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Time to get out of the water

Web stats highlight growing demand for payday loans

Photograph: Getty Images

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That figure is already out of date.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