Archbishop of Canterbury 'should try Wonga', boss urges

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Should the Archbishop of Canterbury use the payday lender Wonga? The boss of the company appears to think so, and has described the controversial firm's critics as "prejudiced".

In the company's first television interview, on ITV News at 10 tonight, Niall Wass, the chief operating officer, told me that Wonga is an ethical company, and challenged politicians and opponents of the fast-growing finance company to try the service themselves before judging it for preying on the vulnerable.

The company has taken the extremely unusual step of asking a documentary maker to put together a film about the company's customers.

They insist it has been independently made and they did not, they say, take part in choosing the customers who he interviewed.

Ahead of the film's première in a London cinema tonight, Wass, clearly frustrated with the common perception of the company, told me: "I don't think the vast majority of commentators who talk about the business have either used the product, really looked through our customer profiles, or indeed spoken to any of our customers."

He said critics "jump to conclusions without looking at the facts."

Wass says that the typical Wonga customer is not someone who is in financial strife but the majority are between 18 and 34 and more tech-savvy than the majority.

"They are mainstream UK," he says, "these are regular, everyday Britons."

He admits that some customers sometimes get themselves into trouble, but says their data shows 90% are happy with the service.

He says he does have a "responsibility" to the 10 percent who have a bad experience - "I'm not sitting here saying everything we do is perfect" - but claims the company tries to fix mistakes as soon as they are flagged up.

And on the accusation that the company's astronomical APR rates of more than 5,000 percent are outrageous, Wass describes that measure as a "misleading" figure that is not "appropriate".

Wonga, like some other lenders, have to publish the annual rates, even if they sell short term loans.

Wonga says their average loan is paid back within 17 days, and he calls on the regulator to "have a relook at that [APR rate] and consider what is a more appropriate figure for short term lending - in our opinion that is the total cost of credit."

But why lend to those who need tiny amounts of money? I asked why Wonga will lend as little as £1.

He says: "We just decided to give the greatest amount of flexibility…that is much more important" than setting a minimum.

Wass adds: "It's not in our interest to lend to vulnerable people because typically vulnerable people won't pay us back, quite simply.

"Our models are designed to make money when people pay us back, not to get people trapped into some kind of spiral of debt."

So Wass challenges the Archbishop and other 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."

Even before the company broke its silence, Wonga courted controversy. In this, their first interview, there is no sign they'll shy away from it.