UK's biggest payday lender Wonga 'on the brink of collapse'
Britain’s biggest payday lender, Wonga, is teetering on the brink of collapse following a surge of customer compensation claims in recent weeks that could cause it to call in administrators.
The short term loan provider has reportedly lined up Grant Thornton the accountancy firm, to handle a potential administration of the company should its board believe it is unable to avoid falling into insolvency. The report from Sky News said Wonga could appoint Grant Thornton as soon as this week.
The flood of claims facing the company relate to loans taken out before 2014, when Wonga was the poster child for outrage in the payday lending industry that resulted in rules capping the cost of borrowing. Campaigners claimed the firm and others in the industry fleeced consumers with high interest rates and targeted vulnerable customers with slick marketing.
Wonga has shown signs of mounting difficulties in recent weeks. Earlier this month, it emerged the company received a £10m emergency cash injection from shareholders to save it from going bust. At the time, a spokesman said the firm was facing “a marked increase in claims related to legacy loans, driven principally by claims management company activity”.
Should the company fall into administration it would signal a remarkable fall from its previous status as one of the fastest-growing financial companies in the UK. The company was once touted for a stock exchange listing that could have valued it at more than $1bn (£780m) but was recently reported to be worth just $30m.
Sky News said the recent cash injection from investors had prompted a fresh wave of compensation demands from claims management companies, which have been raking through old loans taken out by consumers. The report also said executives at the company had been in talks with the Financial Conduct Authority over its future in recent weeks.Sign up to the daily Business Today email or follow Guardian Business on Twitter at @BusinessDesk
The FCA became responsible for overseeing the payday lending industry and placed a cap on the cost of credit in 2014, which observers say was responsible for pushing smaller payday firms out of the market. Wonga, which employs around 500 people, has reported losses in recent years following the introduction of the cap and several scrapes with the regulator, including a ruling forcing it to compensate customers for unfair debt collection practices.
Wonga has been accused in the past by MPs of charging exorbitant interest on short-term loans that amounted to “legal loan sharking”, while was also criticised by the Archbishop of Canterbury for destroying lives. Campaigners say that while payday lenders have reformed since regulators intervened, many households across Britain remain vulnerable.
A spokesman for Wonga said the board “continues to assess all options regarding the future of the group and all of its entities.” Grant Thornton did not respond to requests for comment, while a spokesman for the FCA declined to comment.
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