Justin Welby
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has joined the photo-sharing site Instagram, and he is using the social network to champion credit unions for debt-laden families. (Facebook)

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The Church of England's spiritual leader has joined the photo-sharing site Instagram used by celebrities to reach a wider audience but instead of posting "selfies" he is using the social network to champion credit unions for debt-laden families.

In a first for the Church, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby joined 150 million users of the popular site owned by Facebook Inc on Wednesday to urge churches and communities to support their local credit union.

"Let's begin to make a difference to how families can finance themselves in this country - join and support a credit union," Welby said in his first posting.

A church statement said the message was being backed up by a personal letter sent to all clergy by Welby, warning that a million families who take out short-term loans every month can end up in a crippling spiral of debt.

Welby, a former oil executive and a member of Britain's Banking Standards Commission, has launched a campaign against short-term or payday lenders since taking office in March, promoting the use of credit unions instead.

He is among leading critics of firms like short-term lender Wonga and Provident Financial, which typically provide hard-up families with loans of up to 1,000 pounds to be repaid at high interest rates.

Credit unions, a small part of Britain's financial landscape, have grown as banks cut back on loans after the credit crisis and typically offer much smaller loans than are available from larger banks and building societies.

They are companies owned by their own customers. The majority of the money they lend comes from members' savings and they tend not to tap financial markets for capital.

Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith; editing by Tom Pfeiffer

© 2013 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.

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