“If you want to purchase electricity and gas cheaply, you have to compare prices and, if necessary, change providers. Energy suppliers obviously want to change that with Schufa and a credit agency.” An article about energy suppliers on tagesschau.de introduces the topic: “Electricity and gas customers who want to change their provider more often could soon be systematically discouraged.”
NDR and “Süddeutsche Zeitung” are dealing with a planned offer by SCHUFA and the Italian-owned credit agency CRIF Bürgel in Munich to save contract data from as many energy suppliers as possible across the industry.
“Consumer and data protectionists fear that energy providers will use it to identify consumers who are willing to switch and subsequently reject them.” The criticism: “So far, only data from customers who do not pay their bills or who cheat can be exchanged across the industry.” The new databases, on the other hand, would make contract-loyal customers “fair game” with their data.
“Bonus hoppers” who take the trouble to do their own research and compare utility companies are hardly a problem for energy suppliers. There have always been customers who, year by year, patiently deal with the various offers and choose the one that is cheapest for them. This cluster of consumers is a fairly small minority in Germany.
The real “game changers” with disruptive potential for the energy industry are experts such as Wechselpilot or SwitchUp. These enable the customer to switch energy providers reliably and effortlessly. Registration and some information on previous consumption and supplier are sufficient to automatically switch from year to year and save costs – depending on how advantageous it is. These comparison portals take on the rating based on various criteria and customer-specific requirements.
The added value of the planned services from SCHUFA and CRIF Bürgel, on the other hand, is not very high for the other side of the market, the energy suppliers: The energy suppliers already recognize customers who are willing to switch and can save this customer data.
This conclusion results from the logic of the system: comparison portals that have looked after their customers for years are dependent on intervening in the communication between customers and energy providers. Only in this way can they relieve the customer of the trouble of analyzing consumption, obtaining offers, comparing offers, submitting applications, filling out forms, etc.
Communication takes place via customer-specific e-mail addresses, e.g. at SwitchUp according to the pattern firstname.lastname@example.org. Due to the still small number of comparison portals, the energy provider can in any case use these email addresses to identify who is one of the “bonus hoppers”. In addition, energy providers are not obliged to work with SCHUFA or CRIF Bürgel, so that the latter are in competition for data.
SwitchUp was founded by Arik Meyer, who previously built Audible and sold it to amazon. At companies like SwitchUp, all data on the energy consumption of German households that benefit from the advantages of this system are now pooled. If comparison portals are sold to American “data octopuses”, their data merely increases the data pools of US corporations.
Therefore, from a competition point of view, it is questionable whether regulation, i.e. restricting the business opportunities of European companies such as SCHUFA or CRIF Bürgel by banning e-pools would be in the service of healthy market competition.