Wonga hires Latvian specialist to run scandal-hit UK business

Tara Kneafsey has most recently been running RSA’s small business division

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Controversial payday loans company Wonga is looking to a financial expert who cut her teeth in the Latvian insurance market to mend its ways and improve its image.

Chairman Andy Haste, the former chief executive of the insurance giant RSA, has reached back to his old firm to hire Tara Kneafsey as it UK consumer loans managing director.

Wonga has been bringing in new management, including Mr Haste, who joined in July following its vilification for sending threatening letters to customers from non-existent companies appearing to be law firms.

Ms Kneafsey will be charged with leading Mr Haste’s strategy of reviewing Wonga’s list of customers and making sure it only lends to people who can reasonably afford to make the repayments on their loans, which have an avarage APR of 5853 per cent.

Also key to Mr Haste’s polishing of the tarnished image is a review of its advertising and public image generally. Wonga came in for huge criticism over its use of cuddly cartoon characters in advertising its loans.

Ms Kneafsey has most recently been running RSA’s small business division, which she has restructured and returned to profit, but perhaps her biggest task was leading its Latvian operations in the emerging  markets turmoil following the global financial crisis.

Mr Haste said: “Tara… will be instrumental in returning Wonga to its original vision - providing short-term loans to the right customers in a responsible and transparent way.

"Her appointment marks a major step in the changes we are making to the Group.”

She will start her new role later this year.