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Risk experts reveal how more than 100 financial organisations are working to fight Covid

Risk experts reveal how more than 100 financial organisations are working to fight Covid
  • Experts reveal how financial industry is reacting to crisis
  • Evidence of clear surge in cyber-attacks exploiting pandemic
  • Why consistent data is crucial in tackling Covid’s impact on finance
  • Creation of scenarios pandemic handbook for future 

More than 100 banks and insurers from across the globe have come together to manage the fallout of coronavirus collaboratively.

Financial organisations have worked alongside the world’s largest operational risk association, ORX, in facing the myriad of challenges over the past few months due to the pandemic.

From shifting an entire workforce to homeworking, dealing with a much faster demand for insurance claims and relief loans, to an increased risk of cyber-attacks, the crisis management has been unprecedented in its scale.

ORX Executive Director, Simon Wills said: “When financial institutions are at risk, this has a detrimental impact on the wider economy and society in general. It’s therefore vital that we protect the financial services industry.”

The challenge for financial organisations worldwide started in March with a huge business continuity effort to simply keep the wheels turning. Banks and insurers were instrumental in ensuring the resilience of the global economy, ensuring that people could get paid, customers could access their accounts and insurance claims were paid, all of which are critical to the ongoing functioning of each country.

Wills said: “In those early days we brought our members together on a weekly basis to discuss business continuity. They shared ideas to help – and the pitfalls to avoid – in shifting hundreds of thousands of people from working in branches and offices to working from home.

“We also shared weekly round-ups of news from financial organisations the world over to help provide examples of how others were managing the crisis (or, in some cases, how not to do it).”

“I believe overall the financial services industry reacted well,” Wills continued. “Most firms ORX has had regular discussions with reported a remarkably effective transition to lockdown working.

“Local difficulties emerged of course, such as home WiFi availability in parts of Asia, but solutions have often been found. Infrastructure – both external internet and internal networks – held up well, and existing tools for remote working were available to be scaled. This has allowed management and teams to improvise at speed.”

As the weeks have gone on, challenges for banks and insurers have evolved from the initial worry of “keeping the lights on” to managing issues such as an increase in cyber risk.

Steve Bishop, who heads up cyber risk at ORX said: “We held a virtual global forum bringing together over 20 cyber risk professionals from across the world to share ideas and work through solutions to the heightened cyber security risks they are facing due to coronavirus.

“Organisations we’ve spoken to are noting a clear surge in both direct attacks and attacks on their clients and customers exploiting the pandemic. Specifically, they have seen more spoof domains appearing and tailored phishing attacks attempting to capitalise on fear.

“Another issue being faced is increased risks associated with remote working arrangements,  with activities such as payments, customer identification and trading, as well as the management of sensitive data, all taking place outside of the office – often for the first time ever.”

The pandemic continues to hold a huge amount of uncertainty for banks and insurers, as well as for all businesses. But one thing that is vitally important long-term is to count the costs and learn the lessons from the pandemic to influence the future of effective crisis management.

Wills said: “One thing we’re doing to support counting the costs of coronavirus is to provide guidance to banks and insurers on how they should be reporting operational losses they’ve encountered. This is very important because consistency in data is absolutely critical. As we’ve seen recently with problems of accurately reporting the global spread of coronavirus, if you don’t have consistency, and nobody is categorising losses in the same way, you cannot compare like-for-like and the data is useless.”

“At ORX, we have set the industry standard for capturing operational risk losses and have been supporting banks and insurers with sharing the costs of losses for nearly 20 years. We therefore, believe we’re best placed to provide this guidance now on how to best account for coronavirus losses.”

A lesson already learnt through this crisis is that the assessment of risk does not always allow adequate preparation for the reality. Therefore, another resource ORX is providing to its members and the wider financial services community is to help them to be better prepared for pandemics of this nature in the future.

“Most firms had a pandemic scenario,” Wills said. “However, most of those scenarios were based on previous pandemics such as SARS, MERS and Ebola. With hindsight they were limited by previous experiences. The idea that the pandemic would spread outside of Asia, would require comprehensive lockdown, and would be sustained over months was beyond our experience.

“It was outside contingency plans, which were mostly based on recovering from short, sharp shocks. We’ve therefore brought together over 180 Scenarios experts globally to pull together a new scenarios pandemic handbook that will encompass the learnings from this most recent experience.”

Financial organisations coming together to learn important operational risk lessons, though, is not a new phenomenon. ORX as a global industry association has been helping banks and insurers exchange valuable data and share insights since 2002.

Wills said, “We believe that because banks and insurers are used to focusing on managing operational risk all the time, and have collaborated with their industry peers via ORX even in good times, this has stood them in much better stead to remain resilient through these tougher times.

“I am sure that some mistakes will have been made. It is too early to tell, and I hope the context will be remembered when passing judgement later. But what’s clear to me is that by working together we’ve been better prepared for the challenges we’ve faced and overcome.”

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