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Utilities thus provide lot of relief to the customer to make payments easier. Payment arrangement can be made before the amount is actually due. Even extension can be requested on the due date of the payment. Budget Billing (Level payments plans) is also available where in a fixed amount is paid by the customer every month.
What if my utility can help me get a loan towards my electric bill?
Loans: Say the customer is expecting hard time paying the bills for the next whole year. He can very well request for a loan towards his electric bill from the Utility. Utility might have to consider the loan returning capability of the customer, prior to disbursing the loan. The utility can charge an interest on the loan to the customer. The interest rate in this case should definitely be lesser than the late payment charge to make this option beneficial of the customer. This option would be more helpful to the customer in comparison to payment extensions as the number of extensions allowed would be lesser than the loan term period.
Savings Deposit: Now think of the opposite case, when the customer has a surplus inflow of cash. What if he could create a savings deposit with the utility just like his own bank? The utility would then draw money from the deposit periodically and get the monthly payments processed. This guarantees the returns for the utility. The utility in turn also provides interest on the remainder amount. To encourage customers to opt for this, the utility might also provide a lower rate or a discount to the customers in return of pre-payments of the bills. Internally the Utility can get associated with Investments agencies and pass the profits back to the customer. In this case though, the deposit has to be guaranteed. In case of loss in the investments, the customer cannot be penalized.
All that said, there has to be regulations to prevent Utility from acting as a profitable organization.
• Unlike the financial sector, the profits needs to be public and the loss should be private. The customer's deposit needs to be protected and insured. Thus the utility might want some support from the government to ensure the same.
• The maximum limit of the deposit from the customer or the maximum loan to the customer should also be restricted to disallow customers from using the Utility as a full-fledged bank or an investment agency.
• The interest rate needs to be controlled and regulated. The investment should be low risk and low gain.
• There are certain regulations which require Utility to get approval prior to engaging in a business not related to Utility. It is also mandated that such non-utility businesses be kept separate from the regulated business. One such Act is the Public Utility Holding Company of 1935 (PUHC), also known as the Wheeler-Rayburn Act, passed by the United States Congress .
• The major piece of financial processing done by a Utility is payment processing. Once loan and deposits options are provided to the customer, it would be an overhead for the Utility to manage and control this. The business rules have to be defined to take care of exception like say pre-payment of loans or early withdrawal of the savings deposit etc. It would be a good option to partner with an investment agency/bank or outsource this piece. This should be seamless to the customer; otherwise it might be a hassle for the customer.
To summarize, this concept can be applied to all kind of utilities and service providers so that both the customer and the utility are in a win-win situation.