4th November 2013

Wonga: the Movie – will it win the critics over?

By Helen Gradwell on Monday November 4, 2013

Anticipation is reaching breaking point today as one of 2013’s biggest blockbusters is premiering. No, it’s not Gravity, Thor or even Jackass: Bad Grandpa.

It’s 12 Portraits – a half hour documentary showcasing 12 different Wonga customers and their experiences with the payday lending firm.

These customers include a range of people, like a biker who needed fuel at 2am and a man who borrowed to pay for his girlfriend’s 21stbirthday party.

This film comes after widespread criticism of Wonga and the payday lending industry in general. Everyone seems to have something to say about the firm and its 5853% APR, from business minister Jo Swinson to the Archbishop of Canterbury and footballer Papis Cisse.

Despite all this, Wonga remains wildly successful.

It recently posted profits of an astounding £1 million every single week and apparently one million shoppers plan to use the payday lender to fund Christmas.

Wonga is insistent, too, that its customers are very happy with the service it provides, and that these satisfied voices are woefully underrepresented in the media and public opinion. A quick look at their ‘OpenWonga’ website, which collects feedback from customers, reveals comments like this one:

I swear I would be lost if I didn’t have a WONGA account!!! I am on a 2 day business trip and left my purse at home :( logging into wonga and a few mins later I have just enough money to last until I get home!!!! Thanks WONGA!!! Xx
Clearly some people like Wonga so much, they’re happy to leave them kisses.
So, this film appears to be an attempt by the firm to show that it is not a ‘shark’, as it is often portrayed by newspapers. It is a responsible lender that simply gives customers what they want – quick cash with minimum fuss.

Wonga maintains that many of its customers are not struggling or desperate, they just want an alternative to banks.

And it’s true that Wonga has left conventional lenders in the dust when it comes to lending at any time of day, for any length of time. It sees its high interest rates as a ‘premium’ to pay for such a convenience – like taking a taxi.

In this film, I’m predicting we’ll see well-to-do young people who get into a bit of a temporary scrape, borrow only as much as they need and pay it back early. No biggie.

However, I’m really not sure that it will convince any of Wonga’s critics to change their minds on the subject. There are still horror stories of the £100 loan that turns into much more, rolling over every month and quickly escalating beyond control.

As for Wonga’s customers, I get the feeling that they would borrow from the payday lender anyway – film or no film.

They will continue to use quick fixes until conventional lenders catch up, or until more is done to educate people about the alternatives to payday loans (for example going to your local credit union or asking for an advance on your wages from your employer).

Oh, and they’ll also need some geriatric puppets to make their message a bit friendlier: