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Revisiting The ECB-SSM Guide On On-Site Inspections And Internal Model Investigations (The OSIIMI Guide) – Financial Services



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QuickTake

Like the financial services firms they supervise most financial
services supervisory authorities, whether it is the national
competent authorities (NCAs) or the European
Central Bank (ECB), acting in its role at the head
of the Banking Union’s Single Supervisory Mechanism
(SSM), have largely returned to a greater degree
of office-centric working.

With this welcome end to lockdowns, the ECB-SSM, its peers at
the other EU-level authorities (EBA, ESMA and EIOPA) as well as
staff at the NCAs are returning to an outlook for a more normal
supervisory cycle. This includes a return to picking up the pace in
conducting on-site inspections (OSIs) and internal model
investigations (IMIs) during 2023 and beyond.

This Client Alert revisits the ECB-SSM’s 2018 Supervisory
Guide to OSIs and IMIs (the OSIIMI
Guide
).1 This supervisory guide has not been
updated since it was first published in September 2018.
2 While supervisors are likely to put in place some of
the health and safety measures perfected during the pandemic, the
OSIIMI Guide is important as it marked a major harmonisation and
equally a “Europeanisation” of the supervisory toolkit
that the Joint Supervisory Teams (JSTs) of the
ECB-SSM and NCAs applied to both Banking Union supervised
institutions (BUSIs) 3 but also the
wider body of “inspected legal entities”
(ILEs) that are in scope of the OSIIMI Guide.

The OSIIMI Guide forms part of the SSM’s supervisory
examination programme (SEP) and thus sets strict supervisory
expectations of BUSIs and ILEs during inspections but also with
respect of supervisory findings. Findings are represented in a
ratings grid (F1 to F4) representing the severity of the impact of
a finding that then require remediation.

Crucially, the OSIIMI Guide (in its current version) does not
contain specific measures for inspections that take place outside
of an office centric working environment. It remains to be seen
whether the ECB-SSM will introduce such specific measures and if
so, whether it will either amend or revise the OSIIMI Guide.

The OSIIMI Guide marks a further “Europeanisation” of
the supervisory toolkit and has extraterritorial application

In the context of the OSIIMI Guide’s original publication,
the ECB-SSM confirmed it was conducting approximately 300
inspections” a year with respect to the
ca. 125 credit institutions directly supervised by the ECB at the
head of the SSM.4 In order to cope with this demand, the
ECB-SSM has steadily increased its set of dedicated resources to
carry out OSIs and IMIs but also when carrying out other industry
wide but also more targeted “thematic reviews” on various
topics.

The ECB-SSM led inspections can be distinguished between:

  1. OSIs – which seek to investigate ILE’s treatments of
    risks, its risk controls and governance; and

  2. IMIs – which focus on the use and governance of
    prudential models.

These ECB-SSM led inspections are in addition to a range of
similar supervisory tools that NCAs can apply in their own
investigations as well as those that are conducted as part of
“common supervisory actions”. Common supervisory actions
are investigations or other forms of supervisory reviews often
coordinated by one of the EU-level authorities coordinating
respective NCAs in the European System of Financial Supervision
(ESFS).

Crucially, the OSIIMI Guide’s publication in September 2018
extended the remit from BUSIs to include ILEs that could be subject
of inspections or subject to requests for information.
Specifically, this means to include:

“Third-parties to whom credit institutions have outsourced
functions or activities, and any other undertaking included in
supervision on a consolidated basis where the ECB is the
consolidating supervisor.”

This can include non-banking financial intermediaries who are
regulated financial services firms but in theory, given the wide
drafting of the wording, could also include non-regulated firms as
well. For some BUSIs and ILEs, the OSIIMI Guide’s provisions
may sharpen the supervisory tone of engagement beyond what they may
have been used to.

Moreover, the ECB-SSM has over the years also stepped up its
international coordination efforts on how and when to conduct
inspections and with respect to whom. International coordination
efforts are also important when considering that the OSIIMI Guide
is drafted to apply to BUSIs and ILEs in:

  1. Banking Union Member States (21 out of 27 EU Member
    States);

  2. Non-Banking Union Member States (remaining 6 out of 27 EU
    Member States) largely through mutual cooperation as part of the
    ESFS; and

  3. Third-countries i.e., non-EU jurisdictions, largely through
    mutual cooperation through various agreements.

What firms should consider when complying with the OSIIMI
Guide

The OSIIMI Guide is composed of three sections detailing:

  1. a “General Framework”;

  2. the “Inspection Process”; and

  3. applicable “Principles for Inspections”.

The legal basis for the aforementioned sections are contained in
the founding legislation of the SSM and the CRR/CRD IV regime,
along with the provisions of the SSM’s internal non-public as
well as the public version of the SSM’s “Supervisory
Manual”. The latter details the processes and apportionment of
responsibilities within the SSM and the interactions between the
ECB’s centralised SSM functions and those at the individual
NCAs.

It should be noted that since publication of the OSIIMI Guide in
2018, the ECB-SSM embarked in July 2020 on a comprehensive
reorganisation of its institutional set-up. It also embarked on
targeted recruitment and upskilling efforts, notably with respect
to its OSI and IMI teams. 5 Equally, on 2 March 2021,
the ECB-SSM published its Guide on Setting Administrative Pecuniary
Penalties (SAPP Guide) that may be applied for
identified breaches.6

The OSIIMI Guide has not been updated to account for such
additional publications and developments so readers should ideally
take note of this when considering how inspections under the OSIIMI
Guide are carried out.

Summary of key principles in Section 1 – the General
Framework

Section 1 of the OSIIMI Guide details the tasks of the SSM’s
individual decision makers in an inspection process. This includes
the roles of the Supervisory Board, the responsibilities of the
inspection teams as well as the JSTs, the tasks of the JST
Coordinator (JSTC) along with the Head of Mission
(HoM) and the approach to be applied when
finalising the SEP as well as conducting OSls and IMls so that
these conform with the SSM’s supervisory objectives. Inspection
teams can be comprised of ECB inspectors, supervisors employed by
NCAs, JST members as well as, where merited, external
consultants.7

The SSM’s supervisory objectives aim to ensure that
inspections are carried out on a risk-based, proportional,
intrusive, forward looking as well as action-orientated manner. The
HoM and the inspection team operate independently of, but in
coordination with, the JST to ensure that the supervisory
objectives are met. The final report following an inspection, and
any supervisory expectations contained therein, are to be
considered by the JST in its own wider on-going supervisory work.
This means that an inspection team’s findings may influence the
work of the on-going supervision carried out by the JST as well as
other non-Banking Union supervision conducted by NCAs.
8

Summary of key principles in Section 2 – The Inspection
Process

Section 2 of the OSIIMI Guide sets out the individual main steps
during an inspection. These can be visually summarised as follows
and are discussed in further detail below.

1224830a.jpg

These steps include:

The “Preparatory Phase” includes:

  1. Notification of an inspection to the ILE sent via a
    “notification letter”;

  2. First request for information addressed to the ILE;

Ultimately this phase focuses on planning of the entire
inspection. During such period an ILE will want to take internal
steps to prepare to respond to areas that will come under scrutiny
of the investigation phase. The final version of the OSIIMI Guide
also (unlike the draft) includes a concept of an “Inspection
Memorandum”. This document allows the HoM and the JSTC to set
the rationale, scope and objectives of an inspection as well as
setting of tasks assigned to inspection team members.

The “Investigation Phase” can be
broken down into the following steps:

  1. Holding of a “Kick-off Meeting”, which is used to
    expand the details that had been presented to the ILE in the
    notification letter and to communicate the objectives, scope and
    steps involved in the inspection. The OSIIMI Guide is clear in the
    expectation that ILEs are expected to have senior management
    engaged and accountable at these meetings;

  2. Conducting on-site fieldwork by the inspection team;

In the context of the Investigation Phase, Section 2 of the
OSIIMI Guide specifically sets out, what it terms “…a wide
variety of inspection techniques…” that may be applied by
the inspection team for both on-site investigation and off-site
review work. These include any of the individual or a combination
of the following techniques:

  • Observation, information verification and
    analysis:
    which aims to check and evaluate the information
    provided by the ILE and to observe the relevant processes;

  • Targeted interviews or requests for explanations orally or in
    writing: by meeting with the ILE’s relevant staff, the
    inspection team collects information about inspected areas and
    compares the documented processes and organisational structures
    with the practices of the ILE, which the inspection team may
    challenge the interviewees. “Significant interviews” with
    ILEs must be conducted by at least two inspectors;

  • Walk-throughs: whereby the inspection team
    meets with relevant staff and ensures that the process that the ILE
    reports is actually embedded and applied in practice. The process
    aims to also evaluate consistency of provisions and locating gaps
    and weaknesses;

  • Sampling/case by case examinations: allow the
    inspection team to take targeted or random samples of data or
    datasets to validate the results and also to gauge the level of
    problems in certain areas or across the business. This may include
    but is not necessarily limited to a quality review of the ILE’s
    risk management and efficacy of other governance and control
    functions. The inspection team will share the methods of data
    extrapolation with the ILE;

  • Confirmation of data: which involves the
    checking of integrity, accuracy and consistency of the ILE’s
    data by various recalculation and benchmarking means; and

  • Model testing: which includes the ILE testing
    performance of its models and their output using scenario analysis
    with various hypothetical and historical market conditions dictated
    by the SSM.

During this phase ILEs will want to ensure that they cooperate
with the inspection team but equally at the same time ensure
certain safeguards are maintained. This may require an active
involvement from various control functions at the ILE (compliance,
risk, governance, internal audit as well as legal).9

The “Reporting Phase” will
include:

  1. The inspection team holding an “Exit Meeting” based
    on a “Draft Report” which has been previously shared with
    the relevant NCAs and ECB-SSM DG/OMI (i.e. the Directorate General
    – On-site and Internal Model Inspections – the former DG MS
    IV prior to the July 2020 reorganisation of the ECB-SSM) prior to
    being sent by the HoM along with a standardised feedback template
    to the ILE. This takes place prior to the Exit Meeting where the
    ILE has a first possibility to comment on the Draft
    Report;10

  2. Publication of “Final Report” should occur within two
    weeks of the Exit Meeting. The HoM, taking on board any relevant
    written comments (if any) following the feedback (if any) at the
    Exit Meeting is then responsible for finalising the draft in the
    Final Report and sending it to the ILE, and possibly the parent
    entity, if within a supervised group of BUSls, along with a letter
    of action/supervisory communications;

This phase is arguably the most compact in terms of collating
findings, producing reports and communicating them to the ILEs. It
also marks a key step forward for the ILE to begin focusing on
remediation efforts that follow in the next and final phase of an
inspection.

The “Inspection Outcomes Phase” is
comprised of:

  1. Closing Meeting – which marks a capstone in the process;
    and

  2. A final deliverable from the ILE in providing its “Draft
    Action Plan” setting out remedial steps. The Draft Action Plan
    is then followed by a “Final Action Plan”, which may then
    lead to further follow-up by the JST on the basis of the ILE’s
    Final Action Plan.

In addition to the timeline set out above, the OSIIMI Guide
clarifies that the ILE’s team has the possibility, “within
reason”, to request status meetings with the SSM’s
inspection team. In practice, status meetings are set- up
throughout the OSI/IMI as these can aid the work of the inspection
team. Status meetings are usually an appropriate forum to
discuss/clarify facts and outstanding questions and/or to agree on
additional deliverables. These meetings are usually scheduled by
the inspection team despite the ILE being able to request them.

In summary, the various phases in an inspection may require some
ILEs to revisit their internal procedures to ensure that any
deliverables and notably action plans requested from them are
prepared presented and executed in a timely manner. This also might
merit ILEs to carefully consider when and on what basis to retain
support from professional advisors and/or external counsel to draft
such deliverables and/or action plans or to protect an ILE’s
legitimate interests (including where relevant and applicable under
national law, on a privileged basis) during the various stages and
ultimately in respect of supervisory communications
(Recommendations/Decisions – as discussed below) which
follow.

The importance of the Final Report and setting of a remedial
action plan

Following the conclusion of an inspection, the SSM will provide
the ILE with its Final Report along with a draft
“Recommendation” or “Decision”. The Final
Report collates the findings from the investigation and assigns
categories to each based on their potential or actual impact on the
ILE’s financial situation, its level of own funds or own funds
requirements. These impact ratings range from “F1” – low
impact to “F4” – very high impact.

This categorisation approach or “severity grid” is
important and has an operational impact, especially where BUSls may
have different assessments or methodologies to that of the ECB-SSM
in assessing severity. If for example the ECB-SSM allocates a F3
finding that internally in an ILE would have considered to be F4,
the ILE will need to decide whether to use the ECB-SSM rating
(which would make reporting obligations more standardised) or use a
dual system both for monitoring and remedy. Many larger BUSls
maintain a mechanism to encourage lower severity findings and
reward improvements to severity findings.

In addition to the Final Report, the SSM will detail the
expected remedial actions that the ILE should put in place through
a supervisory communication. This can take two forms, namely:

  1. a letter communicating supervisory expectations in respect of
    all or only some findings (Supervisory Expectations Letter or SEL)
    which is an SSM operational act and is thus not legally binding
    (but nevertheless persuasive) and thus does not require a
    supervisory “Decision” (see below). In the event of a SEL
    being issued, the OSIIMI Guide states that the ILE recipient does
    not receive a formal right to be heard to appeal against the
    SSM’s recommendations set out in the SEL. A recipient of a SEL
    is only required and expected by the JST to remediate those points
    raised in the SEL and the Final Report only as it does not
    contradict the SEL itself. If points in the Draft/Final Report are
    omitted in the SEL then this may permit a lesser scope of remedial
    action to be carried out; or, in the alternative

  2. a formal supervisory Decision11 setting out legally
    binding supervisory measures addressed to the ILE. The ILE has a
    right to be heard in respect of a Decision.

The SSM in sending its supervisory communication to the ILE, in
particular in the context of issuing a Decision, may exercise other
supervisory powers. These may include imposing any of the following
on the ILE:

  1. Conditions: These suspend the legal effectiveness of the
    ECB-SSM’s authorisation or change or extend an internal model
    until the ILE has taken specific remedial action to comply with its
    on-going regulatory compliance obligations;

  2. Limitations: These restrict, prohibit or modify the use of a
    model and may include a change to how an ILE calculates its own
    funds requirements, which would cause it to need to raise
    regulatory capital immediately;

  3. Obligations: These introduce remedial actions on the ILE in
    order to restore compliance with its on-going regulatory compliance
    obligations; or

  4. Recommendations: These set remedial actions upon the ILE and
    which, whilst not legally binding, are sufficiently persuasive for
    an ILE to comply with the communicated recommendation.

Depending on circumstances, the supervisory communication
process may also be capped with a “Closing Meeting”.

Given the variety of tools that are used by the SSM in its
supervisory communications, a number of BUSls have experienced some
difficulties as to how to internally manage their deliverables
towards the supervisors, as the granularity of and differentiation
between these tools is not always fit for purpose in the context of
some BUSls’ complexity and size.

Moreover, timing is also often an issue. A Draft Report and any
draft recommendations may see 6 to 9 months elapsing prior to
progressing to the Final Report and Remediation Phase stage.
Moreover, timing may also mean that remediation may not be in line
with the JST’s feedback. It remains to be seen whether this
will improve as part of a more normalised supervisory cycle.

Further complexity may often arise in the context of use of
language (English v non-English drafted communications) as well as
inconsistent use of terminology during the various phases of an
inspection and what this might mean for an ILE’s remedial
action plan and, once executed, whether it is to the satisfaction
of the ECB-SSM.

Summary of key principles in Section 3 – “Principles
for Inspections”

While the first two sections of the OSIIMI Guide set out the
framework applicable to the process of how inspections are
conducted, Section 3 sets the tone of how the SSM’s inspection
teams, the HoM and the JSTC should approach and then discharge
their tasks. Section 3 also clarifies the standards of behaviour
expected of ILEs during and following an inspection. This also
includes how the SSM perceives its own rights vis-à-vis ILEs
and ILE’s rights against the SSM, including right of recourse
that may end with adjudication with the ECB-SSM’s
Administrative Board of Review and/or the Court of Justice of the
European Union (CJEU).

Some of the ECB-SSM’s powers and principles should be
familiar to many BUSls and ILEs. Some may also exist in more
prescriptive detail in certain jurisdictions yet some in Section 3
are amended specifically for how the SSM operates. Some BUSls may
however find that the interaction with inspection teams might be
completely different to what they have been used to with NCA-led
investigations and this may prompt a need for adjustments in how
such BUSIs approach supervisory dialogue.

These Principles for Inspections aim to remind ILEs:

  • to cooperatively work together with the inspection team to
    ensure the proper conduct and efficiency of the inspection and that
    ILE’s internal rules and policies should not be misused to
    interfere with this goal;

  • that inspection teams may, within the scope of the inspection,
    conduct all necessary investigations of any persons and thus
    request any information, explanation or justification and thus be
    able to obtain and check every document it requires of whatsoever
    nature and to take copies and extracts. The OSIIMI Guide makes no
    explicit nor implicit mention of applicable rules and principles of
    legal privilege that may operate even when dealing with a
    supervisory authority – even if such rights exist albeit they
    may also differ per jurisdiction or as a result of specific facts.
    Furthermore, the OSIIMI Guide remains silent on the SSM’s
    expectations of ILE’s internal processes and timeliness to
    provide information; however, most of the inspection teams try to
    be mindful of ILE’s complexity when requesting information.
    Nevertheless, it should be noted that any unreasonable delays or
    failure to provide timely data/information risks being addressed in
    a non-favourable manner in a Draft or Final Report; and

  • that an inspection team has the right to interview any person,
    regardless of their seniority, and may request the cooperation of
    qualified staff of the ILE. The OSIIMI Guide does not acknowledge
    that such person may have rights to be accompanied or represented
    by inter alia legal counsel in such circumstances – again
    this may differ depending on facts and circumstances relating to
    the person and the relevant jurisdiction.

These Principles for Inspections also aim to remind SSM
inspection teams of the need:

  • to act in an ethical and professional manner, in accordance
    with applicable laws, regulations and professional procedures and
    to observe professional secrecy; and

  • to respect the rights on which language must be used during an
    inspection.

Language matters for a number of reasons during an OSI, an IMI
or indeed any form of supervisory investigation or an engagement.
Language barriers, whether due to linguistic abilities of SSM
and/or ILE staff or errors in translation can lead to a number of
unintended supervisory outcomes occurring. That being said, the
OSIIMI Guide permits ILEs to waive the right to receive a report in
a given national language without prejudice to the ILE’s future
rights as to what language it chooses to use when interacting with
the SSM. Importantly, Draft Reports and Final Reports as well as
any accompanying supervisory communications are always drafted in
English along with, if so requested, an official translation in
another national language. In many instances it is prudent to
compare the official translation with the binding English language
document to ensure it is free form errors and that concepts as well
as areas of particular emphasis are expressed in the same
manner.

Outlook

The OSIIMI Guide has built an entire new chapter in how the
Single Rulebook for financial services in respect of OSIs and IMIs
is applied within the Banking Union. This is welcome in terms of
driving consistency and certainty for BUSIs and the wider set of
ILEs as well as financial services firms more generally notably if
the ECB-SSM’s efforts are rolled-out by other NCAs. However,
the strict supervisory tone and more intrusive level of scrutiny,
as, post-pandemic, the SSM reverts to more use of OSIs and IMIs,
may require firms to ready themselves for a range of inspections
ahead.

Footnotes

1 Available
here
.

2 Although much of the content of the final OSIIMI Guide
was comprehensive overhaul of the previous draft version of the
guide that the ECB-SSM had put out for consultation during 2017. A
Feedback Statement (available here) was published alongside the
final OSIIMI Guide setting out the rationale and context for
changes that made it into the final version. Crucially the Feedback
Statement also provided details of how the ECB-SSM will use
external consultants as part of its OSIs and IMIs. It also provided
information on the SSM’s improvements to team management and
steering, the introduction of better inspection planning principles
as well as report preparation. The Feedback Statement concluded
with setting out how the SSM will approach
multi-agency/multi-jurisdictional cooperation, including with
non-EU jurisdictions.

3 This includes those BUSIs that, for Banking Union
purposes are categorised as:

  • “significant credit institutions” (SCIs) who
    are subject to lead supervision by the ECB-SSM; and

  • “less significant institutions” (LSIs) who are
    subject to direct NCA-led supervision and only indirect ECB-SSM
    supervision.

Although the FAQ that was published alongside the OSIIMI
Guide stated that the guide will only apply to LSls where the ECB
decides to make use of its powers to supervise the relevant LSI
directly. Even if this is to be the case, it is quite conceivable
that the OSIIMI Guide will be followed by relevant NCAs in the
Banking Union in relation to inspections of LSls, as the general
practice amongst the various NCAs is to align and apply the ECB-SSM
guidelines and standards (incl. those still in draft and/or marked
as non-binding) as far as possible when exercising their own
powers.

4 One contributing factor to those figures were the
completion of the SSM’s multi-annual “targeted review of
internal models” (TRIM) exercise.

5 See in particular page 15 of “Navigating 2022: a
focus on EU as well as Banking Union and Capital Markets Union
Supervisory Priorities in the year ahead” published by PwC
Legal’s EU RegCORE. While this reorganisation is now largely
completed, the process of upskilling a growing group of staff
assigned to inspection teams as well as JSTs.

6 Available here. Please also see dedicated coverage on
this development from PwC Legal’s EU RegCORE.

7 In Sections 1.6 and 1.7 of the OSIIMI Guide clarifies
that external consultants are considered “as regular team
members during the inspection.” as well as going on further to
state that “External firms are contractually obliged to comply
with the ECB’s strict professional secrecy requirements. They
and their staff are required to sign individual confidentiality
agreements to that effect.

8 Yet this coordination is only as efficient as
institutional constraints are limited across NCAs and other members
of the ESFS. A number of BUSIs, as part of the consultation process
leading up to the final publication of the OSIIMI Guide, had stated
that in certain instances a more efficient and balanced supervisory
engagement process including information sharing amongst
authorities would avoid duplication and disruption especially
across “business as usual” compliance workstreams. Some
BUSIs have experienced difficulties with progressing certain
“change” initiatives and/or remediation activities as the
information-flow across the larger JSTs and across authorities is
not always timely/transparent. This is especially the case where
the NCAs in the Banking Union are separated from their conduct of
business supervisory counterparts at the national level and
problematic where a number of Banking Union supervisory priorities
require a high degree of conduct of business input.

9 The OSIIMI Guide makes no mention of an ILE’s
right, pursuant to EU and/or applicable national law, to be
represented by or have legal counsel present in inspection
proceedings nor any right to asset legal privilege.

10 The Draft Report is processed within the ECB and with
the NCAs for consistency – as opposed to validation. Translation
from English into another EU language is undertaken where the ILE
has requested to be addressed in their national language as opposed
to English. The “Exit Meeting” may also already
communicate details on any draft Recommendations or Decisions (see
below). Unfortunately, draft Recommendations and/or Decisions may,
depending on fact-specific circumstances, diverge from the Final
Report’s conclusions.

11 i.e., an ECB legal instrument approved by the
Supervisory Board

The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.



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