Thursday, April 20, 2017

Smoke on the switcher

Going through my bills recently I spotted one I have absolutely no engagement with – my water provider.

Without going back into my Inbox now to check who I paid it to, I couldn’t even tell you that I was a customer of a firm called Affinity Water:

My £330.55 bill for the year was paid, and nothing in their confirmation message even tells me what I’m getting for that (presumably it’s for the annual water supply for and the removal of waste water from my home).

I’d long since thrown away the original paperwork along with the unengaging blurb that came with it.

Like many other utilities, it’s a product I don’t care about and have no engagement with – regardless of who my provider is, the same homogenous product comes out of the pipe (in a similar way to my electricity).

I have no brand loyalty to the company whatsoever.

What I do have loyalty to though is the minimising of my bills – something that I review on a regular basis to ensure I’m getting good value.

So I was surprised to discover that I can’t switch water supplier as a consumer at all.

As with other regulated markets in energy and telecommunications switching does seem to be coming though, and any regulatory framework that ensures competition is good for consumers - hopefully fostering innovative products as well as optimising value.

One concept that has often been mooted is a brand like Virgin entering the energy space, and in theory the opportunity is there with a brand many consumers are loyal to.

Virgin is, however, also a brand that resonates more with the consumer of today than the one of the future – those familiar with Virgin Cola taking on Coke and the gloriously executed publicity stunts to steal the thunder from British Airways – and is more about partnering and branding than running services in the modern era.

Others such as the well rated Utility Warehouse could also make a play and even bundle water supply with energy products, growing the attractive model for those managing their spend of one bill for multiple utilities entering the home.

The real opportunity is for a player like Google to enter the market and really shake things up.  With all the R&D work they do on innovation in energy saving and environmentalism, a Google badged service (using a smart water meter) that gave me the tools to both save money and conserve one of the world’s scarce assets would be very attractive to me.

If profits could be reinvested into further conservation and/or water charities in the third world it would be all the incentive needed. I would switch tomorrow.

This needs the market opening up and the regulatory encouragement to invest and innovate – and it would be great to be able to choose my provider based on providing services that I am both happy to pay for and are doing good for the planet.

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