Time to get out of the water

Web stats highlight growing demand for payday loans

For a newly elected MP, Walthamstow MP Stella Creasy can take a bow. The campaign she has led against payday loans has been pretty effective.

The latest, in case you missed it, is that the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) is to investigate 50 UK payday lenders amid concerns that some firms are taking advantage of vulnerable consumers.

The scale and continuing growth of the payday loans sector – or as Creasy would call it, the legal loan shark industry – is a worrying sign of the times.

In February, the Coop Bank found that 5 per cent of the British population accumulated debt in 2011 due to payday loans.

That figure is already out of date.

A report recently released by Greenlight, the leading independent digital marketing agency, provides further evidence of the growing size of the payday loan industry.

In January, UK consumers made a total of 2.5m online searches for retail banking-related products.

Loans accounted for the majority (37 per cent) of searches (934,234) with the keywords ‘Loans’, ‘Payday loans’ and ‘Student loans’ being the top three terms consumers used to conduct their searches.

Specfically, the search term ‘payday loans’ accounted for 165,000 or 7 per cent of all retail banking searches in January.

By contrast, searches for the terms ‘credit cards’ and ‘mortgages’ each scored a mere 4 per cent of all searches.

So, just to labour the point, almost as many searches were conducted for payday loans as for searches for credit cards and mortgages, combined.

The Greenlight research also flags up conclusively just how aggressive and digital-savvy the payday loans sector has become.

MoneySupermarket.com is the most visible online retail banking-related online advertiser, achieving a 71 per cent share of voice through bidding on 25 keywords, at an average ad position of four. That finding comes as no surprise and is not exactly a cause for concern.

And the second most visible online banking advertiser? Step forward Wonga, with a 33 per cent share of visibility through bidding on four keywords.

Its payday rival QuickQuid displayed the most visible ad creatives of any advertiser (equal with Tesco Bank) while the top 10 also featured ww.minicredit.co.uk and www.paydayuk.co.uk.

If you think that it is bad in the UK, it is arguably worse in the US.

In the US, the numbers are staggering with an estimated 12m Americans annually caught in long-term debt from payday loans, according to non-profit research and policy organisation, the Centre for Responsible Lending. In contrast to the position in the UK, a number of leading US retail banks have jumped onto the bandwagon and are offering a range of payday loan products.

Wells Fargo, Regions Financial, US Bank and Fifth Third are just some of the largest US retail banks to offer payday loans.

It will be a brave –or rather foolish - UK retail bank which looks to follow their lead with such a product launch.

Meantime, pending the OFT investigation being concluded, one would hope that the payday loans sector might have the commercial and political savvy to clean up their act.

They could, for example, take steps to ensure that customers are not trapped into a cycle of debt by ending the rolling over of payday loans; they could consider the radical step of self-regulation by getting by on less than the APRs of, say the 4,214 per cent charged by www.wonga.com

Then again, pigs might fly.

The chances are that this is one area of retail banking where we might witness something approaching a consensus: that it is an area overdue for regulation.

That would be a right result for the new girl in the House from Walthamstow.

Douglas Blakey is the editor of Retail Banker International

Photograph: Getty Images

Douglas Blakey is the editor of Retail Banker International

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In her first interview of 2017, I pressed the Prime Minister for Brexit clarity

My week, including running out of cat food, reading Madeleine Thien – oh, and interviewing Theresa May on my show.

As the countdown to going live begins in your ear, there’s always a little rush of adrenalin. Especially when you’re about to launch a new Sunday morning political programme. And especially when you’re about to conduct the Prime Minister’s first interview of 2017. When you hear the words, “Cue Sophy,” there’s a split-second intake of breath – a fleeting moment of anticipation – before you start speaking. Once the show is under way, there’s no time to step back and think; you’re focused on what’s happening right now. But for that brief flicker of time before the camera trained on you goes live, you feel the enormity of what’s happening. 

My new show, Sophy Ridge on Sunday, launched on Sky News this month. After five years as a political correspondent for the channel, I have made the leap into presenting. Having the opportunity to present my own political programme is the stuff that dreams are made of. It’s a bit like having your own train set – you can influence what stories you should be following and which people you should be talking to. As with everything in television, however, it’s all about the team, and with Toby Sculthorp, Tom Larkin and Matthew Lavender, I’m lucky enough to have a great one.

 

Mayday, mayday

The show gets off to a fantastic start with an opportunity to interview the Prime Minister. With Theresa May, there are no loose comments – she is a cautious premier who weighs up every word. She doesn’t have the breezy public school confidence of David Cameron and, unlike other politicians I’ve met, you don’t get the sense that she is looking over her shoulder to see if there is someone more important that she should be talking to.

In the interview, she spells out her vision for a “shared society” and talks about her desire to end the stigma around mental health. Despite repeated pressing, she refuses to confirm whether the UK will leave the single market as it leaves the European Union. However, when you consider her commitment to regaining control of immigration and UK borders, it’s very difficult – almost impossible – to see how Britain could remain a member. “Often people talk in terms as if somehow we are leaving the EU but we still want to kind of keep bits of membership of the EU,” she said. “We are leaving. We are coming out. We are not going to be a member of the EU any longer.” Draw your own conclusions.

 

Women on top

This is probably the kind of thing that I should remain demurely quiet about and allow other people to point out on my behalf. Well, screw that. I think it’s fantastic to see the second female prime minister deciding to give her first interview of the New Year to the first woman to front a Sunday morning political show on television. There, I said it.

 

Escaping the bubble

In my view, every journalist should make a New Year’s resolution to get out of London more. The powerful forces that led to the political earthquake of 2016 came from outside the M25. Every week, I’ll be travelling to a different part of the country to listen to people’s concerns so that I can directly put them to the politicians that I interview. This week, it was Boston in Lincolnshire, where the highest proportion of people voted to leave the European Union.

Initially, it was tricky to get people to speak on camera, but in a particularly friendly pub the Bostonians were suddenly much more forthcoming. Remain supporters (a minority, I know) who arrogantly dismiss Leave voters as a bunch of racists should listen to the concerns I heard about a race to the bottom in terms of workers’ rights. Politicians are often blamed for spending too much time in the “Westminster bubble”, but in my experience journalists are often even worse. Unless we escape the London echo chamber, we’ll have no chance of understanding what happened in 2016 – and what the consequences will be in 2017.

 

A room of one’s own

Last December, I signed a book deal to write the story of women in politics. It’s something I’m passionate about, but I’ll admit that when I pitched the idea to Hachette I had no idea that 2016 would turn out to be quite so busy. Fitting in interviews with leading female politicians and finding the time to write the damn thing hasn’t been easy. Panic-stricken after working flat out during the EU campaign and the historic weeks after, I booked myself into a cottage in Hythe, a lovely little market town on the Kent coast. Holed up for two weeks on my own, feeling a million miles away from the tumultuous Westminster, the words (finally) started pouring on to the page. Right now, I’m enjoying that blissful period between sending in the edited draft and waiting for the first proofs to arrive. It’s nice not to have that nagging guilty feeling that there’s something I ought to be doing . . .

 

It’s all over Mao

I read books to switch off and am no literary snob – I have a particular weakness for trashy crime fiction. This week, I’ve been reading a book that I’m not embarrassed to recommend. Do Not Say We Have Nothing, by the Canadian author Madeleine Thien, tells the haunting story of musicians who suffered during the Cultural Revolution in China. It’s also a chilling warning of what happens when anger towards the elite is pushed too far.

 

Political animals

However busy and exhilarating things are at work, my cat, Ned, will always give me a reality check. In the excitement of the first Sophy Ridge on Sunday, I forgot to get him any food. His disappointed look as he sits by his empty bowl brings me crashing back down to earth. A panicked dash to Sainsbury’s follows, the fuel warning light on all the way as I pray I don’t run out of petrol. Suddenly, everything is back to normal.

“Sophy Ridge on Sunday” is on Sky News on Sundays at 10am

Sophy Ridge is a political correspondent for Sky News.

This article first appeared in the 12 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's revenge