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New SMS opt-out rules for short-term insurance marketing in SA

New rules for the direct marketing of short-term insurance using SMS messaging have been put in place in South Africa.

On 15 December 2017, the Financial Services Board (FSB) announced the replacement of the Policyholder Protection Rules (PPRs) in terms of Section 55 of the Short-term Insurance Act, 1998. The new rules came into effect from 1 January 2018 and apply to the direct marketing of short-term insurance policies to the South African market.

These rules are in place to ensure the fair treatment of insurance policyholders and follows the regulatory framework set out by the Consumer Protection Act (CPA), 2008.

"For companies in the insurance industry wanting to send out direct marketing using SMS messaging, the PPRs have strict rules for how consumers opt-out from receiving these messages," says Dr Piet Streicher, Managing Director of BulkSMS.com. "The new rules now stipulate that the reply 'STOP' mechanism may no longer be charged to the message recipient. All companies sending SMS messages of this nature have six months to comply, which means that by 1 July 2018, they will need to have the correct messaging facility in place."

It is important to note the PPRs' definition of a "policyholder" in section 10.2.1 is inclusive of both existing customers and potential policyholders or members of a group scheme. In effect, this new ruling relates to all paying members as well as anyone being marketed to by, or on behalf of, the company.

"A 'free-to-opt-out' facility is now required for all insurance companies as well as those companies handling messaging or lead generation for insurers. In practice, this means the cost of an SMS 'STOP' request is to be carried by the sender of the direct marketing message and not the recipient."

Dr Streicher goes on to say: "We recommend that insurers and service providers adopt industry best practice and implement the use of reverse billed SMS to meet the requirements of the Policyholder Protection Rules. This opt-out facility is readily available and ensures that consumers are not charged a fee when opting-out from direct marketing messages via SMS."

Due to the nature of the reverse billed SMS service generally being set up as a separate SMS bind with the mobile network operators, insurers will need to contact their service provider directly to request that a reverse billed SMS service be activated on their account.