The Church of England (C of E) has turned down a request to take on loans of troubled payday loan lender Wonga.
The FCA put Wonga on administration on 31st August 2018 marking the end of the lender’s decade-long reign in the UK payday loans industry. After Wonga’s collapse, concerns arose on the fate of thousands of borrowers who still owed Wonga and were expected to continue making payments. There were concerns from legislators like MP Frank Field that these borrowers could be “passed on” to another high-interest lender putting them in a worse situation.
Field went as far as requesting the Archbishop of Canterbury to consider leading the group of “good people” set to buy Wonga loans. However, the church has discussed the matter and concluded that other institutions are better placed to buy Wonga loans.
The FCA appointed administrators in August to wind-down the lender in an orderly manner. Wonga has been accused of issuing high-interest loans for years.
After the lender’s collapse, ex-Labour MP Frank Field wrote a letter to Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury expressing concerns that Wonga borrowers were at risk of being ripped off if another payday loan lender bought the firm and took over the loans book.
According to Mr. Field, there was a high chance of Wonga’s £400 million loan book being sold at a meager rate which would, in turn, expose borrowers who still held Wonga loans to exploitation. Mr. Field felt that the Church of England was the best-placed institution to take up the loan book and protect 200,000+ borrowers from making repayments to another payday lender at high commercial rates.
Mr. Field’s concerns followed a meeting by Church of England commissioners responsible for managing the Church’s investment fund. The commissioners met to discuss the possibility of taking over Wonga’s loan book and concluded on 21st September 2018 that the church wasn’t well placed to buy out Wonga’s loan book.
Church of England investments
Church of England commissioners manage a £8.3 billion investment fund. The church stresses on ethical and responsible investing. The investments fall into a wide range of asset classes consistent with the church’s ethical guidelines. The C of E invests after taking account of social, environmental and governance issues in investment decisions. Church of England assets fall under three broad categories namely; equities, properties and alternative investments.
Under equities, the C of E owns a variety of publicly listed and private equities. The church’s equity portfolio is made up of companies listed on stock exchanges. There are local and global portfolios and a defensive equity portfolio meant to generate good performance in week markets while attracting good returns in the long run.
The church’s private equity portfolio is composed of unlisted companies. Some of the most notable equities held by the C of E include; pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, HSBC, Tesco, Samsung, and Microsoft.
The C of E also has a diverse and extensive property portfolio composed of historic assets alongside more recent acquisitions. The property portfolio is comprised of properties spanning various sectors and locations to maximize returns while minimizing risk. The property portfolio includes strategic and rural land as well as commercial, residential and indirect property. The largest C of E property holdings currently include; Hyde Park Estate (in London) and a 10% stake in Metrocentre (in Gateshead).
As part of the C of E’s diversification process, the church has an alternatives portfolio composed of multi-asset & credit strategies as well as timberland and infrastructure. This portfolio has grown tremendously over the past decade.
According to the 2017 Church Commissioners report, the church made a 7.1% return which was above the 5% investment objective. Global equities take up the largest share of asset location at 22.7% as of 31st December 2017. 
C of E investment criticism
Despite having a seemingly impressive investment portfolio, the C of E has been criticised for failing to follow its ethical and responsible investment principles. Just recently, the church stated it was holding on to Amazon shares a day after Archbishop to Justin Welby stated that Amazon was “leeching of” taxpayers. Welby had been on record questioning Amazon’s tax record.
C of E’s investment in Wonga
Back in 2014, the Church of England was holding Wonga shares. The church commissioners were forced to sell approximately £75,000 worth of the shares after the Archbishop purposed to put Wonga out of business. This came after a public admission that he was irritated and embarrassed about the link between Wonga woes and the church. The C of E’s latest move shows a continued disinterest in any investments linked to Wonga.