LONDON – Church of England leader Justin Welby was said to be “furious” Thursday after finding out its pension fund invested in a high-interest loans company he had earlier promised to destroy.
Welby, who as archbishop of Canterbury is spiritual leader of the world’s 85 million Anglicans, vowed to “compete” payday lender Wonga out of existence by promoting not-for-profit credit unions.
But the Financial Times revealed that the church had invested in U.S. venture capitalists Accel Partners, who led Wonga fundraising in 2009.
The church explicitly bans investing in firms involved in payday lending.
Lambeth Palace, the archbishop’s headquarters, said an independent inquiry will probe how “this serious inconsistency” occurred, while Sky News reported that Welby was “furious.”
He said in an interview published late Wednesday that he had told Errol Damelin, chief executive of the British payday lender Wonga, of his plans to take on his company.
Wonga is one of Britain’s best-known providers of short-term, high-interest loans. It also operates in South Africa.
Its customers are typically charged an interest rate that, expressed in annual terms, equates to 5,853 percent.
The loans are usually for amounts well under £1,000 ($1,500) and are agreed for up to six weeks.
There is a growing campaign in Britain against so-called payday lenders, and the £2 billion industry is facing investigation by the Competition Commission after a trading watchdog found there were “deep-rooted” problems with how it operates.
Wonga insists it is a responsible lender and that it has been “instrumental” in helping to raise industry standards.