I know you don’t think much about utilities. Yes, you have to pay the bills both on your business and on your home, so you have some experience as a customer. But have you ever considered them as an area of business? Have you sat and thought about how billing, payments, and the administration around utilities works? Because right now, utility payment is an area wide open for innovation.
Utilities tend to work on a very traditional model. They’re big, well-established companies providing basic services. The nature of their product has been set for many years and is unlikely to ever change in a substantial way. Electricity, gas, and water are fundamentals of modern life. You can’t do without them and you can’t change much about them. They are what they are and we all need to buy in.
Because of this, we take utility provision for granted. We don’t look for innovative ways to present the product, including how it’s managed and paid for. This is despite staggering amounts of money spent on utilities every day. In 2017, the average dual fuel bill for a customer with one of the UK’s leading providers was £1,117. Combined across millions of households, domestic utilities are a huge market, and one in which little seems to change.
That’s why utility payment is an area wide open to innovation.
At first glance, there seem to be plenty of options for utility payments, providing customers with choice and convenience. They can pay at the post office, online, by phone, credit card, cheque, or direct payment. But this array of options is just part of paying for modern services. It’s nothing special and the way it fits into consumers’ lives is far from efficient.
When I get my utility bill, it comes in one of two ways – either by mail or by email. I then have to make an active choice about which way I’m going to pay. Billing and payment aren’t integrated, so there’s a gap between them, a gap through which payments can fall. Bills can be delayed, payments don’t always arrive on schedule, and the way that they’re paid varies from one bill to the next. That’s not ideal for either customers or providers.
The world of modern tech is all about integration. From social media plugins to the internet of things, we’re connecting the parts of our lives together. If someone can apply that principle to the world of utility payments then they can save time and hassle for both customers and suppliers. They can become a vital link in the utility supply chain.
Imagine a system that interfaces directly with your energy provider and your bank account. When the bill is due, that information is drawn directly from the provider into the system. As soon as it happens, you get a notification telling you that your bill has arrived and what it’s worth. And then, because the parts of the system are integrated, you can pay that bill with the push of a button. “Press one to pay your bill” the system suggests, and with that single keystroke your electricity is covered, the money sent directly from your account to the supplier.
Maybe there will be times when you don’t want it to go that simply. Maybe your bill looks too high or you’re waiting for a pay cheque to come in. A fully integrated system could deal with that too. Just select option two to query the bill, setting a flag in the provider’s system. Then a real human being will check the working of the computers and either confirm and explain your bill to you or correct an error. Press three to postpone payment for a week, with a message to the provider letting them know that there will be a short delay. The system sets an alarm and you’re asked to pay again in seven days.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Utilities are something that millions of people have to deal with all year round. Once payment is interconnected, other aspects of service could be added too. Scheduling meter readings, arranging maintenance, providing updates on terms and prices. All in one place, to make managing utilities and the money around them simpler.
A company providing that service could make itself invaluable to consumers and utility providers alike. E-commerce has paved the way with online payments, while companies process their billing through their own computer systems. The pieces exist. What’s needed is an innovator to plug them together.
Are you the entrepreneur who could make this happen? Are you working on it already, or do you have the skills and experience to make it happen? Maybe you just recognise the potential in this moment and want to leap on it.
There’s room for huge innovation in utility payment. Whoever can step in with a streamlined system will take home a share of payments worth billions every year.
Until then, we’re stuck with the disjointed bits and pieces, and who wants to pay like that?