Technology plays a huge role in nearly every aspect of financial services today. As the world moved online, tools and infrastructure to help people manage their money and make payments have burgeoned the world over in the past decade.
With much of the finance world now leveraging technology to conduct business, predict trends and deliver services, financial services regulators are also developing new technologies to monitor markets, supervise financial institutions and conduct other administrative activities. The emergence of purpose-built technologies to facilitate regulator oversight has, over the past few years, garnered its own moniker of supervisory technology, or suptech.
Interest in suptech is proliferating across the globe thanks to a diverse set of prudential and conduct regulators. A sampling of regulators developing suptech include the FDIC, CFPB, FINRA and Federal Reserve in the U.S.; the U.K.’s FCA and Bank of England; the National Bank of Rwanda in Africa; as well as the ASIC, HKMA and MAS in Asia. Several “super regulators” are also engaged in suptech efforts such as the Bank of International Settlements, the Financial Stability Board and the World Bank.
The strides in suptech demonstrate that creative thinking coupled with experimentation and scalable, easily accessible technologies are jump-starting a new approach to regulation.
In this post, we’ll examine a few core suptech use cases, consider its future and explore the challenges facing regulators as the market matures. The uses are diverse, so we’ll focus on three key areas: regulatory reporting, machine-readable regulation, and market and conduct oversight.
A quick general note: Nearly every financial services regulator is engaged in some type of suptech activity and the use cases discussed in this article are intended as a sample, not a comprehensive list.
But what exactly is suptech?
As a preliminary matter, we should quickly survey a few definitions of suptech to frame our understanding. Both the World Bank and BIS have offered definitions that provide useful outlines for this discussion. The World Bank states that suptech “refers to the use of technology to facilitate and enhance supervisory processes from the perspective of supervisory authorities.” It’s a little circular, but helpful.
The BIS defines suptech as “the use of technology for regulatory, supervisory and oversight purposes.” This is a similarly loose definition that describes the broader scope better.
Regardless of differences on the margins, the “sup” in these suptech definitions acknowledges the primacy of the idea that regulators’ objectives are to oversee the conduct, structure, and health of the financial system. Suptech technologies facilitate related regulatory supervision and enforcement processes.
Regulatory reporting refers to a broad swath of activities such as financial firms providing trading data to regulatory authorities and regulators’ analysis of financial data or corporate information to determine the projected health or potential risks facing an institution or the market.
The MAS and FDIC are incorporating transactional and financial data reported by firms as a means to assess their financial viability. The MAS, in conjunction with BIS, has run tech sprints soliciting new ideas relating to regulatory reporting, while the FDIC has “a regulatory reporting solution that would allow ‘on-demand’ monitoring of banks as opposed to being constrained by ‘point-in-time’ reporting. This project is particularly targeted at smaller, community banks that provide only aggregated data on their financial health on a quarterly basis.”
The HKMA recently outlined its three-year plan for the development of suptech, which includes developing an approach to “network analysis.” The HKMA will analyze reporting data related to corporate shareholding and financial exposure to bring them “to life as network diagrams, so that the relationships between different entities become more apparent. Greater transparency of the connections and dependencies between banks and their customers will enable HKMA supervisors to detect early warning signals within the entire credit network.”
These reporting initiatives touch on a theme regulators have continuously struggled with: How to regulate markets and firms based on a reactive approach to historical data. Regulation and enforcement are often retrospective activities — examining past behavior and data to decide how to sanction an organization or develop a regulatory framework to govern a particular type of activity or financial product. This can result in an approach to regulation too rooted in past failures, which might lack the flexibility to anticipate or adapt to emerging risks or financial products.