Thursday, December 1, 2011

ATM Fee Disclosure: Updating Regulation to Limit Jackpot Justice

   In July of this year Kurt Helwig, president and CEO of the Electronic Funds Transfer Association and Dennis Ambach, director of the Association's Legislative and Regulatory Council, met with the staff of the House Financial Services Committee regarding a regulation that requires ATM owners to display a sign specifying the fee charged to use the machine. There has been evidence of unscrupulous gold diggers ripping the fee signs off of ATMs and then attempting to file class action lawsuits against the owners of the ATMs for failing to post notice of the fees. There are even websites that troll for alleged victims and encourage the filing of these suits.
   Members of the EFTA, which represents a wide spectrum of companies involved in electronic payments, believe that the sticker requirement is an antiquated requirement since modern ATMs post the fee on the ATM screen and ask the user whether he wishes to accept the fee before continuing. They are joined in this belief by members of various other groups including the ATM Industry Association (ATMIA).
   Following the July meeting the Committee's chairman, Rep. Spencer Bachus (R, AL) wrote to Raj Date, a special advisor to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and the interim head of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Chairman Bachus asked whether the CFPB has the authority to amend Regulation E of the Electronic Funds Transfer Act to eliminate what amounts to dual notification.
   The CFPB recently published what the government calls a "Notice for Comment." This is an invitation for the public to comment on some pending regulatory action. In this case, the CFPB is looking for public input on regulations that fall within the Bureau's authority and which could use a little streamlining. Specifically, the CFPB is looking for regulations which it has "inherited" from other regulatory bodies, and which could be updated or modified because they are "outdated, unduly burdensome or unnecessary."
HFSC Chairman Bachus contacted
 the CFPB concerning its authority
to amend the EFT Act to
eliminate dual notification
   Among the suggested areas for comment in the Notice is ATM fee disclosure. The Bureau is looking for comment on whether the requirement to post a sign on the ATM should be eliminated and whether other disclosures, such as the on-screen fee notice, are adequate for informing consumers.
   The Bureau's desire to quickly identify the regulations for which it is now responsible and to streamline those requirements is welcome news. How the newly minted CFPB manages this comment period and deals with the public comment will go a long way in establishing the Bureau's credibility with consumers and with industry.
   In you are interested in commenting to the CFPB on this issue the comment period is open for 90 days. It's hard to believe that we can't find a way to ensure that consumers' rights to know upfront the cost of using someone's ATM can't be balanced with the right of that ATM owner to avoid financial calamity through the jackpot justice of frivolous lawsuits.
   That's my opinion. What's yours?


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