Research conducted by consultants to the global water industry, Amane Advisors, showed key trends in the water industry post pandemic and the many changes ahead, principally the move towards more and more office staff working from home - something that is likely to continue long after the pandemic is over. The consultants also predicted an increase in mergers and acquisitions activity within the commercial and domestic water industry, with smaller companies struggling as a result of these uncertain times.
Our CEO, John Reynolds, has been reflecting on the longer term effects COVID will have on commercial water companies like ours. “One of the things it highlights is the need for more regular meter readings - in domestic as well as business premises - so that changes in consumption can be better reflected and customer bills kept up-to-date. Technology for smart metering has been around for 30 years, but it’s not really used. However, you can give more accurate billing through automated meter readings using AMR technology, which not only ensures that our charges are correct, it also helps us manage demand, which is especially important when you see major changes in consumption patterns.”
The pandemic has highlighted how much of an effect global events can have on the economy. John Reynolds suggests the industry takes this into account for future planning: “The pandemic raises questions about the financial viability of smaller companies. The vulnerability of utility sectors to financial shocks hasn’t been looked at in enough detail, and there needs to be a regulatory rethink of our financing criteria and customer licences.”
In a recent interview, Christopher Loughlin, the Chairman of British Water (the trade association for companies in the water and wastewater sector), explained how he believes water companies need to take their responsibilities seriously. “There’s no point shutting down a company because they haven’t paid their bills and have everyone lose their jobs because the business doesn’t exist anymore. We need to be responsible about those things. I think the next year or two might be quite tricky and we need to focus on that - make sure that we’re sympathetic, listening like never before and having customer engagement programmes and support programmes.”
Ofwat published an updated statement on 28 January setting out Covid-19 measures for the Non-Household water market. John Reynolds set out the implication of the announcement on the business water market in a recent blog post, that included crucial advice for customers.
When it comes to customer engagement, we will continue to do as much as we can to support our customers and encourage them to use their water wisely, implement water saving measures and to take the environment and sustainability seriously. Part of our approach will be to encourage businesses to submit monthly meter readings to help keep bills up-to-date and reflect current water consumption.
In such uncertain times, we are doing all we can to support our customers, and we’ll continue to use our independence to be proactive on our customers behalf, wherever we can.