Sen. Thune, witnesses bring CUNA TCPA concerns to hearing

May 19, 2016

U.S. Senate Commerce Committee Chair Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), members of the committee and several witnesses expressed concerns shared by CUNA Wednesday about the recent update to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). The committee conducted a hearing, requested by CUNA, to examine the purpose of the TCPA 25 years after its inception, as well as consumer and business concerns over a recent omnibus declaratory ruling on the TCPA from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Thune quoted Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Richard Cordray’s recent statements about how credit unions and other financial institutions are using emails, text messages and phone calls to keep consumers up-to-date on important account information, and how it was a positive development for consumers. 

“How can banks, credit unions and other financial institutions increase communications with consumers if they have the threat an attorney TCPA litigation hanging over their heads?” Thune asked.

Witness Monica Desai, a partner at Squire Paton Boggs and former senior official at the FCC, said that credit unions and other financial institutions need to be able to contact consumers in a number of ways on time-sensitive matters, such as low balance and high-purchase alerts using modern technology such as texting.

“[These companies] are running a significant cost for the additional risk that any time-sensitive communication they make runs the risk of being sent to a reassigned number, and that’s a factor they cannot fully control,” she said. “As a result, many of my clients are choosing to decrease beneficial, elective communications through cell phone or text because they know that every single one of those communications does carry that risk.”

In addition, Thune brought up a number of clarifications needed in the TCPA, clarificationsimprovements requested by CUNA in its advocacy efforts. These clarifications include: the definition of “autodialer” and what businesses should do when a number has been reassigned.

CUNA raised these questions to the committee in its letter for the hearing’s record, submitted Tuesday, and previously raised them in letters to lawmakers, the NCUA and in filing an amici brief asking for the TCPA ruling to be vacated.

Desai also said that the end result could result in fewer communications to benefit the consumer for fear of expensive litigation.

“As a result, beneficial consumer communications are chilled, compliance-minded entities are put into a catch-22, consumers trying to manage default and companies trying to engage in financial education are punished,” she said. “Many type of important and beneficial consumer communications trigger TCPA risk in the current environment, including communications from utilities to warn of service outages, mobile health programs such as Text4Baby, schools to provide attendance notifications, nonprofits to ask for cans to restock food banks, credit unions to provide low-balance alerts, political candidates providing election information--the list goes on and on.”