A Strategic Approach to Consent and Communication Preferences

Apr 4, 2024

Consent and preference are two important factors to build into your consumer communication strategy. At first glance, they may seem like the same thing, but there are some nuances to keep in mind as you determine how and when to contact consumers.

Consent is about the right to initiate contact.

Preferences are about how that contact is managed.

Both elements are critical for debt collectors to understand and respect to remain compliant with Reg F and the FDCPA, and to foster more cooperative relationships with consumers.

Consent to Communicate

Consent to communicate refers to the consumer’s permission to be contacted. Without consent, you may not be allowed to contact the consumer through certain mediums, like email or text message. Consent can be given directly or indirectly, for instance, when the consumer contacts the agency via email or provides their contact information to the original creditor with the understanding that it may be used for debt collection purposes.

Regulation F specifies the conditions under which debt collectors can communicate with consumers, including the time of day and the frequency of communications. It also allows consumers to revoke consent—they can ask collectors to stop contacting them through certain channels or altogether, subject to some exceptions.

Communication Preferences

Communication preferences, on the other hand, relate to the ways in which a consumer prefers to be contacted by the debt collector. Assuming consent has already been given, of course. This could include preferences regarding the time of day, the method of communication (e.g., phone, email, text), and other specifics about how the consumer wishes to be communicated with.

Regulation F recognizes that consumers have the right to specify how they prefer to be contacted, to a degree. For instance, a consumer can specify that they prefer communication via email over phone calls. Preferences are about the manner of communication rather than the permission to initiate contact.

Aligning Communication Practices

As you build a digital communication strategy, it’s important to consider the rules around consumer consent and communication preferences so that you stay compliant. Reg F is a good place to start. You can work with your compliance team or counsel to translate legal requirements into clear internal policies and procedures to ensure every team member understands how to comply.

  • Clearly communicate the purpose of consent. When you obtain consent, clearly explain why it’s needed, what communications the consumer can expect, and how they can change their preferences or revoke consent in the future.
  • Offer easy options for specifying preferences. Allow consumers to easily specify their communication preferences, including preferred channels (email, text, phone) and any other details that make them more comfortable. Make sure consumers can easily update their preferences when needed.
  • Use technology to manage consent and preferences. Use Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems or specialized software to track consent and communication preferences.
  • Train staff regularly on the importance of consent and communication preferences.
  • Regularly monitor communications for compliance. Audit your firm’s procedures periodically to identify and correct any weaknesses.
  • Maintain detailed records of when and how consent was obtained, consumer communication preferences, and all communications with consumers. This documentation will be critical for compliance audits or any legal challenges.
  • Respond promptly to consumer requests. Ensure requests to update preferences or revoke consent are processed immediately to avoid any compliance issues. In a recent FDCPA case, a consumer sued a collection agency for continuing to send text messages after receiving and confirming the consumer’s opt-out request. Send confirmations to consumers after their preferences have been updated or consent has been revoked, providing clear evidence of compliance.

Consent and preferences are two key components of communicating with consumers. You generally can’t legally contact consumers electronically without prior consent—either direct or indirect. After getting consent, having a consumer’s communication preferences can make it easier to reach consumers where they’re more amenable to working together to reach a resolution. Accommodate consent and preferences into your communication strategy not only to remain compliant, but to foster stronger relationships with consumers.

 

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