Business and broker interaction in the energy market

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1 Date: August 2013 Business and broker interaction in the energy market A review by Cornwall Energy Prepared by: Robert Buckley, Anna Moss, and Daniel Starman

2 About Cornwall Energy Cornwall Energy s team of independent specialists have experience of liberalised energy markets and their regulation since their inception in Great Britain and elsewhere in the late 1980s. We provide consultancy, intelligence and training, and are a trusted and reliable partner whether you are a new entrant or a large, established player. Specific areas of our expertise include: wholesale and retail energy market competition and change; regulation and public policy within both electricity and gas markets; electricity and gas market design, governance and business processes; and market entry. 2 Millennium Plain Bethel Street Norwich NR2 1TF T +44 (0) F +44 (0) E W Disclaimer While Cornwall Energy considers the information and opinions given in this report and all other documentation are sound, all parties must rely upon their own skill and judgement when making use of it. Cornwall Energy will not assume any liability to anyone for any loss or damage arising out of the provision of this report howsoever caused. No representation or warranty is given by Cornwall Energy as to the accuracy or completeness of the information contained in this report. Numbers may not add up due to rounding. Business broker survey Page 2 of 17 August 2013

3 Contents 1 Executive Summary Engagement in the market Engagement with brokers Perceptions of brokers Introduction Approach Focus Survey results Engagement with the market Tendency to negotiate contracts Future intentions to negotiate contracts Awareness of contract expiry dates and rollovers Engagement with brokers Use of brokers Commercial relationships with brokers broker charges Perceptions of brokers Appendix A: Businesses awareness of their energy needs Business broker survey Page 3 of 17 August 2013

4 1 Executive Summary More than half of businesses are engaging with the energy markets each year by negotiating contracts with new or existing suppliers A high proportion (42%) of businesses value help from third parties to compare prices across suppliers Most businesses either believe their broker is providing a free service (37%) or do not know 1.1 how Headlines much they are being charged by their broker (42%) Many businesses (38%) do not think that brokers charges are clear or easily understood A significant proportion (71%) of businesses think a code of practice would improve the services provided by brokers 508 businesses were asked about how they buy their energy including whether they sought help from energy brokers (or third party intermediaries/tpis). 80% 70% 60% 50% 40% 30% 20% 10% 0% Value help from third parties Proportions of businesses that... Believe their broker service is free Do not know their broker charges Want a code of practice for TPIs 1.1 Engagement in the market More than half of businesses are engaging with the market each year (30% had taken action over the last six months, 29% intended to take action over the next six months). When assessing contracts, businesses are as likely to negotiate a new deal with their existing supplier as switch to a competitor (23% larger businesses moved contract, 10% switched supplier). This also shows that larger businesses tended to have more contract changes than supplier changes. A significant proportion of businesses are not aware of their contract anniversary dates or the existence of rollovers. Approximately one third of customers were not aware of their contract end date (29% of micro-businesses and 25% of larger businesses). Over 20% of micro-businesses were not aware of the consequences of the auto-renewal process. Business broker survey Page 4 of 17 August 2013

5 1.2 Engagement with brokers Most businesses (68%) took the initiative when last seeking a new energy contract by contacting suppliers or energy brokers rather than responding to approaches made to them. Larger businesses were more likely than micro-businesses to use an energy broker (34% doing so). Microbusinesses tended to contact suppliers directly (56%) and were equally approached by brokers and contacted brokers themselves (13% each way). Most businesses using brokers do not source other services from them. Larger businesses were more likely to buy other services, including market information and bill validation, although a significant proportion did not (68% of larger businesses received other services compared to 29% of microbusinesses. 21% received market information, 16% bill validation and 32% received no service). Microbusinesses tended not to receive other services from brokers but, when they did, they were more likely to take energy services (71% received no other service, 10% took energy services). Most businesses either believe their broker is providing a free service or do not know how much they are being charged by their broker (42% of all businesses had no knowledge while 32% believed it was free). A significant number (45%) of micro-businesses didn t know how much their brokers earned from them. Larger businesses mainly either didn t know or believed that their broker earned nothing from them (37% didn t know, 37% believed their broker earned nothing from them). 1.3 Perceptions of brokers The majority of businesses value the support that brokers give them. While larger businesses found it harder to negotiate favourable terms without the use of an energy broker (36% said so), almost two thirds (62%) of micro-companies said that they did not need an energy broker to secure a contract suggesting that broker support is more important for larger businesses. Most businesses do not think that brokers charges are clear or easily understood. However, one in five (21%) larger businesses did not believe that this was a problem. Most businesses think a code of practice would improve the services provided by brokers Respondents were very positive about a code of practice, with almost half (44%) of all respondents strongly agreeing that this would be a beneficial step for the industry, with a high level of support from both micro and larger businesses. More information from Cornwall Energy on business energy brokers, including the Broker Indexes, is available here Business broker survey Page 5 of 17 August 2013

6 2 Introduction 2.1 Approach Cornwall Energy commissioned a telephone survey of 508 business energy users (400 micro-businesses and 108 larger users) covering issues including their electricity and gas use and contracts plus their attitudes to the market. The survey was conducted between 17 June and 24 June Several of the survey questions were based on those used in February 2012 in Consumer Focus s Under the Microscope report 1, which Cornwall Energy authored. Comparison of the June 2013 results against the 2012 survey is provided where relevant in the text. Perspective Market Research Services 2 undertook both telephone surveys with questions drafted by Cornwall Energy. Other survey questions concerned the users attitudes to energy brokers. These questions were posed to understand more on the role played by these important actors in the market, especially as Ofgem is currently considering whether they require a regulatory framework of their own 3. In the non-domestic sector, this framework may include a code of practice. This paper is intended as a contribution to the debate. 2.2 Focus Perspective were asked to survey 400 micro-businesses and 100 larger businesses that were responsible for sourcing their own electricity and gas supplies from a regionally and sectorally representative base. 4 The interviews were allotted 10 minutes duration and contained 28 questions. We particularly wanted to understand more about three themes: their engagement with the market including how often they negotiated contracts and how aware they were of rollover terms; the extent to which they negotiated their energy contracts themselves or whether they preferred to use brokers. If they used brokers we wanted to understand how they engaged with them, particularly how or whether they paid directly for services and whether they bought any other services from their energy brokers. This theme of engagement with brokers is specific to this survey; and their general attitudes to energy brokers, including whether they felt they needed to use them and their confidence in dealing with them. We did this by asking the consumers to what extent they agreed with statements we proposed to them. Results from this element of the survey are included under the heading perceptions of brokers. To provide context for the three themes, we also asked the businesses about how aware they were of their energy needs and contracts. A summary of responses to questions on their engagement with the market is included at Appendix A. 1 This report is a full analysis of the micro-business energy markets 2 Perspective Market Research Services 3http://www.ofgem.gov.uk/Markets/RetMkts/rmr/Documents1/TPI%20con%20doc.pdf 4 The 2012 survey was of 500 micro-businesses so the samples are not directly comparable Business broker survey Page 6 of 17 August 2013

7 3 Survey results The primary objectives of the survey were to understand how important energy brokers were to the way businesses engage in the energy market and how they managed their dealings with these companies. 3.1 Engagement with the market Tendency to negotiate contracts In the last six months 19% of respondents have moved to a new contract with at least one of their existing energy suppliers, while 14% have switched one or more of their energy suppliers, but the majority (70%) had taken neither of these actions 5. The proportions for micro-businesses were 15% having switched, 18% having struck a new contract and 70% taking neither action. These figures are broadly consistent with the results of our 2012 survey. A higher proportion (23%) of larger businesses had moved to a new contract with one or more existing energy suppliers with a smaller proportion (10%) switching suppliers Future intentions to negotiate contracts The businesses were asked if they intended to switch the energy supplier or negotiate a new energy contract in the coming six to 12 months. Some 10% of all companies said they would switch energy supplier over the next six to 12 months, with a further 21% expressing the intention to negotiate a new contract. The majority (71%) intend to take neither action. Larger businesses were slightly more likely to intend to switch suppliers (11% against 9%) or negotiate contracts (27% against 19%) than micro-businesses. Taken together the results of these two questions imply that more than half of businesses are engaging with the market each year by negotiating energy contracts with new or existing suppliers Awareness of contract expiry dates and rollovers Knowing when your current energy contract expires is fundamental for a business wishing to negotiate the most competitive replacement. To switch to a new arrangement after the expiry date, either with an existing or new supplier, the business will have to follow the termination provisions as set out in the energy contract. If they are a micro-business failure to do so will probably see them rolled over on to a new, higher-priced arrangement with their existing supplier. Over a fifth of respondents (22%) did not know their expiry date of their energy contracts. More micro-businesses were unaware of the date than larger businesses with nearly one third (29%) unaware of their contract end date. Figure 3:1 summarises the responses to the question on expiry dates. 5 The percentages sum to more than 100% as a small number of businesses had multiple contracts Business broker survey Page 7 of 17 August 2013

8 Figure 3-1: If you are on a fixed term supply contract are you aware of the expiry date(s) of your fixed term supply contract(s)? Larger Businesses Microbusinesses All Respondents 0% 20% 40% 60% 80% 100% Yes No Not on fixed contract (deemed or out of contract instead) Again, a significant number of respondents were not aware of the auto-renewal process as Figure 3:2 illustrates. Overall 20% of businesses were not aware of rollovers, split 12% for larger businesses and 22% for micro-businesses. The proportion for micro-businesses is lower than the 28% recorded in the 2012 survey. Figure 3-2: If you reach the end of your energy contract(s) without taking any action are you aware that you may be locking into another contract for a year possibly with higher prices or different terms? Larger Businesses Microbusinesses All Respondents 0% 20% 40% 60% 80% 100% Yes No 3.2 Engagement with brokers Use of brokers Of the 151 respondents who had either switched energy supplier or struck a new contract in the last six months, 50% took action by contacting a supplier directly while a further 15% were prompted to action by contact from a supplier. Some 18% took action after being approached by a supplier, while 15% were prompted by contact from a broker. The balance (2%) did not know or were prompted by something else. Business broker survey Page 8 of 17 August 2013

9 But as Figure 3:3 shows while 25% of larger businesses were approached by a broker or a switching site, just 13% of micro-businesses were contacted. Micro-businesses had more of a tendency to contact other suppliers directly (56% compared with 28% for larger businesses) and a slightly larger proportion of micro-businesses said they were approached by a supplier (15% compared with 13% for larger businesses). Figure 3-3: When you organised switching to a new supplier/a new contract with your existing supplier which of the following best describes the process? Larger Businesses Microbusinesses All Respondents 0% 20% 40% 60% 80% 100% You contacted another supplier directly You contacted a broker or switching website You were approached by a supplier You were approached by a broker or switching site Other Don't know We asked those businesses that used brokers which companies they had used to help them. Over half the businesses could not recall the name of the broker they used, but companies that were named included USwitch, Moneysupermarket.com, Energy Brokers, Make it Cheaper, Utility Wise, Trueman Utilities, the Martin Lewis Website, Utility Bills and Business UK Savings Commercial relationships with brokers The businesses were asked about the nature of the commercial relationships they had with brokers. They were asked if: they had a contract with their broker; whether they received other services from their broker; and they were aware of both how they were charged by their broker and how much the broker earned from providing brokerage services to them. Half the 50 companies that used a broker contracted for their services, while a further 15% gave their broker a verbal instruction to work on their behalf. The balance did not know (12%), had no contract (10%) or accepted a deal from their broker (14%). Large businesses were more likely to contract for broker services than micro-businesses (63% to 42%). Figure 3:4 overleaf illustrates. Business broker survey Page 9 of 17 August 2013

10 Figure 3-4: Did you agree a contract with the broker to secure energy on your behalf last time you needed an energy contract? Larger Businesses Microbusinesses All Respondents 0% 20% 40% 60% 80% 100% Yes I have a written contract Yes instructed verbally They presented me with a deal and I accepted it No Don't know Most businesses (56%) that used a broker do not source any other services from them other than contract negotiation. However, brokers do provide other services to a higher proportion of larger businesses (68%) than micro-businesses (29%). The most utilised service by all respondents was bill validation with market information and energy services following as Figure 3:5 illustrates. Figure 3-5: Do you receive any other services from your broker? Larger Businesses Microbusinesses All Respondents 0% 20% 40% 60% 80% 100% Yes, bill validation Yes, they broker other services for us Yes, market information Yes, help with buying strategy Yes, energy services Other Don't know/unwilling to elaborate None Business broker survey Page 10 of 17 August 2013

11 3.2.3 Broker charges Awareness of brokers charges was low amongst companies using their services. We asked respondents whether they found brokers charges clear and easy to understand. Over a third (38%) of all businesses using a broker disagreed. However, one in five larger businesses (21%) strongly agreed with this level of understanding as Figure 3:6 shows. Figure 3-6: Do you agree that brokers charges are clear and easy to understand? Larger Businesses Microbusinesses All Respondents 0% 20% 40% 60% 80% 100% Agree strongly Agree slightly Neither agree nor disagree Disagree slightly Disagree strongly Don't know Whilst a small proportion of respondents paid their broker directly (14%), the majority of businesses did not pay directly for broker services (74%). However, 12% of the 50 businesses using a broker were aware of their broker taking indirect commission from suppliers, with a fairly equal spread between micro and larger businesses as Figure 3:7 illustrates. Figure 3-7: Do you pay your broker directly for their service? Larger Businesses Microbusinesses All Respondents 0% 20% 40% 60% 80% 100% Yes, we agreed a fee in advance and they invoiced me Yes, they invoiced me based on a share of the savings they made No, but they were paid indirectly by commission from the supplier No, the service was presented to me as free No Don't know Business broker survey Page 11 of 17 August 2013

12 A significant proportion of respondents (42%) did not know how much their broker earns from them, while a large percentage believed they were being provided with a free service (37%). Microbusinesses were more likely (19%) not to disclose how much their broker earns from them in comparison to larger businesses (5%) as Figure 3:8 shows. Figure 3-8: How much does your broker earn from you? Larger Businesses Microbusinesses All Respondents 0% 20% 40% 60% 80% 100% Nothing they provide free service Up to 1,000 a year 1,000 to 5,000 year 5,000 to 10,000 a year Don't know Unwilling to disclose 3.3 Perceptions of brokers The businesses were also asked to respond to six qualitative statements in order to assess their opinions of the energy markets they dealt in. They were given a range of five answers to each of these statements ranging from don t know to agree/ disagree slightly and agree/ disagree strongly. The aggregated responses from the 400 micro-businesses and 108 larger businesses revealed that: almost half the number of micro-businesses (19%) disagreed with the statement we find it straightforward negotiating favourable terms and conditions of supply and do not need an energy broker as larger businesses (36%). A higher proportion of micro-businesses (62%) agreed than larger businesses (46%); over half the respondents agreed (54%) with the statement I am confident who to go to for help if I have a problem with my energy broker, with 21% disagreeing overall. The remaining quarter (25%) neither agreed nor disagreed or didn t know; a clear majority of respondents (71%) agreed that a specific code of practice would raise the standards of service offered by all energy brokers compared to the 7% that disagreed. Around a fifth (19%) neither agreed nor disagreed, with 4% that didn t know. This was the most supported statement overall; when asked if brokers' charges are clear and easy to understand, most companies (38%) agreed with a smaller proportion (27%) disagreeing. Of the remainder, 23% neither agreed nor disagreed and 12% did not know; just over twice the number (29%) of micro-businesses disagreed with the statement energy brokers make me better informed and able to make better choices in this area than larger businesses (14%). The difference in agreement was lower, with 40% of micro-companies and 56% of larger companies supporting the statement; and Business broker survey Page 12 of 17 August 2013

13 there was a fairly even split in businesses agreeing (42%) and disagreeing (39%) with the statement I need help to compare prices across supplier. Of the balance, 16% neither agreed nor disagreed, with a small percentage who didn t know (3%). The average scores are shown below in Figure 3.9 with the full responses in Table 3:1 below. Figure 3-9: Respondents opinion of energy brokers I need help to compare prices across suppliers Energy brokers make me better informed and able to make better choices in this area We find it straightforward negotiating favourable terms and conditions of supply and do not need an energy A specific code of practice would raise the standards of service offered by all energy brokers Brokers' charges are clear and easy to understand Average score (1=strongly disagree, 5=strongly agree) Table 3-1: Opinions from businesses on energy supply markets and contracts Agree strongly (5) Agree slightly (4) Neither agree nor disagree (3) Disagree slightly (2) Disagree strongly (1) Don't know Agree (5+4) Disagree (2+1) We find it straightforward negotiating favourable terms and conditions of supply and do not need an energy broker I am confident who to go to for help if I have a problem with my energy broker A specific code of practice would raise the standards of service offered by all energy brokers Brokers charges are clear and easy to understand Energy brokers make me better informed and able to make better choices in this area I need help to compare prices across suppliers Business broker survey Page 13 of 17 August 2013

14 Number of respondents Appendix A: Businesses awareness of their energy needs Access to energy All 400 micro-businesses and 108 larger businesses were responsible for sourcing their own energy supplies rather than indirectly through a landlord. Some 332 (65%) also had a gas supply, which they sourced themselves. There was a notable split between micro-businesses and larger businesses as 80% of larger businesses have a gas supply against 62% of micro-businesses. The penetration of gas in the microbusiness energy markets is much lower than electricity. This result is consistent with the 2012 survey which reported that 44% of micro-businesses had a gas supply. Energy consumption Figure A1 below shows that there was very high awareness of how much electricity the businesses used. Only 3% of all businesses and none of the larger businesses did not know their electricity consumption. A little under one fifth of micro-business respondents (18%) consume less than 5MWh (5,000kWh) of electricity a year, broadly equivalent to the majority of domestic consumers. Almost one quarter (23%) of micro-businesses consumed between 5MWh and 10MWh of electricity, and around a fifth (18%) consumed 10MWh to 15MWh. In total, therefore, half of the consumers surveyed required less than 15MWh of electricity a year. Of the balance, a further 20% used between15mwh and 25MWh, with a further 11% consuming 25MWh to 55MWh. A very small proportion of micro-businesses consume more than 55MWh, while three used over 200MWh electricity per annum. Almost half (49%) of larger businesses consumed 55MWh to 100MWh per year, while the majority of the remainder (29%) consume over 200MWh per year. The mean annual consumption of all respondents was 49.2MWh, with 23MWh when only micro-businesses were considered. Figure A1: Respondents annual use of electricity to 5 5 to to to to to to to to 200 Annual electricity consumption (MWh) 200+ Don't know Microbusinesses Larger Businesses Of the businesses that used gas, there was also very high awareness of consumption. Only 2% of microbusinesses did not know how much gas they used, while all larger businesses knew this figure. The mean annual gas usage across all companies is 88.4MWh, while micro-businesses consume 30.8MWh of gas on average. Over one third (34%) of the 246 micro-businesses with a gas supply said they used up to 5MWh of gas. Some 22% used 5MWh-10MWh and 11% used 25MWh-54.9MWh. Five micro-businesses each had an annual usage of 100MWh-150MWh, while nine consumed 200MWh or more. All of the larger companies that had a gas supply (80% of the larger businesses) consumed more than 200MWh of gas each year. Business broker survey Page 14 of 17 August 2013

15 Number Number of respondents Figure A2: Respondents annual use of gas to 5 5 to to to to to to to 150 to Don't No gas know supply Annual gas consumption (MWh) Microbusinesses Larger Businesses Energy expenditure Knowledge of energy expenditure was also very high, though not as high as that of energy volume. Approximately 92% of those with an electricity supply were aware of their expenditure on the fuel, compared to 98% knowledge of volumes across all businesses. The differential was slightly smaller for gas: 99% of the 332 consumers with gas were aware of their volume consumption against 95% awareness of expenditure. Larger businesses were also more aware of their annual spends on energy than microbusinesses (94% compared with 91%). Figure A3 summarises the responses Figure A3: Respondents annual electricity spend Annual spend ( ) Larger Businesses Microbusinesses Just under half of all respondents on both gas (47%) and electricity (40%) disclosed expenditures of less than 1,500 a year. Some 15% micro-businesses and the majority of larger businesses (84%) spent over 5,000 per year on electricity. Where only 6% of micro-businesses spend more than 5,000 on gas, the vast majority (95%) of large businesses spend over this figure. Business broker survey Page 15 of 17 August 2013

16 Number Figure A4: Respondents annual gas spend Annual spend on gas Larger Businesses Microbusinesses For micro-businesses the mean gas spend was 1,630 per year, whilst the mean electricity spend was 2,260. Larger businesses are spending much more on energy the mean gas spend is 5,960 per year and the mean electricity spend is 5,770 per annum. Energy suppliers More than 90% of respondents were willing and able to name their electricity supplier. Some 5% refused to name them, while 4% did not know. Between them 13 companies supplied 87% of the businesses with their electricity as Figure A:5 illustrates. The most commonly named suppliers were British Gas and E.ON UK by both micro-businesses and large businesses as Figure A:5 illustrates. Micro-businesses tended to display a greater reliance on the Big Six energy suppliers than larger businesses, with 82% sourcing electricity contracts from the Big Six compared with 62% for larger businesses. Business broker survey Page 16 of 17 August 2013

17 Figure A5: Respondents electricity suppliers Large businesses Micro-businesses All businesses 0.0% 20.0% 40.0% 60.0% 80.0% 100.0% British Gas E.ON UK EDF Energy SSE Scottish Power RWE Npower Opus Energy Haven Power GDF SUEZ Energy UK Gazprom Energy Total Gas & Power Business Energy Solutions DONG Energy Sales Other Don't know Refused At 88% a similar proportion of businesses as for electricity were willing and able to name their gas supplier. Some 5% did not know and 7% refused to name their supplier. British Gas and E.ON UK were again the two most named suppliers as Figure A6 shows. Figure A6: Respondents gas suppliers Large businesses Micro-businesses All businesses 0.0% 20.0% 40.0% 60.0% 80.0% 100.0% British Gas E.ON UK EDF Energy RWE Npower Scottish Power SSE Opus Energy Gazprom Energy GDF Business Energy Solutions DONG Energy Sales Don't know Refused Business broker survey Page 17 of 17 August 2013

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