Financial services providers are asking the Federal Communications Commission to issue a declaratory ruling stating that calls to consumers placed by financial institutions and related to the coronavirus (“COVID-19”) pandemic fall within the “emergency purposes” section of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.
The emergency purposes section of the TCPA provides that calls made for “emergency purposes” are excepted from the consent requirements of the TCPA. The FCC has defined “emergency purposes” as “calls made necessary in any situation affecting the health and safety of consumers.” On March 20, in a sua sponte declaratory ruling, the FCC outlined how calls and text messages will be treated under the TCPA in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The March 20 ruling did not address calls made by financial institutions.
In an effort to clear the path for financial institutions to contact their customers regarding options in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, seven industry trade associations filed a petition with the FCC asking that the emergency purposes exception be extended to include informational outreach to consumers regarding:
- payment deferrals;
- fee waivers;
- extension of repayment terms;
- other delays in payment;
- forbearance on mortgage payments or other loans;
- to advise regarding branch closings, service limitations, reduced hours, or the availability of remote banking or other remote access options;
- to warn consumers of potential fraud on their accounts; or
- to otherwise make consumers aware of programs, relief, and resources offered by the institution in response to the pandemic.
The trade associations argue that the calls they are seeking to have included in the “emergency purposes” exceptions are time-sensitive and manual dialing will not allow for timely notification of consumers. Additionally, throughout the petition, the trade associations reiterate that the calls they seek to have included are not telemarketing or promotional communications.
The associations argue that if the FCC finds that the calls do not fall within the “emergency purposes” exception, it should then find that “good cause exists for a temporary waiver of that regulatory definition for COVID-19 related calls” as permitted in 47 C.F.R. § 1.3.