Lenders take heed… this is the year of the big squeeze

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If millions more families are going to be squeezed financially this year, then the messaging must change.

Buy now, pay later companies and the retailers which use them must show that they too can resist temptation.

Now is not the time to urge vulnerable people to spend as much as they want with easy, short-term credit. The industry has become far too large not to be held accountable for some of the behaviour it encourages.

Klarna’s billionaire founder Sebastian Siemiatkowski acknowledged last year that things have changed dramatically since he founded the business at the age of 23, saying its rapid growth means the company has transformed from being the equivalent of a small restaurant to a financial McDonald’s.

Klarna’s reach is now so huge – it is Europe’s most valuable financial technology start-up with around 90m customers and a valuation of $46bn (£34bn) – that it cannot shirk the responsibilities of big business.

Although Klarna’s default rates are low – less than 1pc – and it doesn’t charge fees, critics argue that it encourages overspending. Siemiatkowski is listening, admitting last year that “maybe among our biggest mistakes is that, as we launched, we were not reflecting on aspects as much as we do today on the impact on the consumer and so forth. We didn’t reflect on it back then, we were three 23-year-old kids in a room and the only thing we saw was an opportunity to digitalise these products”.

The Swedish business has recently introduced a “pay now” function in the UK so customers can cough up in full straight away, as well as stronger affordability checks, clearer checkout language and easier to understand terms and conditions.

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