Wonga charm offensive is too little, too late

The changes at Wonga are not enough to convince <b>Simon Read</b> that Wonga is good for us

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Britain’s biggest payday lender, Wonga, is trying to reinvent itself.

It has ditched the annoying puppets and launched a new campaign featuring what it calls "hard-working people". Its new ad, first broadcast at prime-time last night, features footage of ordinary people at work, including cafeteria workers, farmers and dental nurses.

The company is apologetic about its past. "It is clear that the puppets were inappropriate," said Tara Kneafsey, the latest chief executive of the high-cost lender. It says it has even been considering ditching its Wonga brand but Chris Bibby, its marketing and brand director, said it would have been "wrong to whitewash it and pretend to be someone else".

He’s right about that. Wonga became synonymous with the worst excesses of the payday lending industry, with its annual percentage rate of 5,853 per cent and stories of vulnerable people being forced into unaffordable debt. The idea that the firm would even think it could simply sweep that horrible history into the past by changing its name is sickening. The only reason for doing so would be to trick people into thinking it is a trusted lender. It is not and it never will be. The loans it offers remain very costly at the new, lower APR of 1,509 per cent. 

It is worth reminding ourselves that the only reason that they have fallen to that level is because the City watchdog – the Financial Conduct Authority – forced all payday lenders to make their charges more reasonable. New rules introduced in January mean that lenders cannot charge customers more than 0.8 per cent in interest a day, and the  fees and charges cannot be more than double the original loan.

Wonga said it would go further than these requirements by introducing a 24-hour cooling off period, where a borrower can change their mind and return the loan at no cost, and a three-day grace period before it imposes a £15 late penalty. A good move –  but not enough to convince me that Wonga is good for us.

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