Provident Financial withdraws from doorstep lending after 140 years

Credit company Provident Financial has announced it is withdrawing from doorstep lending after 140 years.

The company blamed “changing industry and regulatory dynamics” as well as “shifting customer preferences”.

Ending the doorstep lending business, which lent to people with poor credit records, puts 2,100 jobs at risk.

The action is part of plans to become a “broader banking group to the financially underserved customer”, said chief executive Malcolm Le May.

Provident said its home credit business would now either be sold or wound down.

The company reported a pre-tax loss of £113.5m for 2020, with the bulk of the losses – £74.9m – coming from the home credit division.

In future, Provident will focus on the group’s profitable credit card and unsecured personal loan division Vanquis Bank, which made £38m last year, and its car finance business Moneybarn which brought in £10m.

“I am pleased to say that Vanquis Bank and Moneybarn remained profitable for 2020 as a whole and have started 2021 positively,” said Mr Mr Le May.

Provident has been lending and collecting repayments on the doorstep since the 1880s and, at the last count, this part of the business had about 311,000 customers. Loans are often for small amounts, but not always, and at relatively high interest rates.

Its lending is legal and approved by the City regulator, but it has been controversial. Some campaigners regard such operations as “legal loan sharks”.

One 52-year-old, who borrowed with Provident for 30 years, said he had taken loans totalling £60,000 but it was a “vicious circle”.

“It was for basic spending, and Christmas, but was too convenient,” he said.

The company’s payday lending arm – called Satsuma – began operating in 2013 and had recently stopped lending to new customers.

Debt adviser Sara Williams, who runs the Debt Camel blog, said: “In August 2020 the Financial Conduct Authority said prolonged relending can be harmful to borrowers. And the Financial Ombudsman has been upholding 75% of affordability complaints against Provident – I estimate the average refund is about £5,000 and many are over £10,000.

“From this point, the doorstep lending model has looked dead in the water. There is no way to restructure doorstep lending to be profitable without a significant amount of relending.”

As with many businesses operating in non-mainstream lending, there have been a flood of complaints that the appropriate affordability checks were not carried out when doorstep loans and payday loans were granted. Many of these complaints have been made through claims management companies.

Provident said the second half of last year had seen a 200% rise in complaints compared with the first half, and £25m had been paid out.

The City regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority, is investigating Provident for the way it handled complaints in the year to February.

In March, the company outlined a plan, called a scheme of arrangement, to limit compensation paid to customers who were mis-sold loans. Voting on the proposal was expected in July. The FCA has expressed concern about the idea.

Jason Wassell, chief executive of the Consumer Credit Trade Association, which represents alternative lenders, said other companies face the same difficulties as Provident.

“The constantly changing approach by the Financial Ombudsman Service, along with the increasing claims culture being driven by claims management companies, is making it difficult for firms to operate and attract investment.

“These factors together led to major market exit in the high-cost short-term credit sector, and it has now spread to home credit,” he said.

“Market exit is likely to continue across the sector if these problems are not addressed. The outcome will be that access to credit is reduced for a group of consumers who will struggle to borrow elsewhere.”

From BBC News

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