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United Utilities has seen one in two customers sign up to the open banking scheme it launched last year, its new chief executive has told Utility Week.

Speaking at Utility Week Live, Louise Beardmore described how the company had taken administration of the project in-house after an underwhelming response when it was first launched with a third-party in July 2021.

The process, which has been imported from financial services, relies on an income-verification tool that allows United Utilities to check if a customer qualifies for social tariffs by gaining consent to access their bank account data.

The app-to-app authentication streamlines an otherwise lengthy manual process. United Utilities and Eon are among the pioneers of the technology in the utilities sector.

Beardmore, who was unveiled as chief executive designate of the water company last month, told Utility Week Live: “When we first looked at doing open banking I’ll be honest I wasn’t convinced. Why would I let a water company have a look at what’s in my bank account? What’s in it for me?

“Just short of 50% of our customers are allowing us to do that now. So if you contact United Utilities and we think we can get you on an affordability scheme, what used to happen is three weeks of messing around with pieces of paper. We can now get someone on a support scheme in less than seven minutes by simply by talking to customers about open banking.

“We saw just 99% customer satisfaction because it’s about a value exchange and we can do it then and there in literally minutes.”

Beardmore was speaking on a panel with Jo Causon, chief executive of the Institute of Customer Service and Andrew Schein of the Behaviour Insights Team. The discussion delved into the need for utilities to harness the power of its customer data and to communicate the benefits of doing so.

Schein pointed to research showing a clear appetite from customers to be triggered to seek support or change their behaviour based on their own data. However, he stressed that this needed to be linked to implicit messages about why this benefited them.

Beardmore agreed, saying: “With any access to data or to services if you don’t start with what’s in it for the customer but what’s in it for the utility provider then there’s no value exchange and take-up will be lower.

“When we first launched (the open banking initiative) take-up was less than 3% because we were doing it through a third party. We changed that to be United Utilities – water for the North West – and we also trained our people in the benefits for the customers, which gave them the confidence to talk about it. After that we saw the take-up improve considerably. It’s about trust. If you’re clear and there is that trusted relationship that’s where you can really focus on the outcomes.”

Save the date! Utility Week Live 2023 will take place on 16 and 17 May 2023 at the NEC in Birmingham.

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