While word of mouth is often touted as the best source of reverse mortgage business, originators large and small agree that advertising is also a necessity — particularly among a target demographic that is increasingly consuming information online.
But as the number of consumers getting financial product information online increases, so too does the scrutiny around online advertising materials. With several federal and state agencies monitoring and enforcing advertising law, there are several compliance issues that have recently become more prevalent that reverse mortgage companies need to observe.
One such area is accessibility under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Known largely for its enforcement of rules around physical places of business that must be accessible to all parties, including those with disabilities, the ADA also plays a major role in the regulating of websites.
“If you haven’t looked at your own web properties from the standpoint of senior users, respectfully, you are missing out in two areas,” Jim Brodsky, partner with Washington D.C.-based firm Weiner Brodsky Kider PC, said during the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association Western Meeting last week. “[First] the area to be friendly and accessible, but also there are regulations and rules that govern the way a web presence needs to interact with users who bring different abilities to their user experience.”
Those rules cover website characteristics such as color and contrast, which can be particularly problematic for users who are older or who have vision impairment.
“On the federal level, there are a lot of laws you need to comply with,” said Melissa Klimkiewicz, partner with Washington D.C.-based law firm Buckley Sandler. “The ADA requires that individuals with disabilities receive ‘full and equal enjoyment of the goods services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodations of any place of public accommodation.’”
A 2010 Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would have required websites for public accommodation to be accessible to people with disabilities was never passed as a rule, but a number of plaintiffs have recently had success in arguing that places of public accommodation include financial services, Klimkiewicz said. This has brought the issue into the spotlight for lenders, including those in the reverse mortgage space.
In January 2018, there were more than 25 ADA lawsuits in Florida and New York alone, Klimkiewicz and colleagues from Weiner Brodsky noted.
While most of the cases were settled, often plaintiffs’ firms demanded the payment of legal fees.
There are several ways originators and lenders can work toward compliance in the online marketplace, the attorneys noted.
Evaluate website and mobile property accessibility. Undertake appropriate risk measures depending on the evaluation. Do this before a demand letter arrives that takes issue with the website.
Provide employee training. Ensure that company employees are aware of the rules. For larger organizations, designating a website accessibility coordinator can serve in this role for the company.
Develop policies and procedures to ensure compliance. Having a framework and plan for accessibility can help direct web content so that it is in the best interest of the consumer.
Post a notice on the website. A notice can direct those who are having problems with the site to contact a company representative by phone with feedback or complaints or to receive assistance.
Check vendor compliance. It’s important for vendors such as content providers or web designers to be compliant as well. This can be done by including language in contracts that makes vendors responsible for ADA compliance.
“In terms of business realities, this raises interesting questions,” Klimkiewicz said. “We all want to do the right thing and make sure everyone is able to access our information. It’s also good for business.”
Written by Elizabeth Ecker