Katie Bickerstaffe has been appointed as chief executive designate of the proposed merger of the retail arms of SSE’s household energy business and Innogy’s British retail firm, Npower.

The announcement comes ahead of the move gaining the go-ahead from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), which is carrying out an ongoing investigation into the deal.

Bickerstaffe, an existing non-executive director of SSE, comes from the European specialist electrical and telecommunications retailer Dixons Carphone plc, where she is currently chief executive, UK and Ireland. During the course of her career, Bickerstaffe has worked for international consumer-focused corporations such as Dyson, PepsiCo and Unilever.

She is the first person to be appointed to the board of the planned combined retail company and will assume her role later in the year, heading up preparations for establishing the new firm.

In March, the implications of the planned merger between SSE and Innogy, which is a subsidiary of German utilities giant RWE, were  complicated by the announcement of an asset-swapping deal between RWE and Eon.

If this agreement goes ahead, Eon will take control of RWE’s retail interests, which currently include Innogy and Npower.

Despite these complications however, Martin Herman, COO retail at Innogy was today bullish about progress on creating a new Innogy-SSE entity.

“We are right on schedule with our preparations for the new combined retail company,” he said. “And our decision as to who will take up the CEO position is a really positive sign of the progress we are making.”

Adding his approval to the announcement Alistair Phillips-Davies, CEO of SSE, said Bickerstaffe is well qualified to lead the new retail giant.

“Katie has excellent credentials in retail, extensive experience of organisational change and recent insight derived from merging two companies into one,” he observed.

Meanwhile, Bickerstaffe herself responded to her appointment, saying: “I’m delighted to have the opportunity to lead this new energy supply and services company at a time when the sector is undergoing an exciting transformation. There is a great opportunity to create a more agile, innovative and efficient company that really delivers for customers.”

She added that she will spend the coming months listening to customers, employees and other stakeholders in the new business to “make sure this new company has the values, strategy and focus that customers need now and in the future”.

The proposed merger between SSE and Innogy was first announced in November.

At the time, Innogy chief executive Peter Terium said it was a response to the “uncertain political environment” for energy retailers in the UK, although he was adamant it was not a result of the energy price cap, nor an “exit before Brexit”.

He did, however, indicate that the price cap news may have “pushed the deal a bit quicker”.

Meanwhile, SSE chief executive Alastair Phillips-Davies said the “scale of change” in the energy market meant the deal would enable both entities to “focus more acutely on pursuing their own dedicated strategies”.

Although the subsequent announcement of the Innogy–Eon asset swap may have muddied the waters for the ongoing CMA process, today’s announcement clearly shows Npower and SSE are optimistic about the deal’s continued viability.

The newly-formed retail company is still likely to be smaller than British Gas, which would remain by far the UK’s largest supplier.

Based on recent Ofgem figures the new entity would have a market share of around 24 per cent in the domestic electricity sector, bigger than that of British Gas. However its share of the domestic gas market would be around half of that of British Gas.

The prospect of an SSE-Innogy merger creating a “big five” from existing dominant big six players in the energy market has sparked criticism from some that it will perpetuate a “stranglehold” on the market by large incumbents.

If approved the merger is expected to complete by the last quarter of 2018 or the first quarter of 2019. Until then both companies will remain independent.

Who is Katie Bickerstaffe? Utility Week investigates here.

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