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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

Treasury reports on risks to financial firms adopting cloud services

Federal Issues Department of Treasury Privacy, Cyber Risk & Data Security Cloud Technology Risk Management

Federal Issues

On February 8, the U.S. Treasury Department launched the interagency Cloud Services Steering Committee in an effort to improve regulatory and private sector cooperation and develop best practices for cloud-adoption frameworks and contracts. As part of the announcement, Treasury released a first-of-its-kind report discussing potential benefits and challenges associated with the adoption of cloud services technology by financial services firms. While recognizing that cloud-based technologies can improves access and reliability for local communities and help community banks compete with financial technology firms, Treasury found that financial services firms that rely on these technologies need more visibility, staff support, and cybersecurity incident response engagement from cloud service providers (CSPs).

The report identified several significant challenges resulting from the use of cloud-based technologies in the financial sector. These include: (i) insufficient transparency to support due diligence and monitoring by financial institutions (financial institutions must fully understand the risks associated with cloud services in order to implement appropriate protections for consumers); (ii) gaps in human capital and tools to securely deploy cloud services (CSPs should engage experts and improve tools and frameworks to ensure financial institutions are able to implement resilient, secure platforms for customers); (iii) exposure to potential operational incidents (financial institutions have expressed concerns that cyber vulnerabilities originating at a CSP could have a cascading impact); (iv) potential impact of market concentration in cloud service offerings on the financial sector’s resilience (the current market relies on a small number of CSPs that likely exists across banking, securities, and insurance markets); (v) dynamics in contract negotiations given market concentration (the small number of CSPs could affect financial institutions’ bargaining power); and (vi) international landscape and regulatory fragmentation (regulatory conflicts could result from the patchwork of global regulatory and supervisory approaches to cloud technology).

The report, which received extensive input from U.S. regulators, private sector stakeholders, trade associations, and think tanks, does not impose any requirements, nor does it endorse or discourage firms from using a specific provider or cloud service. It does, however, recommend that Treasury and the broader financial regulatory community further evaluate the financial risks associated with having a limited number of CSPs offer cloud services.