ASA Adjudication on The Royal Bank of Scotland plc
The Royal Bank of Scotland plc t/a
36 St Andrew Square
12 September 2012
Number of complaints:
Summary of Council decision:
Three issues were investigated, of which two were Not upheld and one was Upheld.
Two e-mails, sent 10 and 17 May 2012, stated "NatWest Activate now for this week's CashbackPlus earning opportunities".
The complainant challenged whether:
1. the advertisers had her permission to pass her contact details to a third party;
2. the advertisers were in breach of the CAP Code, because they had failed to act on requests to unsubscribe her from marketing databases; and
3. the "unsubscribe" link on the e-mails was genuine, because she had tried to unsubscribe on several occasions without success.
CAP Code (Edition 12)
1., 2. & 3. Royal Bank of Scotland plc (RBS) responded on behalf of themselves and Sports Loyalty Card Ltd (SLC).
RBS said the terms and conditions for the account the complainant had opened stated that NatWest might share account holders' information with other members of the RBS Group, or third parties providing services to the RBS Group, and that customers might receive marketing communications about other products or services which might be of interest to them as a result of NatWest sharing their information. Customers were, however, able to opt-out of receiving those marketing communications. NatWest confirmed that the complainant had opted out of all marketing communications when she opened her NatWest account, but when her information was processed that opt-out was captured incorrectly on NatWest's back office systems.
RBS explained that the CashbackPlus programme was launched, as a pilot, in January 2012, and SLC were contracted as data processor for the purpose of operating the programme, including managing the process for unsubscribing from marketing communications. RBS acknowledged, however, that they were ultimately responsible for managing their customers' marketing preferences. RBS said the unsubscribe process was tested prior to launch and no issues were identified, but following a complaint from a customer in April they had investigated the process and were advised by SLC that a technical solution had been put in place to fix the problem. However, they received a further three complaints in May, including one from the complainant to the ASA. They said that on further detailed investigation it was found that customers' marketing preferences were not being reflected correctly in the system-generated marketing lists. They confirmed they had received unsubscribe instructions from customers who had followed the process from the marketing e-mails and those e-mail addresses had been removed from the marketing database. However, a programming error had overwritten those instructions and consequently those customers had been included in subsequent mailings. The complainant, for example, had followed the unsubscribe process three times between late March and early May, but had continued to receive e-mails.
RBS said they had received a total of four complaints, including from the complainant to the ASA, and they had identified a total of 341 customers, out of 500,000 that had been e-mailed, who had unsubscribed but subsequently received CashbackPlus e-mails between February and May. They confirmed that error had now been fixed and vigorously tested prior to implementation, and since implementation they had carried out a number of spot checks to ensure the unsubscribe process was working as it should.
1. Not upheld
The ASA understood that the terms and conditions which applied to the complainant's account stipulated that NatWest might use and share account holders' information with other members of the RBS Group and with third parties providing services to the RBS Group. We therefore understood that by opening the account the complainant had agreed to that term. We concluded RBS had not breached the Code on this point.
On this point, we investigated the ad under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 10.9.3 and 10.12.1 (Database practice), but did not find it in breach.
We acknowledged it appeared that two unrelated errors had resulted, firstly, in the complainant receiving marketing e-mails when she had opted not to, and secondly, in her continuing to receive those e-mails after attempting to unsubscribe. We considered the combination of errors was unfortunate but nevertheless were concerned that RBS had not complied with the requirements of the CAP Code that marketing communications should not be sent to consumers who had asked not to receive them, and that consumers were entitled to have their personal information suppressed. We concluded RBS had breached the Code in those regards.
On this point, the ad breached CAP Codes (Edition 12) rules 10.4.4, 10.5 and 10.13.3 (Database practice).
3. Not upheld
We understood that customers' e-mail addresses had been suppressed from the marketing database when they followed the unsubscribe process, albeit that a programming error then resulted in those unsubscribe instructions being overwritten for some customers. We concluded the unsubscribe links on the e-mails were, therefore, genuine, and did not breach the Code.
On this point, we investigated the ad under CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 3.1 (Misleading advertising), but did not find it in breach.
We told RBS to ensure they did not send marketing communications to customers who had asked not to receive them, and to ensure that they suppressed customers’ personal information from marketing databases when asked.