3 Things to Consider Before Using a Vendor Exchange

6 minute read

December 2022

Even with advanced workflows, vendor risk assessments can be a challenge for third-party risk teams. Analysts must create questionnaires, chase down and analyze vendor responses, and digest their analyses to categorize vendors according to their risk level. Naturally, many teams seek to make this process easier, and one approach that some teams take is to purchase access to a vendor exchange.

Exchanges provide users with an on-demand library of vendor risk assessments, meaning organizations that take this approach can compare third parties without performing assessments themselves. This is an appealing prospect to risk managers for whom manual assessments impose a prohibitive financial burden. Still, before signing up for an exchange, it is worth taking the time to familiarize yourself with the areas where an exchange may come up short: Specifically, exchanges pose serious challenges to risk managers seeking timely data or to whom validation is a priority.

What is a vendor exchange?

A vendor exchange is a centralized library of completed risk assessments where users pay a fee to access pre-existing profiles instead of expending resources to run their own analysis. While this may seem like an ideal solution for TPRM teams trying to do more with less resources, there are several caveats to consider before making vendor exchanges the foundation of your assessment process.

It’s possible to speed up your assessments with a vendor exchange, but they tend to function best as one element of a strong TPRM program. A vendor exchange can speed up due diligence, but it’s imperative that your risk team attends to the gaps left open by its library. When TPRM teams run into issues, it’s because they’ve opted to use the limited data available in vendor exchanges as a cover-all solution. Thus, when an organization invests in an exchange as a “band-aid” for a weak or otherwise insubstantial vendor risk assessment program, it leaves itself open to a variety of threats that go undetected by these solutions.

When are vendor exchanges helpful?

Vendor exchanges can give your organization a snapshot of vendor risk at a moment in time. If your main goal is checking the box on compliance without expending considerable resources, then a vendor exchange might accomplish that goal quickly and cheaply. A vendor exchange can provide your organization with “at a glance” insight into vendor risk, which can be a powerful tool with the right supplemental data. A vendor exchange, in concert with a fully formed TPRM program, can be another tool to gain visibility into vendors as quickly as possible. By familiarizing yourself with the caveats of the vendor exchange model, you can reduce the likelihood that an exchange will open your organization to unseen vendor risk.

These caveats include:

#1: The data might not be updated, accurate or complete

Regulations change rapidly, and you cannot assume that your vendors will update their responses of their own volition. Thus, when you rely on a vendor exchange, there is no assurance that the data your organization receives will accurately reflect either the vendor or the current regulatory environment. When your TPRM team operates based on old or inaccurate data, you can complicate an audit, or even end up in non-compliance without realizing it. Just as pressing is the threat of onboarding a risky vendor: if your analysis is based on inaccurate data, then your organization can onboard business-threatening risk without knowing. Finally, there is no guarantee that a given exchange’s risk ratings will align with your organization’s risk criteria. If your organization is concerned about a domain that’s not covered on the exchange, then you will be back where you started: investing valuable man hours chasing down vendors for risk data.

#2: Exchanges pose privacy and compliance issues

Regulators have higher standards for risk data than vendor exchanges, so if you rely on exchange data alone, you’re leaving your organization open to unwitting regulatory violations. If your organization uses an exchange to check third-party compliance quickly and cheaply, this is a problem, because satisfying auditors means expending additional time and resources to validate data you’ve already paid for. More concerning than expensive compliance practices, though, are the new privacy issues introduced by vendor exchanges. From a third-party risk management perspective, exchanges can create tricky data privacy gray areas.

These privacy concerns are causing vendors to be increasingly cautious before handing over their data to an exchange. You may run into vendors who refuse to use an exchange, as they have little control over their data once it enters the library, and it doesn’t always benefit a vendor for their risk information to be immediately available. For instance, the risk scores provided by vendor exchanges are automatically calculated, potentially inaccurate, and pose the risk of hurting business before a vendor even enters the sales cycle.

#3 You could actually spend more time and money on assessments

Organizations use vendor exchanges because they want to spend less time on assessments and more time on analyzing risk. By eliminating the need to follow up with vendors and track down responses, exchanges promise to cut down on the labor hours it takes to run lower-priority tasks. This is an appealing pitch to many organizations, but it’s not the full story: while exchanges can be less time-consuming than traditional assessment methods, there are many vendors that haven’t adopted the exchange model. Thus, if your organization uses an exchange, you will either need to pass by otherwise viable vendors or run a separate process for assessing non-exchange organizations. Still, even if a vendor is present in an exchange, they may not have posted all the information you need to make an informed decision. When you use an exchange, there is a high likelihood that you will need to supplement the provided data with additional vendor information, necessitating a costly duplicative assessment process. For that reason, it is often more time-effective to send your own assessments using an automated platform.

Alternatives to Vendor Exchanges

Of course, vendor exchanges aren’t the only way to save time in TPRM. There are many products with features that more effectively save your organization time and money. Look for these features when assessing a third-party risk management solution:

  • Automated Due Diligence: Though due diligence is most effective when your TPRM team takes an active role, there are many key processes that can be automated away without reducing data quality. Functions like issuing questionnaires, following up with vendors, and chasing down responses can be done more efficiently with the help of automated TPRM software.
  • Questionnaire Serialization: By allowing vendors to autofill responses during ongoing assessments, questionnaire serialization reduces the burden placed on vendors by the TPRM process. Instead of assuming one assessment is sufficient for a variety of auditors, however, this function makes intelligent assumptions about your vendors based on the data they share.
  • Intelligent Monitoring: By integrating data from trusted content providers, your organization can validate vendor responses without launching a time-consuming investigation. Domain-specific content such as financial, cybersecurity and ESG ratings provide externally validated insight into a vendor’s risk profile.
  • Automatically scoped questionnaires based on internal controls: Your organization’s internal controls should give your TPRM team a strong idea of the kinds of security they should prioritize. By limiting the scope of vendor questionnaires based on your organization’s controls, you can reduce vendor fatigue while ensuring that your team receives the information it needs to make effective decisions.

Data quality is paramount in third-party risk management. While vendor exchanges offer easily accessible data for less money, quality is the missing ingredient—and you cannot skimp on due diligence. Instead, it’s important to automate where you can while prioritizing the quality of collected data.

Vendor exchanges ask your organization to trust that its vendors provide reliable data. If there’s one thing that risk professionals know, however, it’s that trust cannot be assumed: it must be earned. By leveraging automation to reduce the labor hours involved in due diligence, your organization can collect high-quality vendor data without wasting time on redundant processes.


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ProcessUnity is a leading provider of cloud-based applications for risk and compliance management. The company’s software as a service (SaaS) platform gives organizations the control to assess, measure, and mitigate risk and to ensure the optimal performance of key business processes. ProcessUnity’s flagship solution, ProcessUnity Vendor Risk Management, protects companies and their brands by reducing risks from third-party vendors and suppliers. ProcessUnity helps customers effectively and efficiently assess and monitor both new and existing vendors – from initial due diligence and onboarding through termination. Headquartered outside of Boston, Massachusetts, ProcessUnity is used by the world’s leading financial service firms and commercial enterprises. For more information, visit www.processunity.com.