|Headquarters||London, United Kingdom|
|Key people||Tim Weller (Interim Chief Executive)|
Wonga.com (a trading name of WDFC UK Limited) is a British payday loan company offering "short-term, high-cost credit". The interest charged by the lender, which can equate to an annual percentage rate of more than 5000%, has been widely criticised. Wonga have said that they believe that APR is a poor measure of the true cost of short-term loans. As of November 2013, a loan of £100 over seventeen days (Wonga's average loan term) required £123.44 to repay.
The firm operates in the UK, South Africa, Canada, Spain, Germany and Poland. The company invented fully automated risk processing technology to provide short-term, unsecured personal loans online, including via tablet and mobile app. The service was launched in October 2007. The firm was the first to provide an instant lending application on the iPhone.
Consumer credit suppliers were regulated in the UK by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) until April 2014, and then by the new Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). The firm's lending practices have been controversial, and they have been criticised in Parliament and by the regulators, media and religious sources. In 2014 the firm was ordered by the FCA to pay compensation of £2.6m to borrowers for bad debt collection practices, including in 2010 sending and charging for letters purporting to be from law firms (which did not in fact exist) threatening legal action. The Guardian newspaper reported the head of the Law Society as saying that Wonga's activity, which he qualified as dishonest, could amount to blackmail, deception, and other breaches of the law. A formal police investigation for fraud was being considered as of 27 June 2014[update].
- 1 Development and funding
- 2 Corporate structure and alleged tax avoidance
- 3 Ownership
- 4 Customer profile
- 5 APR and the cost of a Wonga loan
- 6 Defaults and renewal of loans
- 7 Debt collection practices
- 8 Religious criticism
- 9 Political criticism
- 10 Sponsorship and public relations
- 11 Stella Creasy
- 12 Awards
- 13 CEO History
- 14 See also
- 15 References
- 16 External links
Development and funding
Wonga was founded by Errol Damelin (Chief Executive Officer) in October 2006 and he linked up with software engineer Jonty Hurwitz in January 2007.  Both Damelin and Hurwitz had previous internet start-up experience; neither had any experience of retail banking. When the company first started looking for funding, potential investors saw the short-term, small-loans business as an unprofitable, risky backwater. After being denied funding by UK banks, Wonga secured venture capital through Balderton Capital. The first place of business was in a shared office space in St. John's Wood, London. After a year of software development a beta website was launched in 2007. In interviews, Damelin has said that the goal was to disrupt the short-term credit industry by providing transparency, exact control of amount and payment date, immediate access to funds, and no faxing or emailing documents. The business model of lending only to those who could pay back reliably, as opposed to the much wider catchment practice of payday loans required an algorithm that could fully determine risk in an automated manner - something they had difficulty developing in the early stages. In order to get funds directly to customer's bank accounts as quickly as possible, cooperation from leading banks was required. Banks were reportedly dismissive of Wonga's plan saying they would not be totally satisfied with customer identity without physical documentation.
Within five minutes of launch, the first loan application was processed, and within a week the first loan default occurred. The subsequent months of operation showed increased demand, but traditional methods of credit risk assessment proved inadequate and the company experienced default rates of around 50%. The company used this period to gather data on customer behaviour and began developing their own proprietary risk technology. The full market launch of Wonga.com was July 2008 and 100,000 loans were reached by June 2009. Through the experience of processing these loans, the company developed technologies which began to dramatically reduce the percentage of defaults. In July 2009 Wonga raised a further £13.9m of funding in a Round B led by Accel Partners, Greylock Partners and Dawn Capital which improved the technology and the launch in December 2009 of the first end-to-end iPhone credit app. In 2009 the company was already profitable and default rates were below 10%, less than the average for credit cards. A third round of funding was completed in 2011, for £73m led by Oak Investment Partners including additional investors Meritech Capital Partners and the Wellcome Trust. By the end of 2011, Wonga's technology could reliably reject two thirds of applications and predict to 93% accuracy the ability of a customer to repay a loan. In May 2012, they opened a business in South Africa offering consumer loans. The Daily Telegraph reported in November 2012 that Wonga were also testing their technology in Canada.
Corporate structure and alleged tax avoidance
Wonga is a trading name of WDFC UK Limited. Also incorporated is Wonga.com Limited and Wonga Group Limited. All are companies incorporated in the United Kingdom but not quoted on the stock market. Also associated with the group is a Swiss registered firm, WDFC SA (formerly known as Wonga International AG), which processes credit applications on behalf of Wonga and owns the trademark to the Wonga name.
By 2011, Wonga had refined its business model to such an extent that it started to make significant profits and in September 2012 it reported profits of £45.8m for 2011 from revenue of £185m, up from a profit of £12.4m in 2010. The involvement of the Swiss company and the transfer of the trademark to it in 2012 have been seen by Corporate Watch as part of a scheme by the firm designed to avoid tax. According to Accountancy Age, in 2012, a net amount of £35 million was paid to WDFC SA, the profit on which will only be taxed in Switzerland. Several Wonga executives, are now believed to be based in Geneva in connection with the business of WDFC SA.
In 2013 an Irish subsidiary of Wonga patented "user authentication software", telling Corporate Watch that "it is common practice for international groups to consolidate their IP holdings in a location where the substantial activity relating to the IP is performed." Richard Murphy from Tax Research UK commented that "the transfer of key business processes - especially those that are technology based and that can be protected by patents and copyrights - is a classic way in which companies try to move their profits between countries."
Over 180 million shares of the company are owned by Venture Capital firms, around 77.1%. The balance of the company is owned by staff, board members and founders with Errol Damelin owning 26.5m shares through Castle Bridge Ventures, an offshore trust based in the British Virgin Islands, while Jonty Hurwitz owns 12.6m shares (around 5.5%) through a BVI company.[verification needed] Damelin resigned as Chief Executive in November 2013 to become part time Chairman and Non-Executive Director. He resigned entirely as a Director in June 2014. Hurwitz resigned from the company in November 2011 and left the board of Wonga in November 2013.
Wonga claims that its customers are "tech-savvy young professionals who previously used the banks to borrow money". It accepts that its APR is "not cheap" but claims that its typical customer is on a mid-level salary and is temporarily short of cash because of an unexpected bill, for example to buy a new central heating boiler or tickets to a music festival.
Dr Gathergood of the University of Nottingham described payday loan users as falling into two groups, those who have had a financial shock but can repay the money and those who were unable to control their expenditure, though he said lenders preferentially associated their clients with the first group. The committee also looked at credit unions. Mark Lyonette of Association of British Credit Unions said that although credit unions now provided 90 million loans in the United States, they were not able to match the "sophisticated automation and credit scoring behind the scenes" of the "high-tech, payday-lending Wonga model" though he welcomed the possibility of using Post Offices as a vehicle to expand the Credit Union market in the UK.
Wonga has said that most applicants are not credit-worthy enough to obtain a loan from the firm and it only lends to those with a good credit record. Some commentators, however, have warned that taking a loan from a payday lender can damage the customer's credit record and their ability to obtain a mortgage, even where the loan was repaid years ago. Ray Boulger of John Charcol, for instance, told BBC Newsnight that "Our experience is that mortgage lenders will often turn down requests for people who have had a payday loan...", and Robert Sinclair, Chief Executive of the Association of Mortgage Intermediaries, said "From a consumer perspective, anybody who takes out a payday loan is clearly showing some financial distress and existing lenders will think these consumers may be maxed out."
APR and the cost of a Wonga loan
The firm claims its loans are often cheaper than unauthorised bank charges and although APR disclosure is mandatory, it is a poor comparison measure for short term loans. The Business, Innovation and Skills Committee heard evidence from consumer money expert Martin Lewis that the total cost of a payday loan was more useful than APR. Lewis calculated in his blog that at a compounding interest rate of 4,212%, a £100 loan that is not repaid would in seven years amount to more than the USA's entire national debt, however, he explained that his calculation "bears little resemblance to reality", because Wonga does not charge compound interest. He also explained that he had performed this calculation purely to raise awareness of the risks of payday loans and concluded by expressing the hope that his example would make people "think twice before getting payday borrowing". Wonga have stated that they stop charging interest altogether once a loan becomes more than 60 days overdue.
Wonga argue that their rates may be high but the amount charged is transparent and without lenders like them, borrowers would be forced to use illegal lenders. In April 2014, a loan shark in Manchester was jailed for illegal money lending and other offences despite claiming that his rates were lower than Wonga. His lawyer said: "Within his community there are large numbers of people who because of their debt history are very limited in terms of the places they can go, other than companies such as Wonga."
Defaults and renewal of loans
Wonga states that if the money is not available on the day a customer has nominated to pay it back, a £30 fee will be charged and interest will accrue for a maximum of 60 days and does not allow automatic "rolling over" of loans, limiting to specific requests and to a maximum of three instances in accordance with the Finance and Leasing Association lending code.
On 28 November 2012, following concerns that small loans, intended to be short-term, could become prohibitively expensive, the government announced it would give the Financial Conduct Authority powers to prevent indefinite rolling over of loans and effectively limit charges.
Debt collection practices
In May 2012 the company was required by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) to improve its debt collection practices, after it it was found that it had sent letters to customers in 2010 accusing them of committing fraud and saying that the police might be informed. Telephone scripts used by Wonga warned borrowers working in the public or financial sectors that their terms of employment said they should not be in debt. Wonga appealed the decision and said it believed it had grounds for suspecting dishonest conduct by the specific customers to whom letters had been sent, and that they had been sent on isolated occasions more than 18 months previously and had not been sent since. It stated that it had put in place procedures to make sure similar problems did not occur in future, and that since then it referred cases of suspected fraud to an in-house team to investigate. The phone scripts had not been used since January 2010, it said. In November 2013, after being challenged repeatedly by Members of Parliament in a Business, Innovation and Skills select committee hearing on pay day lenders, Wonga said that they had not been censured by the OFT, but had been asked to make various changes, and that criticism by the OFT was "an open issue"; the company could not say more on an ongoing process. The practice of allowing debtors to "roll on" an existing loan was also called into question by the MPs.  Regulation for the consumer credit industry passed from the OFT to the new Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) from April 2014.
In June 2014 the FCA found that Wonga's debt collection practices were unfair and ordered that they compensate affected customers. The FCA found that between October 2008 and November 2010, Wonga had sent their customers letters purporting to be from non-existent law firms "Chainey, D'Amato & Shannon" and "Barker and Lowe Legal Recoveries", described as "fake" in reports, in order to collect money from them. In some cases, customers were charged for the supposed lawyers' fees for these letters; Labour MP Stella Creasy asked why the police were not investigating. This practice had been uncovered by the OFT in 2011, after Wonga was asked to disclose information about its debt collection practices."Wonga's misconduct was very serious because it had the effect of exacerbating an already difficult situation for customers in arrears," said Clive Adamson, director of supervision at the FCA. He added: "The FCA expects firms to pay particular attention to fair treatment of those who have difficulty in meeting their loan repayments". Richard Lloyd of Which? magazine described the findings as "a shocking new low for the payday industry that is already dogged by bad practice and Wonga deserves to have the book thrown at it." Wonga UK Managing Director, Tessa Cook, said: "Today is not a proud day for Wonga and I'd like to apologise"  As the misconduct happened before the FCA took over the regulation of payday lenders, it is unable to fine Wonga. It also said there would be no criminal investigation as it wanted to set up a compensation scheme (of about £2.6 million) as quickly as possible and a criminal probe would take time. However, the issue was later passed onto the police for potential criminal investigation.
In May 2012, Justin Welby called Wonga.com's high interest rates "shocking" and "usurious". Wonga declined to comment. Welby was the Bishop of Durham and had been an oil company treasurer. In 1992 he had published a booklet, Can Companies Sin? 'Whether', 'How' and 'Who' in Company Accountability.
By July 2013, Welby was Archbishop of Canterbury and had been a member of the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards. He announced that he had had a "good conversation" with Errol Damelin and told him that he wanted to see competition, not legislation, put Wonga out of business. According to the BBC the church would help credit unions by providing premises and expertise. However Welby was reported to be furious when the Financial Times pointed out that, despite denying involvement in payday lending, the Church Pension fund invested in venture capitalists Accel Partners which raised funds for Wonga in 2009.
In a November 2013 interview for ITV, Niall Wass defended the firm's practices and challenged critics to "go use the service, see if you think it is fair and transparent, take out £30 for ten days, pay it back after a week, look at the price, tell me if that is fair and transparent."
An All-party Early Day Motion tabled in November 2011 highlighted Wonga's "high APR" and seeks to restrict the level of interest that can be charged on all loans by financial institutions. MP Stella Creasy has also proposed legislation for interest rate caps. A Policis report on proposed interest rate capping said it would cause an exit from the market and those with access to the credit mainstream would be diverted to products such as overdrafts and revolving credit that could be higher cost than high APR products and those without access to credit would be diverted to the black credit market. The Times said capping will further limit the availability of credit to people from regulated entities.
In June 2013, the consumer minister called payday lenders to a summit to discuss "widespread irresponsible lending." The article quoted the APR of Wonga -the largest lender as 5835%. Wonga's pre-tax profits were quoted as £62.4m.
In November 2013, Labour Party leader Ed Miliband criticised payday lenders for creating a "Wonga economy" and "a quiet crisis of thousands of families trapped in unpayable debt." He also called for Wonga's cartoon-type ads aired during children's programmes to be banned, and promised to introduce legislation to that effect. He accused Wonga and other payday lenders of 'targeting children'.
Sponsorship and public relations
Wonga sponsored free travel on the London Underground on New Year's Eve in 2010, and posters were put up on the network advertising the website with the slogan "sometimes you need some extra cash". A member of the London Assembly said that it was 'shameful' that the Mayor of London had allowed such sponsorship at a time of year when people are most vulnerable financially. Media Week noted that the deal was "highly criticised" and that Transport for London later banned payday loan companies from sponsoring their services.
In August 2012 the company launched OpenWonga, an online "digital platform that aims to 'inform the debate' around the brand".
In October 2012 Wonga announced that they were sponsoring the football team Newcastle United for £8m a year. Several MPs spoke out against the deal and the leader of Newcastle City Council told The Guardian he was "appalled and sickened" that the club had signed a deal with "a legal loan shark" and in July 2013 Papiss Cissé refused to wear the kit, citing religious reasons as a practising Muslim despite "pictures ..of him gambling in a casino". In 2012, Wonga.com sponsored ITV's Red or Black, which received wide criticism.
The Guardian reported, in November 2012, that a computer in the Wonga offices appeared to have been used to remove from the company's Wikipedia page a reference to controversy over its sponsorship of Newcastle United Football Club and to delete the category of "usury" under the See Also section.
On 20 November 2012, British MP Stella Creasy demanded an apology from the company after The Guardian reported that abusive tweets were sent to her by Wonga employees. Further investigation of the Creasy case showed that computers registered to Wonga.com's London office were used to abuse Creasy over Twitter, and delete criticism, as well as the reference to "usury" from Wikipedia's Wonga.com page. Wonga.com admitted that a "junior employee" may have sent the tweets and defended what it regards as its right to correct "inaccurate" Wikipedia articles, though Wikipedia policy on conflict of interest says such edits are "strongly discouraged." Wonga.com later apologised to Creasy and condemned the Twitter comments, saying they were posted without the knowledge of the company and disciplinary action would be taken.
- Fastest Growing Company - Media Momentum Awards 2012
- Number 1 in The Sunday Times Tech Track 100 2011
- Winner The Guardian Digital Innovation Digital Entrepreneur Award 2011
- Alternative Lender of the Year - Credit Today Magazine 2010
- December 2006 to November 2013 - Errol Damelin 
- November 2013 to May 2014 - Neil Wass 
- May 2014 to present - Tim Weller 
- Simon Read (10 October 2012). "Simon Read: Need cash? Need an APR of 4,214 per cent? Welcome to Newcastle's new sponsor Wonga". The Independent. Retrieved 4 December 2012.
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- Wonga.com, 27 June 2014. Retrieved 27 June 2014.
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- Wonga shifts part of business to tax haven Switzerland despite not offering loans there Nick Sommerlad, mirror.co.uk, 10 October 2013.
- Wonga denies tax avoidance as head of HMRC is to be recalled to Parliament over failure to collect £4.7bn from UK businesses by Matt West, thisismoney.co.uk, 12 October 2013. Retrieved 9 November 2013. Archived here.
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- "Wonga co-founder is the latest to exit payday lender" in The Times, 14 June 2014.
- Murray-West, Rosie (19 November 2011). "Wonga's interest rate of 4,200pc? It's not an automatic red card". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 16 March 2012.
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- Wonga boss answers Newsbeat listeners' questions BBC Radio 1 Newsbeat, 5 November 2013. Retrieved 7 November 2013.
- Payday loans spell trouble for mortgage applications by Devraj Ray in moneymarketing.co.uk, 17 November 2013. Retrieved 23 November 2013. Archived here.
- Murray-West, Rosie (19 September 2011). "Wonga's interest rate of 4,200pc? It's not an automatic red card". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 17 March 2012. "The company's loans of up to £400 are available for one day to a month, and interest is charged at 1pc a day."
- Fact: borrowing £100 at Wonga’s APR costs more than the US national debt (over $14 trillion) after 7 years! Martin Lewis, moneysavingexpert.com, 21 September 2011. Retrieved 23 November 2013. Archived here.
- Wonga - APR Explained - 5,853% - A little film about a big number. by Wonga.com, YouTube.com, 2013. Retrieved 23 November 2013.
- Loan shark jailed despite plea for mercy to judge saying his rates were better than Wonga.com by Chris Osuh, Manchester Evening News, 10 April 2014. Archived here.
- "Lending Code 2012". Finance and Leasing Association. Retrieved 18 March 2012.
- Read, Simon (30 January 2012). "Roll Over Curbs Agreed by WOnga". The Independent. Retrieved 18 March 2012. "Britain's biggest payday loan company, Wonga, has signed up to a new code of practice being introduced on Wednesday that will restrict the number of times a loan can be extended."
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- Hilary Osbourne (22 May 2012). OFT criticises Wonga debt collection practices "OFT criticises Wonga debt collection practices". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 June 2013.
- Daily Telegraph newspaper: OFT instructed Wonga to make changes to its business,
- "Wonga to pay redress for unfair debt collection practices". Financial Conduct Authority. 25 June 2014. Retrieved 25 June 2014.
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- Creasey, Stella. "Consumer Credit (Regulation and Advice) Bill 2010-12". UK Parliament. Retrieved 18 March 2012.
- "Briefing note on the potential impact of price caps on low income credit users" (PDF). Policis. Retrieved 18 March 2012. "Some of those who lose access to credit will be diverted to the black credit market, where costs and risks will be significantly higher and outcomes more damaging"
- King, Ian (24 January 2012). "Lending in the Public Interest". The Times. Retrieved 18 March 2012. "The upshot of placing restrictions on the terms at which payday loan companies do business will further limit the availability of credit to people from regulated entities. Such customers will then, likely as not, head to unregulated lenders whose complaints management procedure involves not the Financial Services Authority but baseball bats and snarling dogs."
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- Alex Brownsell (2012-08-02). "Wonga counters 'hyperbole' with online debate platform". Marketing Magazine. Retrieved 2012-11-24.
- Newcastle United (9 October 2012). "Newcastle United sponsorship deal with Wonga will see St James' Park reinstated as stadium name". Telegraph. Retrieved 21 November 2012.
- "Wonga shirt sponsorship dilemma for Newcastle Utd". BBC News. 9 October 2012. Retrieved 21 November 2012.
- David Conn (9 October 2012). "MPs attack Newcastle's Wonga deal, dubbing company 'legal loan shark'". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 November 2012.
- Luke Edwards (30 Jul 2013). "Newcastle United striker Papiss Demba Cisse dons Wonga-sponsored shirt for first time". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 28 September 2013.
- "Wonga apologises over abusive messages to Stella Creasy". The Guardian. 2012-11-21. Retrieved 2013-07-30.
- MP demands apology after abusive tweets are traced to Wonga employee | Business | guardian.co.uk
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Media related to Wonga.com at Wikimedia Commons