoE Urges UK Payment Firms to Upgrade Operational Resilience

Are companies offering payments services in Great Britain prepared for disruptions such as cyberattacks?

Sasha Mills, executive director for financial market infrastructure (FMI) at the Bank of England (BOE) said there is still work to be done. 

In a speech Tuesday (April 30), Mills said these companies — FMIs, as she calls them — need to work harder to meet new “operational resilience” standards by March of next year. These standards deal with disruptions to the country’s financial market plumbing,” as Mills put it.

“Confidence in FMI services is critical to having a vibrant and prosperous economy,” she said in the speech at the London Institute of Banking and Finance. “For the calibration of impact tolerances, we expect to see greater engagement than we have seen thus far between FMIs, their participants, and the wider market.”

The central bank is asking financial market infrastructure firms to identify which services — if disrupted — could threaten financial stability.

“Then, we ask firms to say what level of disruption those important business services could experience before risking financial stability, and we call this an ‘impact tolerance,’“ she said. 

She described a scenario in which she gets an early morning phone call from a payments firm CEO, who tells her their critical technology systems are down. 

“They don’t yet know what has caused the issue — it could be a cyber attack, extreme weather damaging a data center, a critical systems failure while implementing an IT change programme, anything,” Mills said.  

“What they do know is that all around the country customers are standing at tills unable to pay for their morning coffee, many businesses can’t buy the materials they need to work today, and it’s all over social media. And it is only 7am.”

With an improved resiliency policy, she added, that CEO would be able to tell her which services are affected and that the company has contingency plans in place.

As noted here earlier this month, the BOE is also studying the use of new technologies to enhance both retail and wholesale payments functionality.

Although the central bank has been focused on setting up regulatory regimes for the use of stablecoins for retail payments, “we are increasingly complementing that work with a focus on how we can best support innovation both in wholesale payments and financial markets (including through modernization of the Bank of England’s wholesale payments infrastructure) and in banks’ retail payment offerings,” Sarah Breeden, deputy governor for financial stability at the Bank of England, said in an April 15 speech.