Q: May a Person Use the Name, Logo, or Symbol of a Bank in Marketing Material?

A: Not if it is deceptive. More specifically, Wis. Stat. section 221.0404 provides, in summary, that no person may use the name, logo, or symbol of a bank, or such that is deceptively similar to that of a bank, in any marketing material provided to another person in a manner that a reasonable person may believe that the marketing material originated from the bank.

WBA is aware that potentially deceptive letters have recently circulated. Such letters often take the form of mortgage relief offers, solicited by individuals unassociated with the bank. Similar letters have also been seen by Paycheck Protection Program participants. Depending on the nature of these letters, they may violate section 221.0404. The Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions (DFI) has enforcement authority over this section, including the ability to issue cease and desist orders, and penalties. Banks that encounter such letters are encouraged to contact WBA, and DFI.

Note that to be a violation, the letter must be deceptive, meaning that a reasonable person reading the letter could believe it originated from the bank. A letter is not a violation if a reasonable person should recognize that it did not originate from the bank. This includes letters which display a disclaimer, such as to indicate that the sender is not affiliated with the bank. WBA has also spoken with DFI recently and learned that a letter might be deceptive based upon its envelope. Specifically, envelopes with a “window,” which reveals a portion of the letter including bank’s name. Even if there is a disclaimer in the letter inside, if it’s not visible on the envelope or through the “window,” it could be considered deceptive.

Even if a letter is not deceptive, banks might hear complaints from their customers. In such situations, banks might consider discussing with its customers how and when it will issue correspondence. This way, customers can easily identify what originates from the bank. Additionally, banks might consider discussing this matter with its customers at time of loan closing so they can be better prepared to identify these letters as not originating from the bank.

If you have any questions on this topic or other matters of compliance, contact WBA’s legal call program at 608-441-1200 or wbalegal@wisbank.com.

Birrenkott is WBA assistant director – legal.

Note: The above information is not intended to provide legal advice; rather, it is intended to provide general information about banking issues. Consult your institution’s attorney for special legal advice or assistance.