[SINGAPORE] A new early registration date for the Do Not Call (DNC) registry now cheerily beckons to consumers on Dec 2, even as firms of all sizes grimly figure out the impact of such a registry on the cost-and-compliance front.
From that date, consumers eager to give telemarketers the boot will be able to register their phone numbers to opt out of getting marketing messages by SMS, voice call and fax; messages that reach them through apps linked to phone numbers, such as WhatsApp, are also covered, though not for apps linked to email addresses.
Consumers may register through the DNC website, over SMS or by calling the registry's toll-free numbers.
From that date, firms may also get a head start on creating registry accounts and buying phone number look-up credits.
Even so, the day of reckoning for businesses remains Jan 2, 2014: from that date, they are legally obliged to check the registry before sending out marketing messages to local phone numbers. Firms are not obliged to run the check if they have proof of a consumer's clear consent to be contacted for telemarketing.
Come Jan 2 next year, these firms will face a registry already populated by early registrants from Dec 2. They will also face the prospect of even more consumers pulling their phone numbers out of reach and the possibility of being fined up to $10,000 per DNC registry-related offence.
With just three months to go before full compliance is expected, businesses - especially those that use phone lines as lifelines - are battening down the hatches.
George Tan, senior director at real estate firm Savills Residential Pte Ltd, said: "Frankly, we're all very worried. It's like the dawn of a new era."
At Savills, a system is being installed that will help its agents comply with the demands of the personal data protection regime.
"(With) developing the system, the software partners, the lawyers, the Internet security - putting that together (has entailed) a lot of cost and man-hours," Mr Tan said.
It remains to be seen how the industry can modify its marketing practices to survive this legislative change, but Mr Tan has put on a brave face. He said: "We acknowledge that we're being more considerate to consumers who do not want to be called. Initially, it may seem difficult. But down the road, agents will get used to it. It's something that we have to be positive about."
As daunting as compliance might be for an agency, those who operate solo in insurance or real estate and depend on cold-calling are the ones who have to brace themselves to be harder hit.
Angie Tay, vice-chairman of the Contact Centre Association of Singapore, said: "This group of people doesn't have a database to focus on. They depend on database companies which have to scrub the database first before selling the data to them. If (the database firms) don't scrub, the individual agents will have to scrub it themselves."
The telemarketing industry in Singapore is steeling itself for a shrinkage, but remains plagued by uncertainty about the level of response by consumers.
Ms Tay said: "Many people say this will shrink the telemarketing market, but at this moment, nobody knows the percentage of shrinkage. I'm not sure how many people will actually sign up (for the registry).
"Most people who don't want to be called are already part of the DNC list with their respective banks or other companies . . . But nobody knows."
Even within the same industry, expectations of the impact of the registry vary. During the last round of public consultation in May, one bank estimated that it would have to check no more than 30 numbers a month; another bank, however, put the figure at two million numbers a month for its consumer side, and urged a reduction in costs, noting that its consumer business alone would run up $20,000 to $30,000 in costs a month.
Firms with accounts on the registry will be given 500 free credits annually, with each credit valid for one phone number look-up. If a firm needs more than that number of credits, it has to be paid on a pre-paid or pay-as-you- go basis. A million pre-paid credits will cost $10,000.
There will also be a one-time registration fee: $30 for local entities and individuals, and $60 for foreign bodies.
Any list of phone numbers that a firm runs through the registry will initially be valid for 60 days, but this period will be shortened to 30 days as the status quo.
Rob Bratby, managing partner of technology law firm Olswang Asia, said that the consumer experience from other countries which have implemented similar schemes has been very positive.
"Businesses have had some time to prepare for the do-not-call rules and those that have not yet put in place appropriate processes to comply should do so as a matter of urgency."