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CFPB Asks FCC to Allow Robocalls from Banks About Financial Relief Programs Related to the Coronavirus Crisis

The official seal of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

In an unusual move relative to its customary stance on such issues, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has requested that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ease restrictions on the use of automated phone calls by banks and financial institutions in order to communicate with consumers about the various financial relief programs and services available  to the public in the wake of the massive economic disruptions from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

This request takes the form of a letter from Kathleen Kraninger, Director of the CFPB, to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. Endorsing a petition from the American Bankers Association (ABA), asks the FCC “to allow financial institutions to make certain automated calls to alert their customers to certain relief options related to the COVID-19 pandemic without violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA).” These relief options include “offers of forbearance; payment deferrals; fee waivers; extension or relaxation of repayment terms; loan modifications; and other programs, relief and resources relating to loans secured by homes or vehicles.”

She explains that doing so would assist the CFPB in its efforts to alert consumers to these financial options, writing: “Despite our best efforts, we know we have not reached all consumers who need and would benefit from available assistance. Allowing financial institutions to make automated calls is one more way to maximize the outreach to ensure consumers receive important and timely information.”

Kraninger also points out that such a relaxation of the TCPA’s restrictions would not necessarily put consumers in a position to be harmed, as “financial institutions engaging in this activity remain subject to other existing legal requirements with respect to communications with consumers, such as the Bureau’s mortgage servicing rules and the Dodd-Frank Act’s prohibition on unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices.” Other laws that may be relevant to these sorts of financial services outreach robocalls include the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), and Truth in Lending Act (TILA), all of which are either partially or wholly enforced by the CFPB.

On March 20, the FCC released a declaratory ruling invoking the “emergency purposes” exemption to the TCPA. However, the Commission applied that exemption to a vary narrow set of institutions and calling purposes, restricting it to “hospitals, health care providers, state and local health officials, and other government officials… [who need to] communicate information about the novel coronavirus as well as mitigation measures.” It will be interesting to see if this letter from the CFPB is successful in encouraging the FCC to expand the scope of this exemption to include financial institutions alerting consumers to available relief programs.