Federal regulators issued guidelines Thursday to help banks comply with consumer disclosure requirements and other rules when conducting transactions electronically.
Bankers have repeatedly complained that they are unsure how to comply with a variety of rules when offering on-line services and advertising.
Nearly all of the guidelines have been issued separately in recent years, but regulators wanted to provide a comprehensive guide that industry executives could rely on.
"We wanted to catalogue in one place as many of the relevant regulations as possible and how they should be treated in an on-line environment," said Stephen M. Cross, deputy comptroller for community and consumer policy at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.
The guidance is also intended to give advice on how banks should set up systems to monitor their electronic compliance.
"We're trying to encourage some forward planning," said Tim Burniston, director of compliance policy at the Office of Thrift Supervision. "What typically happens is that institutions decide they want to provide products electronically and then the compliance people come in after the fact to make sure the right disclosures are being made."
Mr. Cross said he expects the guidance to be updated after the Federal Reserve Board completes ongoing revisions of the Truth-in-Savings, Truth- in-Lending, and the Equal Credit Opportunity acts.
The guidance noted that electronic disclosures of a customer's rights and responsibilities satisfy the Fed's Regulation E as long as the consumer agrees to that method of delivery. The communication must be in a form that the customer can keep, such as electronic mail message or a computer file that can be saved. For consumers using technology that does not have print or download capabilities, such as Web TV, the institutions should include an option letting the customer request the disclosure by mail.
When customers sign up for electronic services, banks must ensure that they are provided with disclosures identifying any new terms and conditions. Similarly, banks that rely on electronic communication to satisfy disclosure requirements-covering such things as when deposited funds are available for withdrawal or when interest payments will be made- must also get a customer's consent.
Financial institutions that advertise deposit products and services on Internet sites run by third parties must verify that proper disclosures are being made.
Mortgage applications accepted electronically may be treated the same way banks handle mailed-in requests; these applications are not subject to the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act requirements that race and gender data be collected. Electronic media with a video component, however, must be treated as "in person" and the HMDA data must be obtained.
Internet sites or means for receiving on-line loan applications are considered "places of business" and must follow the Department of Housing and Urban Development's requirements for posting lobby notices of nondiscrimination policies.