MBA, Trade Groups Petition FCC for ‘Emergency Purposes Exception’ on Mortgage Servicing Calls

The Mortgage Bankers Association joined other industry trade groups in a letter Monday to the Federal Communications Commission, arguing that mortgage servicing calls (and other financial institution notices) should be deemed emergency calls by the FCC and exempt from the Telephone Consumer Protection Act during the COVID19 emergency. 

The trade groups requested an expedited declaratory ruling, clarification or waiver stating that phone calls and text messages placed by banks, credit unions and other customer-facing financial services providers using an automatic telephone dialing system 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.

Specifically, these phone calls and text messages could include:

–Outreach to customers and members to offer payment deferrals, fee waivers, extension of repayment terms or other delays in payment of 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; or

To make consumers aware of programs, relief and resources offered by the institution in response to the pandemic.

“The calls that the Associations seek to place under the Emergency Purposes Exception are solely informational calls made in good faith to assist consumers and do not include calls that contain advertising or telemarketing or that seek to collect payment on a past-due debt,” the letter said.

FCC regulations implementing TCPA provide that the Emergency Purposes Exception exempts “calls made necessary in any situation affecting the health and safety of consumers”—a situation the FCC itself confirmed on March 20, when it declared the “COVID-19 pandemic constitutes an ‘emergency’” under the TCPA.  

The letter asserts calls that banks, 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. Calls that advise consumers of branch closings, service limitations, reduced hours or the availability of remote banking and other remote customer service options protect the physical health or safety of consumers and employees, by preventing unnecessary physical contact between consumers and employees.

“As such, these calls related to COVID-19 clearly fall within the Emergency Purposes Exception,” the letter said. “However, neither the Commission 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 Commission and judicial precedent and the threat of class-action litigation may lead financial institutions to limit the communications they send to assist consumers on matters related to the pandemic.”

Such a ruling, the trade groups said, “would ensure that financial institutions may contact their customers and members with important and time-sensitive, calls to protect the consumer’s financial or physical health and safety.”

The trade groups include MBA; the American Financial Services Association; the Consumer Bankers Association; Credit Union National Association; Independent Community Bankers of America; and the National Association of Federally Insured Credit Unions.