I know a guy on the board at Wonga. He’s a good, solid businessman; an experienced blue-chip director with an impressive corporate track record. So why on earth is he at Wonga? I’ve been asking myself this every time I’ve seen him squirm in the media trying desperately to defend the operating model he presides over.
I wish him no harm. He’s a good bloke – as much as I know of him. But I don’t get it and can’t help but think he is an integral part of the destructive and downright evil industry of which Wonga is the undisputed front runner. So I must admit I was delighted to read that the famous payday lender has been fined £30m and is considering an entire rebrand to relaunch the business following a catastrophic array of commercial disasters.
What Wonga do is plain wrong. Luring poverty-line families into spiralling, crippling debt with cheery, comical advertising and enough small print to drown a cat is an act of malice. What kind of sick people actually want to do that?
Crumbs of discomfort
I don’t care that they’ve been functioning within the law – thankfully the law is at last changing and taking a firm grip around the neck of Wonga and other like-minded (or mindless) loan firms – the truth is, you need a heart of stone to execute a business idea like that. Time and time again. And grow a huge business that is dependent on mis-communication, deceit, trickery and the financial desperation of millions of people.
I believe those that choose to work for them are therefore little better too. Now note I said “choose” to work there. Don’t get me wrong. Many people need any job they can get and I wouldn’t expect someone seeking out a £16k call centre job to help support their family and keep them in clothes and housing to turn down a job offer from the likes of Wonga. Needs must. But let’s go back to my man on the board…
This is a guy who was earning £400k in his previous role – I worked at the same company at the time, though sadly I was on only a fraction of his earnings. He amassed the same again in benefits, bonuses and pension payments. He left that job to go to Wonga, receiving a similar package.
He is clearly a commercial heavyweight. He could have walked into a whole host of great and glamorous roles. So why “choose” Wonga?
A former colleague suggested to me he had aspirations to clean up the business, turn it around and shape it into something sparkly, worthy and new. I don’t buy that at all. You can’t polish a turd, as the saying goes. In the core proposition of aggressive lending there are no ethics, or vague degrees of godliness.
I work in a part of the financial services arena that is far more stringently regulated and for a new innovative company that is honest, transparent and on the side of the customer. We face enormous pressure and interference at times from the governance of the industry regulator, the FCA.
It astonishes me that they are remotely concerned with triple checking the education logs of our ground level staff when there are issues like Wonga to confront. It’s akin to the age-old gripe of policemen pounding out needless paperwork for a petty theft when they could be pounding the streets hunting muggers and murderers.
As for the future of the industry, I hope the FCA moves a damn sight quicker than it normally does and stamps out the treacherous practices that still persist – for good. They are polluting and infecting the heart of our nation. And I would love to see high profile senior execs and board leaders from the financial industry – and beyond – make a public stand against such businesses to heap pressure on the government and the governance body to act once and for all.