More Resources Are Required to Master Third-Party Risks

Rocco Grillo - Protiviti NY 2014 (hi res) (2)By Rocco Grillo
Managing Director, IT Risk




As corporate boards, auditors and regulators increase their scrutiny of vulnerabilities associated with third-parties, vendor risk management (VRM) – and particularly the danger of lost or compromised data through third-party service providers – remains cause for concern at most organizations. This is what Protiviti’s most recent VRM benchmarking survey revealed. The survey, conducted in partnership with the Shared Assessments Program, collected feedback from directors and senior management at more than 450 organizations across a broad spectrum of industries. The overarching conclusion: A lack of perceived improvement, year-over-year.

In 2014, Protiviti began working with the Shared Assessments Program, a consortium of financial institutions, Big Four accounting firms and third-party risk management leaders in insurance, brokerage, healthcare, retail and telecommunications, to gauge internal perception of third-party risk management, using Shared Assessments’ proprietary VRM maturity model. The model is a COSO-like framework with 126 detailed components grouped into eight high-level criteria, and is designed to assess an organization’s ability to recognize and remediate third-party vendor risks on a scale of 0 to 5, with 5 being a fully evolved state of continuous improvement.

In our 2015 survey report, we grouped responses according to the respondent’s level of responsibility: chief executive, vice president and manager. For 2015, average responses by category ranged from 2.4 at the C-level to 2.8 for managers. In 2014, the range was 2.3 to 2.8. The average response for vice presidents fell in the middle of this range. Clearly, not a lot of change here.

There are many ways these results could be interpreted. Personally, I’d like to believe the flat results are due to progress, offset by increased expectation. In other words: Vendor risk management practices are improving, but not enough to affect perception in the face of increasing scrutiny and rising expectations. I prefer this “glass half full” approach; you may think differently. In either case, the points below, drawn from the survey, hold true:

  • VRM programs require more substantive advances – Regulatory agencies, most notably the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, have asserted that “average” risk management no longer suffices. Organizations must enact the mind shifts, organizational culture and behavioral changes required to meet and exceed rising expectations.
  • Cybersecurity threats are a prominent challenge – High-profile data breaches, often involving millions of customer records and personally identifiable information, are being reported with greater frequency. Strengthening cybersecurity is a top priority, and third-party data security is critical to this effort.
  • Financial services organizations are leading the way – The financial services industry was the first to establish a Coordinating Council for Critical Infrastructure Protection in response to federal pressure in 1998. VRM practices in this sector remain significantly ahead of those in other data-vulnerable industries, including healthcare and insurance.
  • The number and intensity of vendor risks, and cybersecurity threats in particular, is increasing – From 2009 to 2014, the number of cybersecurity incidents increased at an average annual rate of 66 percent.

Regardless of how you interpret the results of our 2015 survey, the message is clear: VRM remediation efforts to date have, at best, kept pace with increasing threats and scrutiny. Organizations need to accelerate their efforts and increase the quantity and quality of resources devoted to this critical governance issue.

I recommend taking a look at the study and related video and podcast here. A VRM self-assessment tool is also available at the link.

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