The powerful woman at the heart of a Westminster lobbying offensive by the ‘buy now, pay later’ giant Klarna can be revealed today. The Mail on Sunday can reveal that the Swedish financial technology firm has hired the wife of Pensions Minister Guy Opperman ahead of a Government crackdown on the online shopping phenomenon.
Flora Coleman joined the loans firm after a successful stint lobbying for payments firm Wise in the lead-up to its £9billion flotation on the London Stock Exchange. Klarna has landed a number of significant meetings with Ministers since Coleman became its global director of public affairs in July.
Billionaire founder Sebastian Siemiatkowski was granted a private audience with Treasury Minister John Glen. Klarna is understood to have pushed for the meeting since before Coleman joined the company.
Siemiatkowski was also invited to deliver a speech at last week’s Global Investment Summit for the world’s most powerful investors, where the focus was green investment. He later attended a reception hosted by the Queen at Windsor Castle.
When Coleman was at Wise, she reportedly held a ‘spouse pass’ for the House of Commons, granting her access to Parliament’s meeting rooms and bars as Opperman’s wife. The MoS understands Coleman has not held a spouse pass at any time while at Klarna. There is no suggestion of wrongdoing by Klarna in its lobbying attempts, which have broken no rules.
Klarna has become one of the most talked-about ‘fintechs’ in the City after it attracted an eye-watering valuation of £33.1billion following investment from Japan’s Softbank. London is up against New York in the race to win Klarna’s blockbuster listing.
Glen is spearheading a Government push to rein in ‘buy now, pay later’ firms such as Klarna and its big Australian rival Clearpay, which allow customers to pay for their shopping in monthly instalments interest-free.
Thousands of online shops offer Klarna or Clearpay as payment options. But the products are unregulated. Klarna has faced criticism for offering loans without credit checks or ensuring customers can afford repayments.
The Financial Conduct Authority earlier this year called for ‘very urgent’ action after finding ‘significant potential for consumer harm’.
The Treasury last week launched a consultation on new rules to protect customers, most of whom are younger shoppers. The sector has become a key target for regulators after ‘buy now, pay later’ spending boomed in the pandemic, tripling to £2.7billion in 2020 as Instagram influencers promoted the service.
Klarna’s meeting with Glen is seen in the industry as a big coup. Sources said Clearpay, founded by 31-year-old billionaire Nick Molnar, tried to speak to Glen at the Conservative Party conference this month but was turned down. One source said: ‘The Klarna meeting was completely independent of the other players. It wanted to warm relations, and Sebastian got some airtime with Glen – definitely more than any other provider. It seemed quite exclusive for Klarna.’
Siemiatkowski then earned a coveted invitation to last week’s ‘green’ investment summit with the world’s most affluent investors. The 40-year-old rubbed shoulders with BlackRock chairman Larry Fink, JP Morgan chief executive Jamie Dimon, and Ana Botin, chief executive of Santander. The investor jamboree was also packed with top politicians. Boris Johnson, Chancellor Rishi Sunak, and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss all gave speeches. Royals such as Princes Charles and William also attended the evening reception at Windsor Castle.
Though Klarna is not a big investor or UK corporation like most other summit attendees, it said it took climate change ‘seriously’ and last week announced a £750,000 investment into ‘climate transformation’ projects. It also announced an overhaul of operations last week – days before the Treasury launched plans to create new rules for the sector. Klarna said it would bring in stronger credit checks and penalise customers for missed payments. The sector expects the rules to be in place by the end of 2022 with stringent affordability checks and guarantees that customers will be treated fairly – especially those who struggle to repay.
The Government is encouraging fast-growing technology firms such as Klarna to list in London. Klarna has said it is considering London, but has previously suggested it is leaning towards New York.
Klarna said: ‘We are one of the largest fintechs, operating globally in 17 markets. In the UK, we work with 17,000 retailers and serve 15million customers, so of course we engage with Government. We follow the highest standards to get the best for UK consumers.’Internet Explorer Channel Network