Removing Barriers Blog

COVID-19: CUNA and Joint Trades Letter to the FCC
Posted March 30, 2020 by dyi

Today, CUNA and other financial trade associations filed a petition with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to request an expedited declaratory ruling, clarification, or waiver stating that phone calls and text messages placed by credit unions, banks, and other customer-facing financial services providers using an automatic telephone dialing system (autodialer) or prerecorded or artificial voice on matters related to the COVID-19 pandemic are “call[s] made for emergency purposes,” and thus may be placed without the consent of the called party, pursuant to 47 U.S.C. § 227(b)(1)(A) (Emergency Purposes Exception, or Exception).

Specifically, these phone calls and text messages may include outreach to consumers to offer payment deferrals, fee waivers, extension of repayment terms, or other delays in payment, modification, or forbearance on mortgage payments or other loans; to advise consumers of branch closings, service limitations, reduced hours, or the availability of remote banking or other remote access options; to warn consumers of potential fraud on the consumer’s account; or otherwise to make consumers aware of programs, relief, and resources offered by the institution in response to the pandemic.

FCC regulations implementing the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) provide that the Emergency Purposes Exception exempts “calls made necessary in any situation affecting the health and safety of consumers.” On March 20, 2020, the FCC confirmed that the “COVID-19 pandemic constitutes an ‘emergency’” under the TCPA. The calls that credit unions and other customer-facing financial institutions seek to place on matters related to the pandemic are intended to protect or support the financial health or safety of consumers. However, neither the FCC nor the judiciary has addressed the application of the Exception in the context of calls placed by financial institutions during a public health emergency. The lack of FCC and judicial precedent and the threat of class action litigation may lead credit unions to limit the communications they send to assist consumers on matters related to the pandemic. It is for this reason that CUNA and the other trade associations are urging the FCC to ensure these communications may be freely made by confirming that calls and text messages placed by financial institutions related to COVID-19 are calls made for emergency purposes, or by granting a temporary waiver of the FCC’s definition of “emergency purposes,” to allow these calls related to this national emergency.