GREENSBORO, N.C. – When telemarketers interrupt dinner or a favorite television show, many people grumble, "There ought to be a law." In fact, legislation has been popping up at both the federal and state levels. Counting laws scheduled to go into effect this year, 20 states now have statutes aimed at curbing telemarketing calls. Many of the laws allow residents to register on a list of names telemarketers are restricted from calling. In Alaska, people can even have a black dot placed by their name in the phone book. To telemarketers, that means, don't call. One of the states now poised to act is North Carolina, where the General Assembly is considering a bill to create a No Call Registry. The North Carolina Credit Union Network is eyeing that legislation, working to make certain it doesn't hinder credit unions' ability to serve their members. Dan Schline, NCCUN vp/governmental affairs, notes the bill has some powerful backing. It was introduced by the House majority leader with support from the state Attorney General. "Since it was first introduced, there has been significant opposition from the business community," Schline says. "There have been ongoing negotiations between the Attorney General's office and a number of different business groups. Credit unions have been involved in that process." Schline added, "There has recently been some progress in those negotiations. We recognize there are some businesses out there that do present issues for consumers. They're calling during mealtime. At the same time, there are legitimate businesses like credit unions that have established relationships with their members. We feel strongly we need to be able to continue to contact members." The NCCUN has specifically requested an exemption for not-for-profit member organizations. In fact, the most recent version of the bill offers organizations with a defined business relationship the opportunity to contact existing customers or members. So at this point the NCCUN has removed its opposition. When the bill was first introduced, Schline notes, it was far more restrictive than those in place in other states. "We, as much as other people, want to curb abuses in the system where you have telemarketers constantly calling during mealtimes. At the same time, we want to make sure credit unions have the ability to contact their members," Schline says. "This is a voluntary relationship between the credit union and the member. For some of our credit unions, this (phone calls) is an important way they're able to add value to the membership by telling them about a way to get a better rate on a car loan or whatever the case may be." Schline indicates the big hurdle in dealing with such legislation is the immediate positive reaction most people experience. Nobody likes annoying phone calls when they're trying to prepare dinner or are settling down for the evening. But when you sit down and think about the practical business implications and what it can mean to consumer-friendly organizations like credit unions, he adds, you have to step back and realize you can create a no-call registry but you do have legitimate businesses that need to contact their customers or members when it's appropriate. "For us, that's what this existing business relationship provision does," Schline says. "I think what they're trying to curb is pure solicitation with no previous business relationship. "We've learned that in North Carolina we don't have a lot of credit unions contacting members by phone to do solicitations. But what our credit unions have told us is they want to make sure if down the road they do want to contact their members by phone, they will have the ability to do that." Schline notes that as state legislators across the country hear complaints about payday lending and predatory lending, they want the financial services industry to find solutions. To find those answers, credit unions need to talk to members about alternatives. Can credit unions live with no-call legislation? In Indiana, at least, the answer appears to be "Yes." Kay Neidlinger, public relations director of the Indiana Credit Union League, reports she has received no complaints about the state's no-call law since it took effect July 1, 2001. "We keep an eye on all the bills in the Indiana General Assembly, and this was certainly one we watched," Neidlinger says. Perhaps one reason Indiana credit unions haven't complained is the law specifically excludes certain types of calls from the no-call restrictions. That includes calls made in response to a specific request by the person being called. It also allows calls made in connection with an existing debt or contract when payment or performance has not been completed. Those exclusions, Neidlinger notes, really cover many of the situations which prompt a credit union to call a member. -


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