Q&A: Lucy Darch, managing director, NWGB and Bob Wilson, managing director, AWB

Anglian Water Business (AWB) and NWG Business have announced plans to merge their business retail arms to create a new retailer of water and wastewater services in England and Scotland, which will be called Wave. Utility Week speaks to the heads of the two retail arms to get their initial thoughts on the announcement.

AWB MD Bob Wilson and NWGB MD Lucy Darch AWB MD Bob Wilson and NWGB MD Lucy Darch

Utility Week: How long had the deal been under discussion?

Lucy Darch: “We met because of our branding. Both teams had come up with a very similar idea around branding, and we began to talk about that. What that led us to is that we’re two businesses that have very similar values, a desire to deliver a great experience for customers, and a really clear vision for the water and wastewater market. The conversation began in around Q3 last year.”

UW: What is the thinking behind the joint venture?

LD: “We have both approached the market opening in a very different way, and when we look at each other, there are lots of things that Anglian have done that are great, and there are lots of things that Northumbrian have done that are great. Those complementary skills going together feels like a really positive thing for the business.”

Bob Wilson: “This isn’t a marriage of convenience, we haven’t just stumbled together, this really is something that has been studied and both of our parent companies looked at it long and hard and thought this really is a good thing to do.”

UW: Do you have any concerns that these plans have been announced so close to market opening?

BW: “Well, that is the main reason for us going into the market in our separate regional identities, is to make sure we do that professionally and we do that well for customers, and to make sure that that’s our main area of focus. We can look at each other later, but we must make sure that our focus stays very firmly on our customers.”

UW: What are the next steps?

LD: “From a customer perspective, nothing will change immediately. They’ll have been communicated to by two regional businesses, and they will exit into the two associated retailers, and we will both focus on delivering great customer experiences through that.

“Because of the deal needing to be approved by the CMA, that process will kick off this week and will take three or four months to clear. Through that period, we are both going to really concentrate on running two great regional businesses and competing nationally as we would have done anyway. Then we will start to talk about how we bring the best of the two businesses together after that.”

UW: How far have you got with integration plans?

BW: “We have looked at each other, but we are very careful and cognizant of competition challenge. While we’ve done fairly high level look at synergies and we can see that this is about combining experience and expertise – it’s more than just bringing around scale – but to get into detailed plans on where we’ll actually exploit those synergies, that all comes later. We’re quite clear that we want to get into the market, we want to give a great customer experience, and then we’ll work on that.”

LD: “It is quite difficult, because of competition markets and laws, to do anything in terms of planning, because, obviously, we need to run as two separate businesses until we’ve got clearance. That’s why we’re really deliberately taking the time over this planning stage, to make sure that we can do it right. That will mean effectively waiting until we’ve got clearance before we make a lot of the key decisions.”

UW: Do you have any more details on your plans for a multi-utility offering?

LD: “It’s something that we both have in our existing standalone plans, and it’s one of the things that makes this such an exciting joint venture, is the experience of the two teams. Across both teams, we have really in-depth experience across water, wastewater, gas, electricity, and also the efficiency piece around energy and water efficiency.

“The teams coming together will bring all of that experience together. We’re looking to create a much more holistic service for customers across their utilities – pending clearance and over time as we start to integrate.”

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