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Channelling Energy – a blog by Philip King

27 March 2014

I was interested and surprised to hear on the Wednesday morning news that SSE had announced a blanket unconditional price freeze on all tariffs until 2016, and was separating its retail and wholesale operations. By coincidence, Wednesday was also the day I was in Birmingham to chair the Utility Week Consumer Debt Conference where many of our utility companies were represented.

Call me cynical, but less of a coincidence in my view was the timing of SSE’s announcement, coming just the day before the release of the preliminary Ofgem Retail Market Review into the dominance of the big six utility providers. A bit of a pre-emptive strike methinks, and particularly cute was the accompanying announcement that consequences of the price freeze would be a reduction in profits, the disposal of approximately £1bn of assets, about 500 job losses, and the shelving of plans for three windfarm developments. Seizing the opportunity to claim the moral high ground ahead of any other players in the market, outlining the negative impacts on the business, and releasing the news before the Ofgem referral of the entire energy sector to the Competition and Markets Authority for a full investigation, seems an astute move.

Meanwhile, I was chairing the Consumer Debt Conference for the second year and it was a great event with speakers delivering some fascinating and interesting insights. Topics ranged from regulation, through future strategy, revenue protection, segmentation, to liaison with the advice sector and dealing with vulnerability. The two recurring themes in almost every presentation were the importance of data (whether ‘big’ or personal) to effectiveness, and having the customer at the heart of everything. Pretty obvious, you might think, but being reminded of these imperatives, and hearing how they are employed in the operations of businesses to make them more successful is always useful. And it’s surprising how many organisations fail to grasp what should be obvious and, as a result, fail to engage adequately with their all-important customers. It would be nice to think SSE’s motives are also entirely customer-centred too but I need to be convinced.

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