Archbishop's radio interview 'must be music to Wonga's ears'

Wonga has survived the Church of England's blunted comms exercise in promoting its intention to compete with the payday loans industry well, according to Westbourne Communications' James Bethell.

Justin Welby: Archbishop of Canterbury
Justin Welby: Archbishop of Canterbury

The Archbishop of Canterbury was interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s Today Progamme this morning after the Financial Times reported yesterday that the Church held an investment in a private equity firm that has backed Wonga. The interview can be heard here or on the BBC Radio website:


‘I was amazed by the interview,’ said Bethell. ‘It was very odd because first of all the Archbishop wages war on your industry and initially you’re thinking oh my God this is bad news. By the next day he clearly embarrassed himself; his moral authority was undermined.

‘He pays tribute on air to the founder of Wonga and talks in a well-versed way about the systems and practices Wonga uses to look after its customers. Wonga has been differentiated from the rest of the industry.

‘He has gone out of his way to say what a swell guy Wonga founder Errol Damelin is, how well he runs Wonga and how the company is not the perpetrator of the worst practices, which must be music to the ears of the Wonga corporate brand team.’

Bethell stressed he was speaking in a personal capacity and not on behalf of the Consumer Finance Association, a trade body for payday lenders, which does not include Wonga. Westbourne was until recently handling press enquiries for the CFA on an interim basis.

Asked whether the controversy had helped or hindered the Church’s presumed comms objective of promoting its backing for credit unions as competition to payday lenders, Bethell argued it had been ‘a total failure from that point of view’.

‘The role of credit unions hasn’t come through at all. I haven’t seen any coverage of the good work that they have done, I haven’t seen any interviews with credit union bosses and I haven’t seen any case studies.

‘It’s all been about Welby himself and his personal views on restyling capitalism. We’re all interested in figuring out whether he’s got something to say about how capitalism emerges from the breakdown of our banking system. That’s the filter through which this whole story has been seen.’

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