The financial services community has unprecedented opportunity ahead. With new technologies like cloud, AI and blockchain, firms are creating new customer experiences, managing risk more effectively, combating financial crime, and meeting critical operational objectives. Banks, insurers and other services providers are choosing digital innovation to address these opportunities at a time when competition is increasing from every angle – from traditional and non-traditional players alike.
At the same time, our experience is that lack of clarity in regulation can hinder adoption of these exciting technologies, as regulatory compliance remains fundamental to financial institutions using technology they trust. Indeed, the common question I get from customers is: Will regulators let me use your technology, and have you built in the capabilities to help me meet my compliance obligations?
With this in mind, we applaud the European Banking Authority’s (EBA) revised Guidelines on outsourcing arrangements which, in part, address the use of cloud computing. For several years now we have shared perspectives with regulators on how regulation can be modernized to address cloud computing without diminishing the security, privacy, transparency and compliance safeguards necessary in a native cloud or hybrid-cloud world. In fact, cloud computing can afford financial institutions greater risk assurance – particularly on key things like managing data, securing data, addressing cyber threats and maintaining resilience.
At the core of the revised guidelines are a set of flexible principles addressing cloud in financial services. Indeed, the EBA has been clear these “guidelines are subject to the principle of proportionality,” and should be “applied in a manner that is appropriate, taking into account, in particular, the institution’s or payment institution’s size … and the nature, scope and complexity of its activities.” In addition, the guidelines set out to harmonize approaches across jurisdictions, a big step forward for financial institutions to have predictability and consistency among regulators in Europe. We think the EBA took this smart move to support leading-edge innovation and responsible adoption, and prepare for more advanced technology like machine learning and AI going forward.
Given these guidelines reflect a modernized approach that transcends Europe, we have updated our global Financial Services Amendment for customers to reflect these key changes. We have also created a regulatory mapping document which shows how our cloud services and underlying contractual commitments map to these requirements in an EU Checklist. The EU Checklist is accessible on the Microsoft Service Trust Portal. In essence, Europe offers the benchmark in establishing rules to permit use of cloud for financial services and we are proud to align to such requirements.
Because this is such an important milestone for the financial sector, we wanted to share our point-of-view on a few key aspects of the guidelines, which may help firms accelerate technology transformation with the Microsoft cloud going forward:
- Auditability: As cloud has become more prevalent, we think it is natural to extend audit rights to cloud vendors in circumstances that warrant it. We also think that audits are not a one-size-fits-all approach but adaptable based on use cases – particularly whether it involves running core banking systems in the cloud. Microsoft has provided innovations to help supervise and audit hyper-scale cloud, including:
- Data localization: We are pleased there are no data localization requirements in the EBA guidance. Rather, customers must assess the legal, security and other risks where data is stored, as opposed to mandating data be stored strictly in Europe. We help customers manage and assess such risk by providing:
- Contractual commitments to store data at rest in a specified region (including Europe).
- Transparency where data is stored.
- Full commitments to meet key privacy requirements, like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
- Flow-through of such commitments to our subcontractors.
- Subcontractors. The guidelines address subcontractors, particularly those that provide “critical or important” functions. Management, governance and oversight of Microsoft’s subcontractors is core to what we do. Among other things:
- Microsoft’s subcontractors are subject to a vetting process and must follow the same privacy and governance controls we ourselves implement to protect customer data.
- We provide transparency about subcontractors who may have access to customer data and provide 180 days notification about any new subcontractors as well.
- We provide customers termination rights should they conclude a subcontractor presents a material increase in risk to a critical or important function of their operations.
- Core platforms: We welcome the EBA’s position providing clarity that core platforms may run in the cloud. What matters is governance, documenting protocols, the security and resiliency of such systems, and having appropriate oversight (and audit rights), and commitments to terminate an agreement, if and when that becomes necessary. These are all capabilities Microsoft offers to its customers and we now see movement among leading banks to put core systems into our cloud because of the benefits we provide.
- Business Continuity and Exit Planning. Institutions must have business continuity plans and test them periodically for use of critical or important functions. Microsoft has supported our customers to meet this requirement, including providing a Modern Cloud Risk Assessment toolkit and, in addition, in the Service Trust Portal documentation on our service resilience architecture, our Enterprise Business Continuity Management team (EBCM), and a quarterly report detailing results from our recent EBCM testing. In addition, we have supported our customers in preparing exit planning documentation, and we work with industry bodies like the European Banking Federation towards further industry guidance for these new EBA requirements.
- Concentration risk: The EBA addresses the need to assess whether concentration risk may exist due to potential systemic failures in use of cloud services (and other legacy infrastructure). However, this is balanced with understanding what the risks are of a single point of failure, and to balance those risks and trade-offs from existing legacy systems. In short, financial institutions should assess the resiliency and safeguards provided with our hyper-scale cloud services, which can offer a more robust approach than systems in place today. When making those assessments, financial institutions may decide to lean-in more with cloud as they transform their businesses going forward.
The EBA framework is a great step forward to help modernize regulation and take advantage of cloud computing. We look forward to participating in ongoing industry discussion, such as new guidance under consideration by the European Insurance and Occupational Pension Authority concerning use of cloud services, as well as assisting other regions and countries in their journey to creating more modern policy that both supports innovation while protecting the integrity of critical global infrastructure.
For more information on Microsoft in the financial services industry, please go here.
Top photo courtesy of the European Banking Authority.