After a relatively quiet couple of years for Wonga, the company’s reputation seems to be returning to haunt the company. The short term loan company returned to the headlines recently after shareholders had to provide an emergency £10 million to help fund increased numbers of compensation claims from former customers, and Populus’s analysis of Wonga’s reputation shows why it’s not a surprise that the company seems to be struggling to improve its financial situation.

In 2017, when Populus last measured Wonga’s Reputation Credit Score (Populus’s established method for measuring and comparing corporate reputations), it was a very poor 184 (out of 1,000) – the lowest amongst the UK public for any company measured.

Figure 1: company reputations among the UK public, mapped by Reputation Credit Score and Intensity Score (each dot represents a different company)

 

 

Wonga’s poor reputation has coincided with both a sustained period of pressure – from regulators, ex-customers and campaigners including the Church of England – and a period of poor financial performance and accompanied company losses.

The (very) small silver lining is that Wonga’s Reputation Credit Score improved very slightly from 157 in 2016, and this suggests Wonga’s strategy might be the right one. That strategy involved the arrival of Andy Haste – formerly of RSA Insurance Group – as Chairman, as well as the hiring of Tara Waite (also formerly of RSA) as CEO. The senior hires arriving from an established insurance group demonstrated Wonga was attempting to show a more respectable side. Indeed, Wonga’s website now takes great care to say that “Wonga is changing”.

But it doesn’t look like Wonga is changing quickly enough, or changing public perception quickly enough at least. And reputation, of course, matters. Any company with the sort of reputation Wonga has had over the past few years is likely to struggle to attract customers, and our research backs this up. Amongst those who give Wonga a low Reputation Credit Score (the vast majority of the UK population), 89% say they would not be at all likely to consider the company and just 3% would definitely consider it (figure 2).

Figure 2: impact of reputation on consideration

Furthermore, reputation does not just impact on consumer behaviour. It affects the way legislators and commentators treat you and Wonga particularly suffered from the Financial Conduct Authority’s decision to cap the cost of loans, which was supported by campaigners including Which? and numerous parliamentarians.

Wonga may well argue that the cash injection it received this week was simply a temporary measure to address a temporary problem. But its poor reputation is not fleeting. Rather, it has the worst Reputation Score of the 129 companies Populus has measured in the UK and most adults say they would not consider Wonga.

That is not a temporary problem. Staying under the radar and hoping some of the anger goes away is one strategy to deal with it, and an understandable one. Fundamentally changing business behaviour and demonstrating that “Wonga has changed” would also be sensible. But one has to ask, with a reputation as poor as this, can anything other than a rebrand – with the fresh start it might bring – save Wonga from its own reputation?

Methodology

The Populus Reputation Measurement approach has been constantly developed over 13 years, and is a proven series of tools, techniques and analysis which allows reputation to be understood, influenced and improved. It combines robust research with analytics, benchmarks, actionable advice and strategic counsel. For more information, view our solutions.

Populus interviewed 1,109 UK adults (18+) online between 21 and 22 July 2017

Populus unlocks the Critical Knowledge that brands need to better understand the world around us. We add value to our findings by applying expert analysis to uncover clear, actionable insight. Find out more by calling 020 7253 9900 or emailing info@populus.co.uk. 


Owen Thomas

Owen Thomas is a Director at Populus managing a wide variety of stakeholder, political and reputation research projects that aim to equip clients with a better understanding of the issues that matter most to them and their stakeholders. He is a key member of the Reputation & Strategy team who has developed his expertise overseeing qualitative workshops and consultations, examining the reputation of some of the UK’s largest companies among political stakeholders and conducting extensive research into senior opinion-formers’ attitudes towards the post-crash economy.