What is Third Party Risk?

What is Third Party Risk?

Third-party risk refers to the potential adverse events, such as data breaches, operational disruptions, or reputational damage, that an organisation might face when outsourcing services or using software from external entities in its ecosystem or supply chain. These entities encompass software vendors, suppliers, consultants, contractors, staffing agencies and other service providers who might have access to the company’s or customer data, systems or proprietary information. Even if an organisation has stringent cybersecurity measures and robust remediation strategies, these third parties might not always maintain equivalent standards.

Why Should I Care About Third-Party Risk?

Third-party risk management is becoming increasingly vital for businesses, especially as the majority rely on outsourcing for various facets of their operations. With the escalating incidents of security breaches tied to third-party affiliations, businesses need to be vigilant. Shockingly, recent research indicates that around 30% of third-party vendors pose a significant threat if compromised. Another study highlighted that in 2020, 80% of organisations surveyed suffered a data breach stemming from a third party. Despite this looming threat, many businesses don’t monitor third-party risks as rigorously as they do internal ones.

It’s crucial to understand that a company’s board of directors and senior management bear the responsibility of overseeing third-party associations. Risks emerging from these relationships should be managed with the same rigour as internal activities. Failure to effectively control these risks can expose businesses to potential regulatory repercussions, financial penalties, litigation, and reputational harm. Such third-party affiliations can also amplify vulnerabilities, offering potential threats an easier avenue to breach even the most advanced security infrastructures.

Where does the risk principally exist?

Third-party risks can affect businesses in multiple and connected ways. Data breaches are an example of a dangerous risk overlapping multiple risk categories—they disrupt operations, present a regulatory threat, and can cause financial and reputational damage. However, it is possible to identify the typical categories where specific risk exists and understand something of their potential for damage.


In today’s interconnected business environment, cybersecurity extends beyond an organisation’s internal infrastructure. Third-party risk arises when external entities, be it suppliers, contractors or vendors, interact with a company’s information system. While an organisation may employ stringent cybersecurity measures, there’s no guarantee that third parties adhere to the same standards. This disparity can provide cybercriminals with a vulnerable entry point, potentially compromising the organisation’s data integrity, confidentiality, and availability. Thus, third-party cybersecurity risks necessitate rigorous assessment and management, ensuring that external affiliations don’t inadvertently become the organisation’s weakest link.

Practical Example: A company utilises a third-party payroll service which lacks robust security measures. Cybercriminals exploit this weakness, gaining access to both the service’s data and the company’s sensitive employee information, leading to potential data breaches and financial losses.

Regulatory Compliance

In the modern business environment, regulatory compliance is not merely an internal endeavour. Organisations frequently engage third parties – suppliers, contractors, and consultants – to facilitate various operational tasks. However, these third-party entities may not always adhere to or be aware of the regulatory standards the primary organisation must uphold. Thus, while the organisation might be compliant in its direct activities, third-party affiliations can inadvertently introduce non-compliance risks. Ensuring that third parties are aligned with pertinent regulatory frameworks is paramount, as any divergence can result in sanctions, fines or reputational damage for the primary organisation.

Practical Example: A bank contracts a third-party agency for customer data analysis. The agency, unaware of specific financial regulations, mishandles sensitive data. This breach not only exposes the bank to potential regulatory fines but also risks compromising client trust.


The realm of finance is intricately connected to third-party engagements. From vendors to investment brokers, organisations depend on external entities for numerous financial operations. This reliance introduces financial risk when these third parties face solvency issues, experience mismanagement or fail to deliver on contractually agreed terms. If these third-party entities aren’t financially robust or stable, the repercussions echo back to the primary organisation, potentially leading to monetary losses, interrupted cash flows, or tarnished credit standings. Hence, assessing the financial health and reliability of third-party affiliations is crucial to mitigating unwarranted financial vulnerabilities.

Practical Example: A manufacturing company procures raw materials from a third-party supplier. The supplier unexpectedly declares bankruptcy, halting deliveries. This disrupts the company’s production line, leading to significant revenue losses and unmet customer commitments.

Operational and Transactional

Operational risk in a business context encompasses the potential for failures in internal processes, people or systems. When organisations engage with third parties, these external entities inherently become intertwined with the primary firm’s operations. Any oversight, miscommunication or procedural lapse within the third-party can culminate in transactional errors or broader operational disruptions for the engaging organisation. Consequently, third-party engagements amplify operational and transactional risks, necessitating rigorous due diligence, continuous monitoring and robust contractual safeguards to mitigate potential fallout.

Practical Example: A company outsources its customer support to a third-party provider. Due to inadequate training, the provider gives erroneous information to customers, leading to widespread transaction reversals and operational chaos for the primary company.


In today’s globally interconnected marketplace, an organisation’s reputation is paramount. While third-party collaborations can enhance efficiency and scalability, they also present significant reputational risk. Any lapse in ethical standards, quality or service by a third-party can reflect poorly on the primary organisation, even if the fault lies entirely with the external entity. The public often doesn’t differentiate between the actions of a primary entity and its third-party affiliates, meaning any negative associations can tarnish the organisation’s image, trustworthiness, and overall brand value.

Practical Example: A popular clothing brand outsources manufacturing to a third-party. Reports later emerge that the third-party factory employs child labour. Public outcry against the brand ensues, leading to boycotts and long-term reputational damage, even though the primary brand was unaware of the factory’s practices.


Strategic risk revolves around an organisation’s high-level decisions and future plans which, if misaligned, could jeopardise its market position. When organisations form partnerships with third parties, they inadvertently tie aspects of their strategic direction to the performance and decisions of these external entities. If a third-party diverges from aligned strategies or fails to meet anticipated milestones, the primary organisation can face challenges in executing its strategic vision, potentially derailing its market trajectory and competitive edge.

Practical Example: A tech firm partners with a third-party developer for an innovative software solution, central to its growth strategy. The developer, facing internal issues, delays delivery by a year, causing the tech firm to miss its market window and cede advantage to competitors.

Credit Risk.

Credit risk, traditionally understood as the potential default on debt obligations, has broader implications in the context of third-party engagements. When organisations enter into contractual agreements with external entities, they inherently rely on the financial robustness of these third parties. If a third-party faces financial instability or insolvency, it can result in unfulfilled obligations, be it in the delivery of goods, services or payments, thereby exposing the primary organisation to credit-related vulnerabilities. Monitoring the creditworthiness and financial health of third parties becomes paramount in managing such risks.

Practical Example: A retailer enters into a contract with a third-party manufacturer who later faces financial distress and defaults on production commitments. This leaves the retailer unable to stock its shelves, impacting revenues and incurring potential penalties from pre-sold contracts.

The intricate web of third-party engagements in today’s globalised business landscape accentuates the multifaceted nature of third-party risks. From operational mishaps to strategic misalignments, organisations are continuously susceptible to external vulnerabilities. Proactive identification, rigorous assessment, and diligent management of these third-party risks are imperative to safeguard an organisation’s operational integrity, reputation, and strategic trajectory in an increasingly interconnected world. How third-party risk can be identified, managed and minimised is the subject of a coming blog.